Watch This: Six by Sondheim
I am always watching something. If it’s not a film for work it’s a series I haven’t seen yet. If it’s not a new theatrical release, it’s a doc I’ve been meaning to get to. If it’s not on Netflix, it’s a DVD I snagged from the library. It’s always something.
I was poking around HBOgo recently (as I’m known to do between Game of Thrones seasons…) and discovered a handful of docs I hadn’t checked out yet, including Six by Sondheim.
Released a couple years ago, I recall hearing about it enough to be intrigued. Apparently it fell off my radar quickly after that, as I just now got around to checking it out, and I’m glad I did.
I grew up on and through musicals. From seeing Cats as a kid to living with Rent on repeat in my CD player in high school and all the soundtracks and shows since, I have always been a fan of fictional characters spontaneously breaking out into song.
And no one’s characters and the songs they break out into are better than Stephen Sondheim’s. Intelligent and sincere and witty and vulnerable, Sondheim managed to make a song more than a melody and some words in rhythm. They are individual stories that add up to compelling wholes, character-revealing in their depth and plot-managing devices at their best. Not a moment, not an inflection is wasted in a Sondheim song.
The film, which from what I can gather premiered directly on HBO, covers Sondheim’s personal history alongside six of the composer’s most iconic songs (Something’s Coming, Opening Doors, Send In The Clowns, I’m Still Here, Being Alive and Sunday). As Sondheim himself and those who know him best recount his life and each song’s backstory, the songs themselves become characters in vignettes performed and directed by some of the industry’s best (the goddess Audra McDonald among them).
Blended seamlessly with archival images from Sondheim’s childhood and footage from original recording sessions, the movie is catnip for any fan of the stage. It’s an inside glimpse into the creative mind of one of the most talented living lyricists, with a killer soundtrack to boot.