There’s No Business Like a Show About Business

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s Sondheim on Sondheim at Studio 54, the umpteenth tribute to the composer in his 80th birthday year—this one sung by a stellar cast headlined by Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat and narrated by the man himself in vintage video clips and current talking-head interviews—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.

IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE to see a play by Annie Baker, do it. The young playwright deeply impressed critics and audiences with her Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons in the fall. Now she’s back with The Aliens at the even tinier Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Once again, she is examining the lives of regular folks in small-town Vermont—here, a trio of otherwise friendless sad sacks who hang out behind a local coffee house and believe each to be a misunderstood genius. The writing is beautifully crafted but simple, naturalistic dialogue that manages to be almost accidentally funny and wise. For much of the play, little happens, but we’re rapt. (Finally, something does, and it’s almost disappointing: This perfect little fascinating-nothing creation has been sullied by a plot.)

The acting, too, is excellent. It’s never clear whether the three are the geniuses they think themselves to be or merely losers deluding themselves. They’re believable either way, and it’s clear which Ms. Baker is.

There’s No Business Like a Show About Business