There couldn’t have been a more diverse or triumphant three days at the Bowl than this past weekend’s celebrations of two musical icons: Quincy Jones’ 90th Birthday Tribute and Everybody Rise: A Sondheim Celebration.
On Friday and Saturday night, numerous performers and surprise guests graced the Hollywood Bowl stage to honor one of the most prolific and influential songwriters and musicians of all time: Quincy Jones.
From his early days of “Misty” and “Fly Me to the Moon” to his Michael Jackson oeuvre, Jones’ varied contributions to music is stunning. This reviewer had no idea he wrote “Moon” or “You Don’t Own Me” (which is actually one of my favorite songs!).
With guest artists like Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, and Patti Austin, the night was filled with accomplished entertainers who performed Jones’ songs with respect and love, and it came through with every note.
Saturday night’s audience got an even bigger surprise with Stevie Wonder taking the stage twice to honor his long-time friend. With songs like “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” and “You Got It Bad Girl,” Mr. Wonder wowed the crowd with his still stellar vocals and charming stage presence.
Other surprises of the night were an instrumental trumpet take on Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life” and a slew of vocalists who blew the roof off of the Bowl with their interpretations of Jones’ most popular work.
With the second half of the night almost exclusively Jackson related, acts like Avery Wilson knocked “Rock with You,” “Off the Wall,” and “Thriller” (complete with dance moves) out of the park.
Siedah Garrett took the stage for “Man in the Mirror,” a song she co-wrote with Jones, and other performers included Aloe Blacc, Samara Joy, Sheléa, Vula Malinga, and Jacob Collier, wowed the enrapt crowd.
The impressive night was capped off with the guests joining Stevie for a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” that sent the audience home on a festive note.
On Sunday, the weekend of tributes turned to Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. The “Sweeney Todd” icon was celebrated by six of Broadway’s biggest stars: Sierra Boggess, Sutton Foster, Skylar Astin, Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and the legendary Patti Lupone.
While a few shows were curiously absent from the full night of music (“West Side Story,” for example), there were a lot from fan favorites “Company” and “Follies.”
Lupone, of course, stole the show all night, belting numbers like “Being Alive” like the diva that she is (and deserves to be). She also did a lovely version of “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music,” as well as her fun rendition of The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.”
Impressive still, Brian Stokes Mitchell did all of the characters for the song “Getting Married Today” from “Company” in what was a complicated and exhausting spin on the number that he performed to perfection.
A few numbers from “Sweeney Todd” popped up, with Lupone and Stokes Mitchell playing the lead characters to a tee. (Should they replace Groban and Ashford on Broadway when those two are done?)
Other highlights included a delightful mashup of “Losing My Mind” from “Follies” with “Not a Day Goes By” from “Merrily We Roll Along” as performed by Sutton Foster and Sierra Boggess. Skyla Astin wowed the crowd with his “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” from “Follies,” and Norm Lewis moved us with “With So Little to be Sure Of” from “Anyone Can Whistle.
The night ended with two numbers from “Sunday in the Park with George,” one of Sondheim’s most celebrated works. The entire cast filled the stage for “Sunday,” ending the night on a triumphant and glorious note.
Rarely do audiences get to see this spectacular a line up of Broadway icons and veterans, so whether Sondheim is your guy or whether you just love some good ole fashioned Broadway tunes, the Hollywood Bowl’s “Sondheim Celebration” was one for the books!