Stephen Sondheim’s Putting it Together

Twenty-one years ago, Carol Burnett and four other actors performed a Broadway revue of Stephen Sondheim songs called Putting it Together. I didn’t get to see it on Broadway, but I just watched the filmed version on DVD, which you can get from your local library as I did.

So why did I wait 21 years? It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I wasn’t paying attention at the time. Recently, however, as I wrote in a post last month, I read Randy Rainbow’s memoir, in which he talks about Sondheim and about Burnett, both of whom are/were friends of his. And that led me to Putting it Together.

What we have here is a wonderful collection of three dozen songs from about two dozen different musicals. As is standard with revues, there is little to no scenery and little to no plot—although this particular revue has greater thematic coherence than the other four or five revues I’ve seen. As a result—and with a tiny cast playing many roles—the overall effect is that we could almost be watching a single musical that happens to contain all these songs.

From a performance point of view, the most notable aspects are the c*ography twins of choreography and cinematography. The beautiful high-resolution close-ups let the viewer appreciate the details of what’s happening on stage, and the crisp audio gives us access to every syllable. This can be crucial with Sondheim, whose words often call for listening fast and doing so two or three times—a bit like Tom Stoppard in that regard. Fortunately (and unusually) the result of filming a live performance is that we have a perfect mix of live theater and a movie.

I particularly want to mention Carol Burnett’s performance here of “Getting Married Today” from Company. Although I usually hate to quote from Wikipedia, let’s read what it says about this song (which is most often mistitled “Not Getting Married Today”):

The song has been described as one of the most difficult songs to perform in musical theatre, with one verse containing 68 words to be sung in roughly 11 seconds; it depends on clear diction, implicit pitch accuracy and breath support alongside imperative comedic timing.

Yes, not just difficult to sing, but some say that it’s impossible to sing. Nevertheless, Burnett does it flawlessly with aplomb. I am awed by her performance.

If you do watch the DVD, be sure to follow all the way to the end, where you can see the famous blooper and Burnett’s interview about how it happened. Bloopers are harmless in recorded studio performances, but this was in front of a live audience on Broadway!

Categories: Life, Movies & (occasionally) TV