Matt Windman at OnOffBroadway: The documentary footage offers an introspective and intimate glance into the notoriously cryptic Sondheim, who turned 80 last month. He candidly discusses his mother and sexual identity issues, and is even able to comment on his songs while they are being performed live…. But it’s far more fun than watching a PBS documentary. And since most of us will never meet Sondheim face to face, this is the closest we will probably get to personal contact with the master. The unavoidable irony of any Sondheim revue is that his songs lose power and punch when performed out of context. Sondheim on Sondheim is polished and well-intentioned, but it leaves you hungry for something more substantial and involving.

Jonathan Mandell at The Faster Times: If Sondheim Is God, Is The Roundabout The Devil? …. If there are any fireworks, they are Barbara Cook and the seven other supremely talented members of the cast…. A major disappointment of Sondheim on Sondheim (is that it) fails to take full advantage of the talent gathered on the stage. All of the performers offer solid proof at one time or another during the more than two and a half hours of this revue that they each individually could carry a show on their own; several have done so. But none are given enough to do. Still, there are the moments that make us want more in the first place. Those who already worship Sondheim probably already have seen this show, some more than once. They don’t need a primer of Sondheim’s greatness. Those who do need a primer cannot get one big enough in a mere article, and won’t get one deep enough.

David Cote at NY1: Like a classier episode of “Behind the Music,” this combo biography and musical revue gets the story straight from the horse’s mouth. Sondheim appears on video talking about his youth, his apprenticeship under Oscar Hammerstein II and his breakthrough collaborations with Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents…. But hey, this is more than a TV show, right? Unfortunately it is, and this is where the show becomes hit or miss. No question, there are talented actor-singers in the eight-member ensemble… but unfortunately, Lapine’s overly-perky staging comes across like a Sondheim Glee Club or a corporate function….. Despite multimedia razzle-dazzle and clever medleys, Sondheim on Sondheim is best, sadly, in its prerecorded bits. By all means, everybody stand for Sondheim, but the greatest tribute? Revive another of his shows.

Melissa Rose Bernardo at Entertainment Weekly: There are some things one never needs to see on a Broadway stage… like 82-year-old musical-theater grande dame Barbara Cook grabbing a costar’s butt. Granted, the ensemble of Sondheim on Sondheim is excerpting A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – a show built on bawdy comic bits – but Cook’s goose is merely one of this schizophrenic show’s many flabbergasting moments. Here’s another: Tom Wopat romancing Leslie Kritzer, who’s young enough to be his daughter. Oh wait, she was his daughter — in the 2008 musical A Catered Affair…. Sondheim on Sondheim is at its best when the composer gets to play tour guide through his oeuvre…. But hamstrung by his too-eclectic cast and his obvious need to dole out work equally – not to mention insert a big hit here and there – conceiver/helmer/longtime Sondheim collaborator James Lapine cobbles together mish-mash medleys and moves songs too far out of context.

Joe Dziemianowicz at NY Daily News: Sondheim on Sondheim, a multimedia musical portrait, seesaws between exuberant highs and bewildering lows. It makes for a fascinating and frustrating experience…. Some blue-pencil editing would streamline the 2 1/2-hour show: inferior material could go…. Re-enactments from musicals are off-target. Led by Wopat, the in-your-face number “The Gun Song” from Assassins backfires. Even the venerable Cook, draped in a black shawl, can’t make the odd vocal swoops of “I Read,” from Passion, click out of context. “Opening Doors,” from Merrily We Roll Along, is long-winded, and doing “Franklin Shepard, Inc.,” from the same show, is just overkill.

Terry Teachout at the Wall Street Journal: The handsomely mounted results suggest a cross between a PBS documentary and a lecture-recital and at times are almost as interesting…. Mr. Sondheim’s recorded commentary, alas, is genial but less than illuminating – he never says anything that will surprise anyone who has followed his career at all closely – and I can’t help but think that a show whose running time is well over 2½ hours might have profited had it been trimmed by someone not associated with the Sondheim cult. To check on the show’s intelligibility to the layman, I brought along an opera-loving friend who knew little of Sondheim’s work. She liked some of the individual songs but found the proceedings as a whole largely impenetrable, which seems fair…. Me, I think he’s a genius, but I found the proceedings a bit too clubby for comfort.

Jesse Oxfeld at the New York Observer: (Sondheim on Sondheim) is a pleasure to listen to. It’s also entirely unrevelatory. Indeed, it’s cleverly withholding: We get just enough information to feel like we’re learning something about Mr. Sondheim without actually learning anything about him. We’re shown his studio and told he writes on yellow pads with soft pencils, but we don’t learn anything substantive about his writing process. We’re told he had a terrible relationship with his mother, but we don’t really learn how that affected him. We’re told he was confused about his sexuality at 35 and had his first serious relationship at 60, but he doesn’t mention anything – even the gender – of the person he met at 60. It’s a live-action A&E Biography, and it’s a dull one. But, hey, you can’t complain about the soundtrack.

Elisabeth Vincentelli at the New York Post: Thank God for Stephen Sondheim. Not just for his songs, but for his running commentary, which punctuates the new revue Sondheim on Sondheim at regular intervals. Funny, informative, occasionally self-deprecating and often deeply touching, his insights – shown on moving video screens – have more life than the wan performances onstage. Indeed, even with such skilled interpreters as Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams on board, the numbers flatline. The visuals are theater, the music is glorified cabaret…. Sondheim on Sondheim never takes off. A big reason is, sadly, musical: The orchestra is too small and David Loud’s horrid arrangements sap the life out of most of the songs.

Martin Denton at The revue, conceived and directed by Sondheim’s frequent collaborator James Lapine, feels haphazard and uneven…. Though some of the insights Sondheim provides in the narration are interesting, maybe it would have been better just to let the work speak for itself? And it might have been better, too, to let the work really exist in its natural context…. Cutesy rethinkings (like “Happiness,” from Passion, done as a jokey and vaguely homophobic round-robin) and odd pairings (“Losing My Mind” in counterpoint with “Not a Day Goes By”) diminish great theatre songs…. I don’t mind looking backward from time to time, especially at a body of work as rich and deep as Stephen Sondheim’s. But I couldn’t help thinking that this tribute to an artist who during the performance is explicitly compared to God (or, at least, a god) is a little more perfunctory and indulgent and a little less thoughtful and exciting than it ought to be.

Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter: An awkward hodgepodge…. The best parts of the show, ironically, are the interview segments, in which the erudite and witty composer provides an entertaining running commentary…. Unfortunately, these informative segments are too often interrupted by the live performers on hand, who provide wildly uneven renditions of songs that usually fare much better…. The video projections are expertly handled, even if there is a tendency toward too many Monty Python-style visual effects, and Beowulf Boritt’s modular set, which keeps breaking up into different pieces, is arresting. (Not so for Susan Hilferty’s costumes, which often look like she picked them up at the Gap on the way to the theater).

Robert Feldberg at the Bergen Record: The word “disappointing” firmly stuck in my head. The show isn’t bad, and there are lovely and fascinating moments, but the whole thing is cumbersome and unfocused. If creator-director James Lapine had made different decisions, it could have been a delightful evening…. (Sondheim’s) appearances are the best part of the production, and one of its major problems is that there aren’t enough of them. Except for the ageless Barbara Cook… the cast is unexceptional. Lapine’s integration of songs and memories is woefully uneven…. Sondheim’s presence should be the strong spine of the show, the thing to which all else connects. But the lengthy (2-hour, 40-minute) evening feels random; it drifts…. (Sondheim) deserves a better showcase.

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