Stephen Sondheim could finally join the EGOT club

Stephen Sondheim is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers in musical theatre. He has claimed eight Tony Awards (more trophies than any other composer), eight Grammy Awards, and even picked up an Oscar for the “Dick Tracy” tune “Sooner or Later.” It may come as a surprise given his stature in the industry, that Sondheim is still an Emmy short of an EGOT. More surprising still: Emmy voters have never even nominated him. This year, he could finally join the elusive EGOT club thanks to the variety special “Tell the Story: Celebrating Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins.”

“Tell the Story” is one of many projects born out of the pandemic which shuttered the theatre industry. Classic Stage Company was set to produce a new revival of “Assassins” with an all-star cast, helmed by artistic director John Doyle (who famously directed the actors-as-musicians revivals of Sondheim’s “Company” and “Sweeney Todd”). With plans for live theatre scuttled, CSC pivoted to a unique virtual offering.

The impressive evening is structured as part documentary, part fundraiser, and part musical. Cast members of the postponed CSC production appear, as well as the actors from the original 1990 Off-Broadway production and the 2004 Broadway revival. Characters are introduced one by one, with actors from three different generations of “Assassins” in a virtual roundtable, reflecting on their work, the score, and the reaction to the controversial musical at the time they performed it. Most the the current actors agree that after the attack on our nation’s capitol, the tuner has a chilling resonance once again.

SEE Heidi Schreck interview: ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’

It’s a thrill for Broadway aficionados to hear Debra Monk, Becky Ann Baker, and Judy Kuhn discuss the zany Sara Jane Moore. Or witness Victor Garber, Michael Cerveris, and Steven Pasquale detail their various portrayals of John Wilkes Booth. That they all sing snippets of their signature numbers, and the event ends with an appearance from Sondheim and John Weidman, makes “Tell the Story” a must watch for theatre buffs.

While many of Sondheim’s musicals have been adapted as TV movies which competed at the Emmys (think the classic recordings of “Sweeney Todd” with Angela Lansbury or “Gypsy” with Bette Midler), Sondheim never appeared as a producer on those titles. With no producing credit and no additional music for the TV versions, Sondheim was rarely eligible for the Emmys despite racking up bids at the Tonys and Grammys. Thus he has never earned an Emmy nomination despite so many of his musicals and concerts appearing on our TV screens. “Assassins” book writer John Weidman has earned an impressive 19 Daytime Emmy wins for writing on “Sesame Street,” but he too has yet to be nominated for the Primetime ceremony. Both men are credited as producers for ‘Tell the Story,’ so a nomination is now within reach.

“Tell the Story” is eligible in the Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) category at the upcoming Emmy Awards. While this category has been dominated by comedians and “Carpool Karaoke” in recent years, it was once the home of the Tony Awards and other music specials. Indeed, under the category’s former title (Variety, Music, or Comedy Special) the Great Performances concert “Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall” was nominated in 1993. This could be the year that theater returns to the race in a major way, with “Tell the Story” in contention as well as the filmed versions of “Hamilton” and “What the Constitution Means to Me.” It’s a perfect opportunity to finally welcome musical theater’s most acclaimed composer to the Emmys for the first time ever.

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