Sondheim! The Birthday Concert
Preview the Concert

In a year chock full of star-studded 80th birthday tributes to legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the March 15–16 gala evenings with the New York Philharmonic at New York’s Lincoln Center stood tall.

The two-hour concert, Sondheim! The Birthday Concert will air on PBS’s Great Performances Wednesday, November 24 at 9 p.m. (check local listings). Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Watch a preview:

Hosted by David Hyde Pierce, who provides sardonic narration throughout the evening, the cast, a veritable Who’s Who of Broadway’s finest performers, includes (in alphabetical order): Laura Benanti, Matt Cavanaugh, Michael Cerveris, Victoria Clark, Jenn Colella, Jason Danieley, Joanna Gleason, Nathan Gunn, George Hearn, Blaine Hoven, Patti LuPone, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, John McMartin, Donna Murphy, Laura Osnes, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Maria Riccetto, Bobby Steggert, Elaine Stritch, Jim Walton, Chip Zien, and from the current production of “West Side Story,” Karen Olivo, who gets the evening off to a spirited start leading the dancers in “America.”

Conducted by longtime Sondheim stalwart Paul Gemignani, the evening (as well as the broadcast) was directed and co-written (with Pierce) by actor-director Lonny Price, who appeared in the original cast of Sondheim’s ?Merrily We Roll Along. Price also directed the Great Performances presentations of Candide with the New York Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic’s concert versions of Sweeney Todd and Camelot.

Stephen Holden in The New York Times raved, “While such celebrations tend to be messy affairs, ‘Sondheim: The Birthday Concert’ … was a model of organization, with a suave host … and witty leitmotifs woven into its structure. Performances by an all-star guest list …proceeded at a brisk pace; there was no speechifying.”

The concert includes songs and orchestral pieces from Sondheim musical theater favorites such as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, and Sunday in the Park with George.

Many of Sondheim’s most famous numbers are on display, of course, as well as such interesting items as “Don’t Laugh,” which he wrote for his friend Mary Rodgers’ Hot Spot, and “Growing Up,” written for a later production of Merrily We Roll Along but sung here by original cast member Walton.

In an especially memorable sequence, some notable creators of Sondheim roles reprise their greatest moments, including McMartin (Follies), Gleason and Zien (Into the Woods), Peters and Patinkin (Sunday in the Park with George), the segment concluding with a couple of rival Broadway Sweeney Todds, Hearn and Cerveris, amusingly flanking LuPone, who played Mrs. Lovett opposite both of them.
Sondheim’s lesser known career as an occasional film score composer is acknowledged by a pas de deux danced to the theme written for Warren Beatty’s Reds by Riccetto and Hoven, and choreographed by Josh Rhodes.

Other highlights in an evening filled with them include “We’re Gonna Be Alright” (Mazzie and Danieley); “Johanna” (Gunn); and “Too Many Mornings” (Gunn and McDonald), and the parade of legendary leading ladies who cap the evening with a non-stop succession of showstoppers guaranteed to quicken the pulse of all bona fide show fans: “The Ladies Who Lunch” (LuPone); “Losing My Mind” (Mazzie); “The Glamorous Life” (McDonald); “Could I Leave You?” (Murphy); “Not a Day Goes By” (Peters); and “I’m Still Here” (Stritch).
In addition to the PBS telecast, the concert will be released on DVD in November by Image Entertainment.

A production of Ellen M. Krass Productions and THIRTEEN for WNET.ORG, the telecast was directed for television by Lonny Price and produced by Ellen M. Krass and Mort Swinsky, with Stewart F. Lane, Bonnie Comely and Cathy Fitzpatrick as executive producers. Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, LuEsther T. Mertz, the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers and PBS.

  • Lenore

    I had the great good fortune to see the concert live. It is a must see for Sondheim fans, and anyone who loves Broadway. Each and every performance is outstanding and no orchestra pays musical tribute and plays Sondheim scores as beautifully as the New York Philharomonic. What a beautiful way to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

  • Jane

    No matter how fabulous the concert is, it cannot possibly be complete without Angela Lansbury. What a dreadful omission.

