As he did so many times, Stephen Sondheim put it best, praising this year’s recipient of Signature Theatre’s Sondheim Award: “We all know Carol Burnett is a multitude of talents,” he wrote.
“To begin with, she can sing, and I mean sing. Her singing, in fact, is the most underrated gift she has. Then, she can act. And not only that, sing and act at the same time, which is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you happen to be one of the funniest women alive. And then, of course, there’s her graciousness, which is one of the reasons that people love her as much as they do, and should.”
Signature managing director Maggie Boland shared the late composer’s ode to Burnett at last night’s Sondheim Award Gala, an evening of glamour and gratitude presented at the recently-opened, 1,600-seat Capital One Hall. The company put on a fabulous show to honor the legendary funnywoman, the last Sondheim Award recipient to be personally chosen by the composer himself.
Sondheim had penned his thoughts on Burnett in 2020, in anticipation of her accepting the award at that year’s gala, which, ultimately, was not to be.
Still, his loving touch was felt throughout this night — in his words lauding Burnett, and in every performance and presentation. Following a rousing video memorial to Sondheim, comedian Randy Rainbow kicked off the show with a glowing recollection of how he first connected with the iconic redhead.
“When she called me at home,” he marveled. “Back in March 2020. She called to let me know she was keeping an eye on me. It was a very good day. We bonded instantly over our shared love of Sondheim and cats. The animal, not the musical. This is a Sondheim event — you know I don’t like to get political.”
Comedy flowed as easily as the beloved Sondheim tunes played by music director Jon Kalbfleisch’s 4-piece band.
Signature favorites Awa Sal Secka, Rachel Zampelli, and Paul Scanlan (stepping in at the very last minute for the originally scheduled, COVID-compromised performers) put an energetic stamp on the evening with “Comedy Tonight.”
Then, Tootsie Tony-winner Santino Fontana gave the crowd a bubbly “Buddy’s Blues,” before offering a touching rendition of “Anyone Can Whistle,” Burnett’s favorite Sondheim song.
But before the grand finale, Burnett’s dear friend Bernadette Peters delivered suitably captivating performances of “Old Friends,” from Merrily We Roll Along, and “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” also from Anyone Can Whistle. The celebrated Sondheim songstress brought the audience to its feet.
And, of course, they stayed on their feet for Carol Burnett, who was every bit as gracious as Sondheim had told us she’d be, first thanking the evening’s performers.
“Bernadette, oh, my god, there are no words to adequately describe the way I feel about her,” Burnett enthused of Peters, the 2011 recipient of the Sondheim Award.
Burnett recalled first seeing Peters in the 1967 Off-Broadway hit Dames at Sea, which led to Peters’ frequent guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show.
“She was the first person I asked to be on the show,” said the honoree.
Visibly moved, Burnett saved her final thanks for Sondheim. “I was blessed to have known and worked with Stephen,” she said, noting their collaborations on the Tony-nominated musical revue Putting it Together and Lincoln Center’s phenomenal 1985 Follies in Concert performance, even reminiscing on sparkly nights spent singing showtunes around Sondheim’s piano.
“Quite simply,” she said, “he was the best. He still is the best. And I know we all miss the hell out of him. Thanks, Steve.”
He didn’t live to see it, but the man was overjoyed, he wrote, for Burnett and her multitude of talents to step up and accept the Sondheim Award. “I congratulate all of them.”
Sondheim Awards Gala 2022 was held May 16, 2022, at Capital One Hall, Tysons, Va.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!