The harshest critic of the rarely-seen 1965 musical romance “Do I Hear a Waltz?” may be its own lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, who begrudgingly wrote lyrics to Richard Rodgers’ music, even after Sondheim had established himself as a promising composer in his own right. Rodgers was past his prime at that point.
In in his book “Finishing the Hat,” Sondheim writes that the musical “suffered from our not caring about it enough.” Arthur Laurents (who wrote the book) told him “it would be easy to write, and with Rodgers’ name attached, we’d make a ton of money.” In sum, Sondheim calls it “not a bad show, merely a dead one … that has no reason for being.”
And yet, as a self-professed Sondheim fanatic, I have nevertheless been eager to see a revival and was glad when City Center announced that it will produce it as part of the Encores! series of staged musical concerts, all of which are supported by a full orchestra and Broadway-caliber cast.
The score is extremely uneven. Half of the songs show signs of the acerbic wit that Sondheim would employ to great effect five years later in “Company,” while the rest are uninspired, hollow ballads. Laurents’ book contains an interesting protagonist in Leona, a lonely secretary who seeks romance while on vacation in Venice, but the storytelling is often static and sleep-inducing.
As directed by Evan Cabnet, this is an elegant production of a work that is better off left in the drawer, as a footnote to Sondheim’s unparalleled career. Melissa Errico gives a smashing lead performance as Leona that ought to leave theatergoers puzzled as to why she is not landing more starring roles.
If you go
“Do I Hear a Waltz?“ plays through Sunday at City Center. 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh aves, nycitycenter.org.