  • lj

    Angela Lansbury was busy starring in A Little Night Music at the time.

  • Joanna B

    Seeing the concert live was extraordinary. Seeing it on PBS will bring it all back again. Can’t wait!

  • Barbara Lampas

    Please tell me if this program,Sondheim! The Birthday Concert
    11/24/10 will be repeated. Perhaps on Sunday?

    Thank You

  • Muffy

    As wonderful as this sounds, I would love to know why it is not being broadcasted in North Carolina. A Tina Fey special is on instead…

  • Ellen

    I AGREE WITH MUFFY! WHY IS THIS NOT BEING AIRED IN NC???????? I almost cried i was so dissappointed. I’m not blaming PBS because it is probably they statewide networks fault. But i am soooooooooo disappointed!

  • Pearl Volkov

    I missed the November 24, 2010 presentation from Buffalo. Surely, this should be repeated for others as well who missed it. Please let us know when it will be shown again. I live in Ontario. Thank you.

  • Gailalong

    That was one of the most joyous and wondrous shows I have seen. I did miss Angela Lansbury. After watching that show, I go into Thanksgiving with a few more thanks on my mind than before, for music, Sondheim, Broadway, and fabulous singers, including all of those here tonight, but especially Nathan Gunn, Audra McDonald and Donna Murphy.

  • Perry Johnson

    The awesomely wonderful artists and the music…the music…the music…and the lyrics…the lyrics…the lyrics. It’s hard to think of any comparative for his great body of work. Let it be so. Iconic and so beautifully structured, so thoughtfully conceived, so achingly human. Long may he wave.

  • Andre Corbeau

    Awesome show should not be missed by any Sondheim fan. I also missed Angela Lansbury.
    Looking forward to a repeat performance on PBS.

  • Dorothy Wass

    We missed the first hour,. Our WGBH guide seems to have disappeared and we forgot about it We hope that it will be repeated soon. What we saw was great. We always enjoy Donna Murphy and she is a graduate of our regional high school.

  • Amy

    Muffy & Ellen -

    I’m also in NC. I think (am HOPING) it may be available ONLINE fairly soon – later today (Thanksgiving) would be GREAT! ;-) – , like the Patrick Stewart ‘Macbeth’ and other Great Performances programs.

    If I can’t find a link on the local PBS site, I’m going to try

    This is the NY PBS station… I bet it’ll be there, at least. And if not, I discovered my local library has the DVD on order – and I am now #1 on request list! :-D

  • Peg Wilder

    What talent on one stage! Thank you for this wonderful Thanksgiving gift.

  • Leonard Lanier

    Good News and Bad News for North Carolina’s PBS viewers. According to UNC-TV’s online schedule, they WILL show the Sondheim special on December 4th. Unfortunately, it’s at 2:00 AM. Thank goodness for DVRs! Hopefully, Great Performances also plans to post the special on the PBS Video Portal.

  • Leonard Lanier

    There is also a listed showing for the Sondheim tribute on Sunday, November 28th at 9:00 PM on UNC-TV.

  • Muse
  • Susan

    This was one of the most fabolous and moving shows I’ve seen in years. Why is it not being repeated when drivel like Andrea Bocelli is all over the stations, repeated again and again?

  • Scott

    Completely devastated missed the show last night, Nov. 24… Will PBS rebroadcast soon? Am in Dallas. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  • Amy

    There is now a chunk of the broadcast available online

  • roy staab

    I thought the same.. where is Angela Lansbury? What a dreadful omission.
    and where was Charles …… who was one of the characters in Afternoon in the Park with George.

    only one song is on youtube. why not all of them..

  • dottie

    Would love to see a performance rbreakdown of Who’s singing what song. Loved every minute of it….just don’t know some of the younger cast members. Thank you PBS! You never disappoint!!

  • Paul

    What was the song that was sung by the multitude of Broadway actors near the end of the program?

