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Sondheim! The Birthday Concert Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (96kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: None
  • Region: A
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • Blu-ray Release Date: November 16, 2010
  • List Price: $29.98

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BestBuy.com:
Sondheim!: The Birthday Concert - Widescreen AC3 Dolby Dts

Purchase Sondheim! The Birthday Concert on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:4.5/5]

Although the term “icon” has been overused in today’s vernacular, it is absolutely appropriate for Stephen Sondheim.   This disc, ostensibly an 80th birthday celebration for Sondheim, covers a half century of Sondheim offerings as lyricist and composer  in the relentless spotlight of Broadway. The concert approach works perfectly, due in large measure to the synergy between conductor Paul Gemignani, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the clever use of dramatic lighting.  David Hyde-Pierce is an ideal host who stays out of the way until his rendition of “Beautiful Girls” introduces the red-clad sextet of Patti LuPone, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, and Elaine Stritch. The return of original cast members plus newer stage personalities provides a balance that is at once authentic and refreshing.  The choices of familiar works like West Side Story and Sweeney Todd and those roads not well traveled like Do  I hear a Waltz, Saturday Night and Merrily We Roll Along give a perspective of one of the greatest musical theater composers of our or any other era.

There are many highlights in this generous helping of Sondheim songs from a dozen shows.  It begins with the super-charged “America” from West Side Story, continues through a stunning “ Too many mornings” (Follies)  rendered incomparably by the operatic duet of Nathan Gunn and Audra McDonald, the show-stopping “A little Priest” (Sweeney Todd) played as a trio with Michael Cerveris, George Hearn and Patti LuPone, and concludes with Elaine Stritch’s true-to-life soliloquy “I’m still here” (Follies).   The concluding  “Happy Birthday, Steve” is nearly anticlimactic as the celebration started two hours earlier.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.0/5]

The concert performance of this show is as good as it gets. Camera work gets it right nearly all the time conveying the sense that you are there. Close ups of the performers, many of whom are quite vintage, are done judiciously through a slightly softer and kinder lens.  With the exception of “America” and “Reds”, none of the other numbers are formally staged. However, the energy of each performance is so well communicated by the cinematographers that the scenery is not missed.  One quirky feature is the occasional audience shot showing Sondheim apparently having a great time at his party but captured in what appears to be a grainy cell phone video.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit) surround gives a very realistic perspective of the proscenium orchestra and vocalists. The acoustic properties accurately reflect the warmth of Avery Fisher Hall from a choice mid-orchestra row seat.  The vocalists are well captured and naturally balanced against the accompanying players.  Some of this is clearly due to Maestro Gemignani who is an old hand at supporting his singers.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

There are no additional materials. A brief booklet gives the background for the concert.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

This is not the first Sondheim tribute committed to DVD but, having seen its predecessors, I can state upfront that this one really gets it right. The Sondheim oeuvre is self-recommending and brings to light some less familiar but worthy songs. There is not a weak link in this starry cast and it has the additional advantage of presenting some newer performances to a larger audience.  As a “staged” concert,  Sondheim! The  Birthday Concert conveys a true sense of the occasion and holds up very well on repeated viewings.

Additional Screen Captures:

[amazon-product]B00404ME24[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Sondheim!: The Birthday Concert - Widescreen AC3 Dolby Dts

Purchase Sondheim! The Birthday Concert on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

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