Entertainment » Music

Losing My Mind: A Sondheim/Disco Fever Dream

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Monday Mar 30, 2020
Losing My Mind: A Sondheim/Disco Fever Dream

Disco and Broadway have never quite meshed. Back in the disco heyday, there was the occasional cover version of a show tune that became a hit ("If They Could See Me Now," "I Am What I Am"). Even a Stephen Sondheim classic, "Losing my Mind," in a version by Liza Minnelli and the Pet Shop Boys, was a dance floor hit in the 1980s. And before that, another Sondheim song — "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,"-- was given a dance mix that would have likely been heard at Studio 54 at the time.

So there was some trepidation when approaching "Losing My Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream," a new CD from Broadway Records, released to celebrate Sondheim's 90th birthday. I mean, remember The Ethel Merman Disco Album?

I needn't have worried. "Losing My Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream" puts some 40 of his songs — some well known, many not — through an electronic dance filter, resulting in a terrific listen.

That this began as a concert may be why the CD feels like an original cast album of a show you've yet to see. (The concert took place in New York's Green Room 42 in August 2018.) But one can hope that when stages are up and running again Joshua Hinck and Scott Wasserman, who conceived, produced and arranged this CD, have the opportunity to stage it again. Aside from its ingenious arrangements, it gives performers some show-stopping turns, both individually and in an ensemble.

Part of the beauty of the concept is that Hinck and Wasserman not only know Sondheim, they know disco, and their arrangements capture the best disco of the time (The Sound of Philadelphia, Giorgio Morodor and Salsoul Records) with the synthesized sounds enhanced with sleek orchestral arrangements, often suggested by the musical's original orchestrations.

The synergy is exhilarating, especially for a Sondheim fan. I am not quite sure what the experience of hearing the album would be to someone unfamiliar with his music would be since much of the fun comes with marveling at the mash-ups of the songs. Who would have ever thought that "There Won't Be Trumpets" and "That'll Show Him" play so well in counterpoint? Just those titles indicate that Hinck and Wasserman embrace his lesser-known songs and shows. Hearing a sample from "Simple," the ten-minute musical scene from "Anyone Can Whistle," used so expressively only proves to the imaginative scholarship on display throughout.

Take, for instance, the wonderful mash-up of "Somewhere" and "Giants in the Sky, "two songs that you would never think fit so well together. Or the mix of "Hello, Little Girl" and "Pretty Lady," sung in the style of a rakish lounge lizard, followed by a female response ("Moments in the Woods," "Loving You," "Lovely" and "By the Sea") given a full-throttle disco diva treatment a la Thelma Houston. And whoever thought that "The Miller's Son," with its tricky rhythms and rhymes, would fit so neatly in the concept? It is, though, about dancing.

There are said to be some 40-plus Sondheim songs heard on this 45-minute-or-so CD, which will lead to listening to it to be something of a game as to identify them. One of the cleverest mash-ups has sections from "It's Hot Up Here," "The Letter" (from "Sweeney Todd,"), "Simple," and "The Tick-Tock Ballet" (from "Company") integrated into a seamless whole. The excellent vocalists include Broadway veterans Alison Luff, Blaine Krauss, Aneesa Folds, Charity Angél Dawson, Vishal Vaidya, Brittnie Price, Juwan Crawley, Deonté L. Warren, Joshua Hinck, Aili Venho, Onyie Nwachukwu, and a special cameo from Chip Zien.

What, though, prove to be the album's most poignant (and relevant) cuts are the empowering "Our Time," given a Chic-like treatment; and "No One Is Alone," here a gorgeous choral treatment that builds to a deeply touching climax, especially given the current world situation. It may be "hard to see the light now," but perhaps this imaginative and smartly produced album can offer a bit of respite, especially for die-hard Sondheim fans.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].


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