Late into Take Me to the World, the live-streamed isolation concert to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday, Nathan Lane quips that the composer has ‘been so under-appreciated all these years. I can’t believe there’s never been a tribute to this unsung musical genius.’ It’s a delicious routine, because every fan of the indisputable master of the American musical knows just how many Sondheim tributes are extant, and how unlikely it is that this will be the last. For a while it seemed as though this one might just slot in with the others, a standard – if, given the format, unorthodox – collection of musical performances showcasing Sondheim’s particular talents.
Watching it on April 27 in Australia and then subsequently on YouTube, it soon became apparent that something unique, indeed historic, was occurring. With each separate tribute, all individually streamed from the singers’ homes using natural lighting and standard computer cameras (the sound a little variable), a grand narrative emerged, one that tapped into Sondheim’s primary modes of longing, reflection, and regret.