(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/3; via Pam Green; Photo: Emily Skinner performing “The Ladies Who Lunch” as part of the Signature Theater’s “Simply Sondheim” revue.Credit…Christopher Mueller.)
Three new revues offer war horses, showstoppers and standards — but, even better, rarities.
It may be that a million songs have been deposited for copyright in the United States since 1900. So why do we keep hearing the same 25 in revues?
I’m not completely complaining. When the songs are of the caliber of “Losing My Mind” by Stephen Sondheim and “Before the Parade Passes By” by Jerry Herman, it’s a comfort, like a lullaby, to encounter them again and again.
But three revues now streaming online — two featuring the work of those titans, one the work of writers long forgotten — make me especially glad for the wake-up call of rarities. If Sondheim’s “Something Just Broke” and Herman’s “Confession to a Park Avenue Mother” don’t ring any bells for you, so much the better. And if “Last Night on the Back Porch (I Loved Him Best of All),” a 1923 song by Carl Schraubstader and Lew Brown, does, congratulations: You’re a lewd centenarian.
“Something Just Broke” is an example of what’s best about “Simply Sondheim,” the revue conceived by David Loud and Eric Schaeffer for the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va. For one thing, it’s a left-field choice; the song is from “Assassins,” a niche show about the killing of presidents, and wasn’t even in the original production. (It was added in London.) Nor has it been sampled in any of the six other Sondheim revues I’ve seen.
But even if you’ve heard “Something Just Broke” before, Loud’s exquisite arrangement for seven singers makes you hear it anew. That newness prevents your ears from coasting on comfortable harmonic patterns and forces you to engage with the ideas they give shape to. You can’t miss how the lyrics, with their widely spaced rhymes and halting imagery, simulate the way tragedy is absorbed piecemeal by a country in shock, as for many of us our country is now.