Charles McNulty at the Los Angeles Times: This latest salute is a peculiar hybrid, part video documentary, part elegantly mounted revue. But basically, it’s an entertainment for hard-core Sondheim fanatics who would rather hear the Ethel Merman song that was cut from Gypsy than the classic numbers that remain. If you’re a connoisseur of the more obscure reaches of the catalog and thrill at the prospect of getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the music by the master himself, this is the show for you…. Overall, there’s a little too much dead air in the production…. Maybe Sondheim on Sondheim simply suffers from celebratory overkill. Risky as it would be, another stab at the ill-fated “Merrily,” which closed on Broadway shortly after opening in 1981, would probably be preferable to any more congratulatory merriment.
Ben Brantley at the New York Times: This is a chipper, haphazard anthology show that blends live performance of Sondheim songs with archival video footage and taped interviews with Himself. Conceived and directed by James Lapine, Mr. Sondheim’s frequent (and, to me, best) collaborator over the years, this somewhat jittery production never quite finds a sustained tone, a natural rhythm or even a logical sense of sequence. It does, however, have a polished and likable eight-member cast…. This format has the disadvantage of often giving the performers the status of audio-visual tools. Mr. Sondheim says he’s always most comfortable when he can create for a specific character instead of an abstract type or emotion. And it’s not easy for singers to reflect that specificity in a show like this one.
Michael Feingold at the Village Voice: Sondheim on Sondheim… is a kind of Broadway-level community-theater event, half lecture-demonstration and half end-of-season party, with our era’s presiding writer of theater songs, now 80, discussing his life and work in a barrage of video clips…. The video tail seem(s) to be wagging the live theatrical dog. And the two occasionally go out of synch…. Some numbers, too, are just oddly matched to their singers, or flat-out oddly conceived. The evening is full of high points that evoke, as such a show must…. By rights, there should be nothing to complain of. Yet the show feels puzzlingly lackluster, like a last-minute birthday gift originally purchased for somebody else. I guess you might say it’s the thought that counts.
Jason Clark at Slant Magazine: Of course, in any revue-style show, you’re going to run the gamut of output, and this one’s no exception. You get everything from staggering (Lewis’s gentle, stirringly delivered rendition of “Being Alive”) to deft (Morton’s marvelous “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” from Merrily We Roll Along) to the odd (Williams relives her Miss America wild days stripteasing to a restored number from Follies) to the just-plain wrongheaded (Company‘s great “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” has now become a silly, charmless duet for Wopat and Cook)…. Overall the production shouldn’t embarrass the ol’ SS. He’s probably so used to hackneyed cabaret versions of his standards anyway that a little pro sheen only makes it smoother.
Linda Winer at Newsday: Lapine, Sondheim’s frequent collaborator, cannily and irreverently puts together childhood photos, historic interviews and tapes made for the occasion. These are projected on a grid of 35 rearranging squares. A hidden onstage orchestra plays new and classic arrangements for obscure and favorite songs. One would love to report that the performances were as transforming as the documentary. The cast is fine, especially the younger contingent: Leslie Kritzer, Euan Morton, Erin Mackey, Matthew Scott and, particularly, Norm Lewis. But, for all his likability and theater experience, Tom Wopat should not be expected to compete with the giants who have sung “Finishing the Hat.”
Brendan Lemon at the Financial Times: The result, a centaur of video interviews and live performance, is highly enjoyable. None of this season’s charity tributes to Sondheim, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, was foolhardy enough to attempt this production’s comprehensiveness; the same is true of such previous revues of his work…. Sondheim will provide a more elaborated discussion of context, and much else, in his book about songwriting, which has been virtually completed and will probably be published next year. I wish that a few of his insights in Sondheim on Sondheim, informative as all of them are, had been saved for that format. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful – but could be even more wonderful with ruthless editing to prevent a sense at the finish of “10 minutes too long”.
Christopher Bonanos at New York Magazine: It’s a light revue assembled by his longtime collaborator James Lapine, one in which the composer himself introduces most of the songs, VH1 Storytellers style, in onscreen snippets projected behind the performers. If you are even slightly inclined toward Sondheimianism, you will find yourself comfy and cozy here, but you won’t be challenged much either. If you’re a hater, you will likely find yourself only partway persuaded of his greatness. And if you’re really deep into the cult, you’ve heard all the anecdotes before — but I doubt that you’ll mind one more go-around…. The new arrangements for several songs… are anemic, too, though to be fair there’s only so much you can get out of a small-budget orchestra of nine players.
Adam Feldman at Time Out New York: Is it a live PBS documentary about Stephen Sondheim, with vocal illustrations? Or is it a revue of Sondheim’s peerless catalog, with annotations from the author? And if the latter, is it meant to proselytize to neophytes, or to preach to Sondheim’s existing congregation? …. Who but a connoisseur would prefer an obscure Company draft, “The Wedding Is Off,” to the masterpiece of comic neurosis, “Not Getting Married,” that replaced it? On the other hand, if the show is being pitched to those best equipped to catch it, then what can explain some of the cheesier industrial-style staging and college-singing-group arrangements – or, for that matter, the central casting? …. Frustrations notwithstanding, Sondheim on Sondheim remains an enjoyable evening at the theater.
David Finkle at TheaterMania: Sondheim on Sondheim… should keep both Sondheim aficionados and new converts alike satisfyingly entertained…. Unfortunately, much of the show’s first act borders on the offensive in the way it often features annoying too-cute medleys and otherwise ill-reconceived approaches to Sondheim’s work. In the considerably better second act, however, the singers are allowed to warble most of their gorgeous material in a more rewarding fashion. For many audience members, Sondheim talking about himself — easily and articulately as it happens – is the show’s major selling-point. He’s forthcoming (except when he isn’t) and the subjects run the spectrum from devastating (a story about his aloof mother, Foxy Leshin) to insipid (a lame joke about sending his nail clippings to the Smithsonian).
Matthew Murray at Talkin’ Broadway: Despite the prevailing pointlessness, the show is – to quote you know who – perfectly okay…. Aside from (the) company, which in counting Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, and Euan Morton could not be starrier or more talent-packed (and even relative newcomers Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott, who round out the cast, are unusually impressive), the production is most notable for Sondheim’s direct participation…. But because of the sheer wattage of the performers, you’ll never have a terrible time…. Ultimately, however, it’s Sondheim himself who is the most interesting set piece…. From that angle, Sondheim on Sondheim is enlightening and refreshing. In almost every other respect, you’ve seen and heard it all before.