Raúl Esparza will host the star-studded tribute "Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration" on Broadway.com.
By Maureen Lee Lenker
It's time for a virtual celebration of 90 years of Stephen Sondheim being alive.
EW can exclusively reveal that Broadway veteran Raúl Esparza will host a star-studded online special commemorating the legendary composer and lyricist's birthday, "Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration." It will stream this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Broadway.com and Broadway.com's YouTube channel.
The concert will bring together some of Broadway and Hollywood's best to honor Sondheim, with performances by Meryl Streep, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski, Donna Murphy, Kristin Chenoweth, Mandy Patinkin, Sutton Foster, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O'Hara, Aaron Tveit, Stephen Schwartz, and more. Katrina Lenk will also appear; she, alongside LuPone, was meant to star in a gender-flipped Broadway revival of Company (itself turning 50 this year) slated to open on Sondheim's actual 90th birthday in March, but that was derailed due to the coronavirus crisis.
The birthday celebration promises to feature songs from the Sondheim catalog from some of those who've given iconic turns in his productions. Mary-Mitchell Campbell will act as music director for the evening, while Paul Wontorek will direct.
A fitting emcee, Esparza has a long relationship with Sondheim, having starred as Bobby in a Tony-winning 2006 revival of Company, as well as in the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration productions of Sunday in the Park With George (George) and Merrily We Roll Along (Charlie) in 2002. He also starred in City Center’s Encores production of Anyone Can Whistle (Hapgood) and Road Show (Wilson).
“The world is in a hard place, and we are all searching for something great. Well, Stephen Sondheim is greatness personified," Esparza said in a statement. "So, we’ve assembled a group of people who love Steve and have worked with Steve and have been inspired by Steve to sing his music and share some joy and some heartache together. We may be far from Broadway right now, but Broadway is never far from us. Besides, Stephen Sondheim turned 90. How many times do you get to be 90? Eleven? So come on, say it, get it over with, come on, quick… happy birthday."
The event is also meant to act as a fundraiser for Artists Striving to End Poverty, which connects performing and visual artists with youth from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.
While Broadway is closed, preventing two Sondheim revivals from playing (Company and West Side Story), this will offer a substitute tribute to the musical theater legend. He was previously honored for his 80th birthday with the live production "Sondheim: The Birthday Concert," which featured many of the same performers as above paying tribute in person at New York's Avery Fisher Hall.
At 90, Sondheim is just as relevant as ever, with his music featuring in prominent ways in recent films like Marriage Story and Knives Out and the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show.