  • Kenn

    That was the finale from “Sundayin the Park with George.”

  • paul garcia

    I luved the concert my favorite part was bernadette peters singing w mandy patikin that was the highlight for me

  • Marian

    Sondheim! The Birthday Celebration is one of the best Great Performances concerts I have experienced. Each and every artist seemed inspired by the celebratory event to pay special homage to Sonheim’s creativity with a sterling performance of his work. The entire two-hour show sparkled.

    Because it aired in prime time on Thanksgiving Eve, few of my friends were able to watch the show. Subsequent scheduled broadcasts are after midnight during early morning hours. Would it be possible to broadcast this exceptional performance soon again during prime time? Many viewers are waiting.

  • randy

    Thank you.

  • paul

    Thank you

  • Nairobi

    I am sooo upset I missed this!!! I want to know where Angela Lansbury is and also I would I have loved to hear you could drive a person crazy or everybody ought to have a maid. Ah well one can only wish. But in all I hear it was amazing, I say Elaine, I thought she was great :)

  • Wallace

    Just saw it now, Nov 28, on WETA. Marvelous indeed. Living in Wash DC area, it makes me wish that I lived closer to NYC to see either the tribute or any of the original performances by the singers. What a facile mouth and voice on Patti LuPone. And ‘though she hasn’t lost her voice, when did Bernadette Peters lose her buxom-ness?

  • Amy

    I thought Chip Zien sounded exactly the same, 23 yrs later…

  • Bev Stern

    I live near west palm beach. Will the Birthday concert be shown again

  • Anna Lee

    I was so upset that Laura Benanti’s performance was cut out of the November 28th Selections show!! I had seen the show earlier in the week and could not believe her performance was cut. I gues the pitch time cut into it! Too bad.

  • Bob

    A wonderful show! Although I have caught fragments only.

    Cincinnatians will be able to enjoy replays of this show on CET Arts (48.3) Nov. 29, at 3 PM and 10 PM.
    Also on Dec. 1 on CET 48.1 at 9:30 PM.

    CETConnect will send reminders of your favorite programs if you request it.

  • Kathy K

    Anyine know if this will be repeated any time soon?

  • Kevin

    I thought the stand-out moment of this production was the section with the six women in red each performing her own Sondheim piece.

    Audra McDonald was simply STELLAR with her production of “The Glamourous Life” and it was such a treat to hear the song sung in its entirety (the Fredrika lines at any rate).

    Does anyone know of any other CD’s or recordings that exist for this version of “The Glamourous Life” as presented by Audra McDonald in the concert? From what I remember – the version she sings in the concert is from the FILM version of “A Little Night Music” and is not as it appears in the original or revival of the show currently on Broadway.

    I love this song and thought Ms. McDonald performed it with such passion it actually made me tear up while listening to her (as did Peter’s “Not a Day Goes By” which followed).

    I hope they will release this concert on CD – does anyone know? Thanks – Kevin

  • Genora Newman-Chapman

    I recorded the show and I can’t get enough. What a wonderful Thanksgiving special.

  • Doug

    I hope you can show this again in the future on PBS.I was not able to view entire show.Thanks for all the music shows and history.PBS is The Best.:Doug

  • Shannon

    Does anyone know if the whole show is available on DVD? I saw it a few months ago but I really want to watch all of the performances
    I am doing Broadway for my last concert in high school and I want to get some inspiration from the whole special…when I watched it I thought it was amazing!!!

  • Sarah

    How come I could never find the date until now?!

    Will this be aired again sometime this Fall or Summer? Or a DVD please?!?!!

    I have dying to see this and have waiting for a date…and of course, I missed it.

    Please help us fans!


  • BeckytheTechie

    It’s available on Netflix where I’m watching it for the first time as I type. If I ever teach a lesson on musical theatre or Sondheim, this is going on the lesson plan!

  • Bob Marks

    Does anyone know who the pianist was for this concert? It doesn’t seem to be listed on the DVD notes.

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