Watch how you sing Sondheim, or adults won't listen.
Fortunately, not only do the three Broadway stars and five Tanglewood Music Center fellows sing the songs of Stephen Sondheim beautifully, but the program put together by the Boston Pops makes more sense of the master of the modern musical than many of the revues sanctioned by Sondheim himself.
It's tempting to wrench Sondheim's songs out of their context and put together a greatest hits compilation or a new story based on lost or fraught connections, but they often don't work recontextualized.
Keith Lockhart and the Pops attempted something more difficult, with semistaged extended excerpts from several musicals accompanied by brief explanations of what was happening in them. Sondheim still isn't for everybody, as attested to by the song-by-song migration during the second half of the show, but the evening turned out to be as entertaining as it was daring.
With friends like Marin Mazzie, Faith Prince, and Gregg Edelman, it's hard to go wrong.
It's impossible to imagine anyone singing ''Losing My Mind" from ''Follies" better than Mazzie did last night. In fact it's impossible to imagine anyone singing anything better than Mazzie did last night. One of the original stars of ''Passion," Mazzie is something to see and hear.
Edelman got better as the 2 1/2-hour show progressed. Both he and the orchestra were too smooth for ''Sweeney Todd." Every musical hair was in place and that's not a good thing when the demon barber is cutting loose on Fleet Street. But he was particularly effective with Mazzie in ''Into the Woods" and the five fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center in ''Opening Doors" from ''Merrily We Roll Along."
As one might expect, the five younger performers are better singers than actors, though Chanel Wood and Charles Temkey seem to have put it all together. Faith Prince has no acting problems. Waltzing in place during ''A Little Priest" or putting away shot after shot (of something) during ''The Ladies Who Lunch," Prince filled some big shoes (Angela Lansbury's and Elaine Stritch's) pretty convincingly.
For all the individual contributions, this was an ensemble artistic success. After ''Todd," Lockhart and the orchestra showed great sympathy for Sondheim's many moods, from the anxious jazziness of ''The Ladies Who Lunch" to the majesty of Mazzie's heartbreak in ''Losing My Mind."
It would have been easy to pluck the most tuneful songs from Sondheim's musicals, such as ''Send In the Clowns" (which was left to Frances Botelho-Hoeg, the winner of last night's ''Popsearch" contest). In terms of a crowd-pleasing show, Lockhart, the Pops and the guests might not have given the people exactly what they wanted last night. They gave them something much better.
Ed Siegel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.