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Blu-ray Review: Six By Sondheim

February 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Six songs by famed Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim are used to provide deeper insight into his life and career as a whole in director James Lapine’s documentary Six By Sondheim.

The film, which premiered on HBO in 2013 and has just been released on Blu-ray as part of the Warner Archive Collection, is compiled mostly from decades worth of interviews with Sondheim talking about his creative process.

The six songs in question are “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, “Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, “I’m Still Here” from Follies, “Being Alive” from Company, and “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George.

The real pleasure of the film comes from hearing Sondheim, whose other notable works include Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, delving deep into each of these tunes, discussing their conception and lyrics. Sondheim offers appealing anecdotes throughout, while also talking about his childhood and having Oscar Hammerstein as a mentor growing up. Lapine, a playwright and frequent collaborator of Sondheim’s, compliments these interview clips with some invaluable archival performance footage, (including clips from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary film on the recording of the original cast album of Company), and original stagings of several songs.

We are treated to new renditions of “Opening Doors” performed by Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan and America Ferrera in a segment directed by Lapine, as well as “I’m Still Here” performed by Jarvis Cocker in a sequence directed by Todd Haynes, and “Send in the Clowns” performed by Audra McDonald and Will Swenson in a sequence directed by Autumn de Wilde. These performances are very enjoyable to watch, and balance the film out quite nicely.

“To make art sound effortless takes a lot of effort,” Sondheim says at one point, which is a particularly good observation on his clever wordplay and deceptively simple lyrics. In fact, Six By Sondheim would serve as a great resource for budding songwriters. While it doesn’t quite feel like a complete portrait of the composer, we still do get a good amount of insight into Sondheim’s life and work through these six songs. It’s a very enjoyable documentary, especially for musical theatre fans.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes no additional bonus features.

Six By Sondheim is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 86 minutes and not rated.

Street Date: February 9th, 2021

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