A Tribute to Stephen Sondheim

Any TV program that celebrates Stephen Sondheim, that exposes his work to a wide audience, has to be commended. But it's too bad that this tribute is so superficial and amateurish. America's greatest songwriter deserves better.

With:
With: Jason Alexander, Angela Lansbury, James Lapine, Debra Monk, Bernadette Peters, Harold Prince, Chip Zien.

Any TV program that celebrates Stephen Sondheim, that exposes his work to a wide audience, has to be commended. But it’s too bad that this tribute is so superficial and amateurish. America’s greatest songwriter deserves better.

The presence of such noted Sondheim collaborators as performers Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters and directors Harold Prince and James Lapine notwithstanding, this is unmistakably a student show.

In effect, it is a taped copy of an evening when Sondheim received the Algur H. Meadows award for the arts from SMU’s arts school endowed by the Meadows family, with a Sondheim interview edited in.

As a souvenir for the Dallas university’s archives, this would be more than adequate. But it’s simply not up to the standards for a national cable service.

That’s largely because the celebrity guests are merely supporting players; most of the work is done by students in the Meadows program. While all demonstrate admirable enthusiasm, their talents range from pretty good to embarrassing.

A trio of young men do all right with “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd” but more prevalent are performances like the off-key, misguided “Tonight” from “West Side Story.”

Peters provides the main performance thrill with a beautiful rendition of “No One Is Alone” from “Into the Woods.”

Jason Alexander and Angela Lansbury are represented in pre-recorded tributes, and when their testimonials suddenly turn to first-person addresses to Sondheim, it becomes obvious that these segments were made for the program in Dallas, then recycled into this show. It feels tacky.

The Sondheim interview offers some insights, although his comments regarding his various shows present little that hasn’t been covered in previous interviews.

In keeping with the rest of the show, tech credits befit a student production.

A Tribute to Stephen Sondheim

(Thurs. (12), 6-8 p.m., A&E

Production: Taped in Dallas by Southern Methodist University and the Meadows School of the Arts in association with A&E Network. Executive producer, Bob Banner; producer, Greg Brown; director, Lynn Gartley; directed for the stage, John Neville Andrews; choreographer, Patricia Harrington Delaney.

Crew: Musical director, Constantina Tsolainou; lighting, David Martin Jacques; conductor, David Milnes.

Cast: With: Jason Alexander, Angela Lansbury, James Lapine, Debra Monk, Bernadette Peters, Harold Prince, Chip Zien.

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