LENOX — From a Broadway debut in 2010 to the Tanglewood stage Saturday night comes a semi-staged, multimedia revue and career retrospective displaying the versatility and artistry of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the 87-year-old grand master of musical theater.
With expanded orchestrations, the Boston Pops presented "Sondheim on Sondheim" during its spring season at Symphony Hall with a quartet of Broadway vocalists and four vocal Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center's academy for advanced young professionals.
Interviewed backstage recently, conductor Keith Lockhart pointed out that "instead of stringing together a revue," frequent collaborator James Lapine conceived and directed the Broadway show by including filmed archival commentary by Sondheim "to get his viewpoint on the creative process and on his life, and illustrate it with songs."
The result is "an integration of video, most of which is Sondheim talking about his work, but occasionally playing the piano and singing, fly-on-the-wall sort of stuff and really compelling for anybody with interest in the incredible impact he's had," Lockhart said.
Several years ago, after viewing a tape of Lapine's Broadway production, Lockhart proposed a revamp of the show as a symphonic presentation for the Pops.
"I made the request of Stephen and he came back very enthusiastic about it, as was James Lapine," Lockhart recalled. "Then it took us the past couple of years to get the funding together and get a consortium of orchestras to do it."
The Pops version was orchestrated by Michael Starobin, a Tony Award-winner with 21 Broadway musicals to his credit, starting with Sondheim's 1984 "Sunday in the Park with George."
The show moves on to the Hollywood Bowl and other venues; Lockhart will present the European premiere with the BBC in London next March.
Lapine shortened the Broadway version to fit concert hall requirements. "He also took the opportunity to rethink some of the flow, so even though all the pieces are in there, they're in a radically different order than they were on Broadway," Lockhart explained.
Directing the Pops production is Lapine's niece Sarna, whose Broadway credits include the recent revival of "Sunday in the Park " Musical director David Loud worked with the Pops and TMC singers ahead of the two mid-June Boston performances.
Nearly all of Sondheim's shows are represented in the production, Lockhart said, including "a wonderful combination of two of his greatest torch songs" — "Not a Day Goes By" (from "Merrily We Roll Along") and "Losing My Mind" (from "Follies").
Also included are selections from "West Side Story," "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum," "Sweeney Todd," Sunday in the Park With Geirge," "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Into the Woods" and "Passion."
For the Tanglewood Music Center vocalists "it's a great experience for them to do a show under professional deadlines and with a cast of Broadway pros who've done this a lot," Lockhart said. "The four young people from the TMC are just outstanding."
Among them is Katie Beck, 27, who grew up in Bennington, Vt., after her parents, Mark and Tierney Beck, moved there from New York City to start a candle-making venture and open a craft center in the college town's Camelot Village. Tierney now works in HR and finance at the Wild Oats cooperative in Williamstown.
In late winter, Michael Nock, associate director of student affairs at TMC, e-mailed Beck and her colleagues Fotina Naumenko, Daniel McGrew and William Socolof, to invite them to participate in the Sondheim show.
"The question we all had initially was how were we chosen for this," said Beck in an interview. As best as she can determine, the four were tapped based on videos sent to Lockhart, Sarna Lapine and David Loud.
"It was an overwhelming offer, and once we arrived in Boston for nearly two weeks of rehearsals, that's where the most surreal feeling started to occur," Beck remembered. In the second week, they were joined by the four Tony award-winning or nominated Broadway performers — Phillip Boykin, Carmen Cusack, Ruthie Ann Miles and Gabriel Ebert — for stagings and group numbers.
"We had to adjust to a Broadway technique of singing," Beck explained. "We call it mixing, kind of a blend of belting and head voice."
In addition to ensemble work — "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story" and "Opening Doors" from "Merrily We Roll Along" — there are solos.
For Beck, "Send in the Clowns" was very intimidating. "I had heard it a few times but probably wasn't as familiar with it as the rest of the world," she said. "It's so popular and has been covered so many times."
"I was thinking, how could I hold a candle to any of these people," Beck said, citing Judi Dench's version as her favorite. "I guess it's just finding my own way, my own groove. It changes every time, there are moments I'm happier with it than others, it's a beautiful, special song."
Beck, who had sung in the Bennington Children's Chorus starting in sixth grade, graduated from the prestigious Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam and earned her master's degree last year at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music. This fall, she joins the young artists post-graduate program at Opera Colorado in Denver.
For Beck, performing Sondheim has been "very intense and extremely rewarding. It will be one of those experiences I'll be reflecting on for a long time."
"It's an extraordinary event," said Lockhart, "and it took a lot to put this together. It's not just another pastiche of Sondheim's works but I think it's something that's interesting and will have a life. I really wanted to bring this to fruition."
Citing previous Tanglewood semi-stagings of classic Broadway shows, he emphasized that "we're going to continue to do that because it's a really good connection between the Boston Pops and the educational work that goes on here."
Furthermore, he has a special affinity for the material — "it's like coming home to old friends, and there's absolutely no one who has ever done it so sublimely as Sondheim."
Contact contributor Clarence Fanto at firstname.lastname@example.org.