Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Six By Sondheim: HBO's Look at the Great Man of the American Musical

While PBS is keeping me from turning on their channel with their endless repeats of Il Volo, Andrea Bocelli, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and plugging some boys choir "Liberia: Angels," I can only thank and applaud HBO Documentaries for their latest feature: "Six By Sondheim."

Having fallen in love with Sondheim's work as a kid I mistakenly thought I knew much more about the man than I did, but oh, so much more is revealed here through various interviews given over the decades. Oftentimes I found myself moved to tears - usually around the same time Mr. Sondheim himself was.

The most chilling revelation was the difficult relationship he'd endured with his mother, not only through childhood, but well into adulthood. Emotionally, he spoke of how, while in his 40's, his mother had, hand delivered to him, a letter on the eve of her open heart surgery, stating "I have only one regret in my life, which is giving you birth." Sondheim explains how until that moment he'd thought their difficulty stemmed from misguided or misplaced mother's love but "then I realized . . . she never wanted me on earth."

That maternal relationship (or lack thereof) puts Oscar Hammerstein's influence very much into perspective, Sondheim almost incapable of imagining what his life might have turned out without the great man's guiding hand.

Happily, there are bountiful musical selections, some featuring original casts, productions and recording sessions, i.e., Merman as Gypsy, Dean Jones' searing "Being Alive"), but we also get a marvelous segment from "Merrily We Roll Along" staged and filmed specifically for this documentary. It features Sondheim having a delicious romp reveling in the role of producer, Joe, along with rising young stars America Ferrara, Darren Criss and Jeremy Jordan. It's a delight.

Once again, I can't thank HBO Documentary films enough for producing this terrific film and, I urge any fan of Sondheim who has HBO . . . or a friend who has HBO . . . to catch it while you can. It really is that good.