A lot of celebrities have been turning to virtual concerts during the pandemic (some on social media, some in a more formal setting), and yet, Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday concert felt like the freshest take on the formula so far, technical difficulties and all.
Sunday's (socially distanced, of course) celebration of the Broadway legend, titled Take Me to the World, pulled out every possible stop any fan could've asked for. Everyone from Meryl Streep to Jake Gyllenhaal to Lin-Manuel Miranda remotely performed songs from Sondheim's vast catalog, raising money for Artists Striving To End Poverty as they went. Stars like Nathan Lane and Steven Spielberg didn't sing but came prepared with their own sweet, funny stories of working with the composer. There were some creative camera angles. And, yes, there were also nearly an hour of technical issues, but that was part of the concert's charm. It was the very definition of the show must go on.
Raúl Esparza, the night's emcee and one of the event's organizers, dealt with the brunt of the problems. He kicked off the evening by giving a heartfelt speech entirely on mute, which he only realized after he'd been talking for about five minutes. Naturally, the moment he finally understood what was happening instantly became a meme. (He made up for it later with a performance of "Take Me to the World" from Evening Primrose, because that's how Tony nominees do it.)
There was Neil Patrick Harris doing a particularly campy rendition of "The Witch's Rap" from Into the Woods; Aaron Tveit's earnest "Marry Me a Little" from Company; Beanie Feldstein and Ben Platt having the most fun with a duet of "It Takes Two." There was Mandy Patinkin inexplicably and delightfully in a field -- complete with a river flowing behind him -- singing an a cappella version of "Lesson #8" from Sunday in the Park with George. Josh Groban did a soulful mash-up of "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods and "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd. Patti LuPone tackled "Anyone Can Whistle;" Bernadette Peters did "No One's Alone" without any backing music.
Jake Gyllenhaal reminded everyone he's a theater kid at heart when he teamed up with Annaleigh Ashford for Sunday in the Park with George's soaring "Move On." And, of course, the crown jewel of the evening, the performance we needed but didn't deserve: Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Audra McDonald bringing down the house with a boozy performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company in matching white bathrobes. (Shoutout to Streep's iPhone, which is apparently named "M S's iPhone.")
The whole production was a fitting tribute to a beloved icon, for Sondheim fans and non-theater nerds alike. It was a nice reprieve, and a reminder that although Broadway is dark and the future is uncertain, there's always joy out there. To paraphrase Baranski, Streep, and McDonald, we'll drink to that.