Six on Sondheim
HBO Documentary
December 10, 2013

James Lapine is not Stephen Sondheim. So trying to make a documentary that imitated a Sondheim musical did not work. Sondheim can be edgy, ambivalent, stark and have it all add up to one brilliant artistic creation. Lapine can direct one of these musicals but cannot create one. That’s exactly what he tried to do in Six on Sondheim.

The HBO documentary Six on Sondheim referred to 6 songs that were apparently the bones of the his work. These were the songs that James Lapine had a lot of footage for as well as would carry forward the story. But how dare he not use the original footage for the songs? If this is supposed to be the definitive Sondheim film, then why not use the definitive Sondheim songs with the definitive artists?

Having Sondheim, through 50 years, tell his own story worked. The fact that this talking head film had you take a leap of faith through the years from clip to clip, it was all Sondheim, and all made sense.

Lapine is not a documentary director and it showed. I also had a problem with his recreation of Sondheim’s only autobiographical work, “Merrily We Roll Along” with 3 television stars from Glee, Smash and Ugly Betty. Yes, they could sing, but it was pandering to a younger audience. Sondheim doesn’t pander.

Sondheim dialogue imparted some lesser know stories, which I call WOW moments. He talked about his inspiration for musicals such as “Sunday In The Park with George.” He lamented that his mother sent him a letter as she was going into the hospital for a pacemaker. She wanted him to know that she regretted that he was born. Other stories, although known to many, were good to include such as his relationship with Oscar Hammerstein.

Could I have enjoyed this film? Well, I did, in spite of everything. But, I would not want my gardner to perform surgery on me even though they both use tools.

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