Although Stephen Sondheim wasn’t talking to reporters, guests at HBO’s Nov. 18 premiere of “Six By Sondheim” couldn’t stop talking about the legendary composer and lyricist.
Directed by Tony award-winner and frequent Sondheim collaborator, James Lapine, doc examines the life and art of the artist by weaving together dozens of interviews with the composer, rarely-seen archival material spanning more than half a century (including newly discovered footage of Ethel Merman performing “Gypsy”) and spotlighting six Sondheim songs: “Something’s Coming,” “Opening Doors,” “Send in the Clowns,” “I’m Still Here,” “Being Alive” and “Sunday.”
“Those songs tell the story of his life,” Lapine explained before the MoMA screening.
Lapine, Todd Haynes and Autumn de Wilde directed segments of doc’s re-stagings, which showcase performances by thesps including legit regulars Audra McDonald and Jeremy Jordan and TV stars America Ferrera and Darren Criss.
“I truly think that James (Lapine) was out of options (when he picked me,”) Criss joked. Criss performed “Opening Doors” with Jordan, Ferrera, Jackie Hoffman and Laura Osnes. “Interacting with (Sondheim) was one of the most extraordinary, inspiring couple hours of my life. We had a scene to do together and in-between takes I just happened to get to chitchat with a man who happened to be Stephen Sondheim. It was incredible.”
At the Four Seasons after party, doc’s exec producer Frank Rich said that Sondheim gave both he and Lapine a “blank canvas” to work with.
“Stephen wasn’t breathing down our necks,” Rich explained. “He wanted us to do it, and do it in the most original way possible. We really had a lot of freedom. I love the collaboration involved with making shows and films. I wish I had been smart enough to think of doing it earlier because it has been a total blast.”