Here We Are: The reviews are in
Sondheim's last work, the pairing of Luis Buñuel's surrealist movies The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel written with playwright David Ives, finally opened at The Griffin Theater in New York's The Shed.
Here We Are is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello and features Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos.
Here's what the reviewers had to say...
Time Out (Adam Feldman) ★★★★☆
"Here We Are is meticulously assembled — including by choreographer Sam Pinkleton, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and sound designer Tom Gibbons — as well as cleverly written and wonderfully performed. It also, at a certain point, runs out of music. About 15 minutes into Act II, the onstage piano goes dead quiet. “Rest in peace,” says the Bishop, and as Pierce says the line he looks out and up, as though acknowledging a greater loss. And that seems to be the overall attitude of Mantello’s production: recognizing, and moving forward. This is what we have, it seems to say, and this is better than nothing. It is what it is. We are where we are. Here we are. Here we go."
Guardian (Gloria Oladipo) ★★★☆☆
"Sondheim, with arrangement from Alexander Gemignani, emphasizes the disquiet nature of the so-called faultless day. The music is punctured by dissonance, knocks, and the off-whistle. Thoughtful repetition further underlines the group’s robotic attempt to get brunch versus witnessing the end-of-the-world around them. The first act includes the full absurdity (and inevitable humor) in audacious displays of wealth. Sondheim’s lyrics, in characteristic brilliance, feature clever wordplay and melodrama, including rhymes about vodka martinis and saffron omelettes. Director Joe Mantello seamlessly puppeteers the cycle of outrageous scenarios from restaurant to restaurant. Here We Are’s excellent cast stands to attention, particularly Diamond, Jones and David Hyde Pierce as a job-hunting bishop. Tracie Bennett and Denis O’Hare are essential chameleons, playing the various wait staff throughout the musical’s restaurants... But the second act loses some of the meticulous chaos that buoyed the first... Here We Are has the potential to be a mirror, in true satirical nature. But instead, it ends with a curtain, a closed circuit with the final note: 'The world is pretty messed up.' Indeed it is."
New York Times (Jesse Green) NYT Critic's Pick
"Pending the discovery of some unpublished juvenilia or yet another iteration of the penultimate Road Show, this is the last Sondheim musical we will ever have. That alone makes the production historic, a pressure that happily does not show in the product, which is fleet and flashy. Natasha Katz’s lighting, Tom Gibbons’s sound and Sam Pinkleton’s droll choreography do a lot of the heavy lifting for Mantello’s agenda... More important, “Here We Are” is as experimental as Sondheim throughout his career wanted everything to be. To swim through its currents of echoes of earlier work — some Anyone Can Whistle, some Passion, some Merrily We Roll Along — is to understand the characters’ monstrous insatiability. We, too, will always want more, even when we’ve had what by any reasonable standards should already be more than enough."
Variety (Naveen Kumar)
"Let’s cut straight to the sweet stuff: Performances from the pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real cast are like a Broadway gourmand’s fever dream. Whatever else this deeply strange and Frankenstein-ed musical delivers — which is a lot — the production’s outrageous lineup of stars are as delectably odd as they’ve ever been (yes, even Denis O’Hare). By the time David Hyde Pierce makes a late act-one entrance as a martini-swilling bishop who covets designer heels, the needle on one’s pleasure odometer simply snaps off. That Here We Are ultimately doesn’t know when to stop becomes easy to forgive... Here We Are delights in the flavor of its vapid jet-sets, but ultimately spits them out in a resolution that betrays its own internal logic. It’s too much, and robs the show of its potential teeth. Better to know when the feast is done."
New York Post (Johnny Oleksinski) ★✮☆☆☆
"It was always wishful thinking to believe that Stephen Sondheim’s final musical, which was tinkered with for almost a decade before the composer died in 2021, would hold a candle to his finest works. But even going in with modest expectations and the awareness that Sondheim hadn’t created a strong show in nearly 30 years — the last one being Passion in 1994 — Here We Are still disappoints... Many elements here are ideal. The wonderful cast is as dream-like as Buñuel’s strange story. Mantello, the director who finally got Assassins right in 2004, sleekly stages the action, such as it is. And Zinn’s set is a dying breed of design that gets entrance applause. But none of that matters much when the hat isn’t finished."
TheaterMania (David Gordon)
"It’s become known of late that Sondheim couldn’t figure out how to crack the concept of musicalizing The Exterminating Angel, and besides some recitative and a lovely solo for Marianne at the top, the last 45 minutes of the show are essentially a darkly comic David Ives play (orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and music supervisor and arranger Alexander Gemignani do provide copious underscoring). Ives gleefully tortures the poor rich souls at length, ultimately offering more explanation for their entrapment than is dramatically necessary, given the world that he and Sondheim set up from the start. We get that the wealthy are oblivious to the plight of the working class; hammering us with the idea is not very Buñuelian at all. Still, he, Tunick, and Gemignani understand the rhythm of Sondheim so intrinsically that you only seldom realize there’s barely any singing..."
The Telegraph (Diane Snyder) ★★★☆☆
"Even with a truncated score, it’s clear Sondheim’s wit did not desert him in his twilight years. He was still generating clever rhymes and twisting phrases with panache, as when Marianne summarizes her joy by singing 'I don’t need to read between the lines. The lines are just fine.' The melodies call to mind Sunday in the Park With George’s rapturous score... A transfer to Broadway, where revivals of Merrily We Roll Along and Sweeney Todd are raking in big bucks, seems unlikely, nor would this show be the crowd-pleaser that Sondheim revue Old Friends is on the West End. But his fanbase could probably fill the Menier Chocolate Factory or Donmar Warehouse for a limited London run. Mantello has described Here We Are as 'the punctuation on an extraordinary career.' Sondheim may have ended his career with a full stop rather than an exclamation mark – but that doesn’t make his canon any less magnificent."
New York Theater Guide (Joe Dziemianowicz) ★★★★☆
"Sondheim doesn’t offer up his signature tongue-twisting lyrics, but in just a note or two, melodies announce themselves as hailing from the same creator of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Incidental songs pop up about a perfect day, the end of the world, and a rudderless priest. The score is pretty and moody — no more, no less. So what does it all mean? Here We Are doubles down on a message. 'Life’s a tit! Suck it up!' says Raffael early on. Later, the Bishop puts it in other words: 'Be here. Until we’re not.' Groundbreaking? No. But it’s food for thought."
The Daily Beast (Tim Teeman)
"Here We Are is a stylish and committed production of an incomplete, flawed work. That is no terrible thing; scraps of wonderful Sondheim are still worth more than much other theater. Here We Are has its pleasures, jollities, and moments that pierce, and it is certainly a very real way to say goodbye to an artist whose death interrupted its completion. This work, like its characters in that last second, remains necessarily in motion, blurred, frozen mid-expression — but it is on its way, going forward, still fiercely finishing the hat to the very end."
New York Stage Review (Frank Scheck) ★★★☆☆
"Although there’s no shortage of funny material scattered throughout the evening, especially as delivered by this killer ensemble, the humor feels broad and obvious, as opposed to the droll deadpan wit of the classic Bunuel films. (Not to mention that satirizing elites has been done to death in the intervening years). There’s little to no emotional engagement with the situations or characters (or more accurately, caricatures), with the exception of a lovely scene late in the evening in which Jones’s peignoir-wearing socialite and Pierce’s priest have a quietly moving encounter. It seems a shame that Sondheim, whose shows have so often been emotionally shattering, chose to go out with this sort of comic trifle, but then again, he often maintained that theater composers tended to do their best work when they were younger. It could be surmised that he chose this broadly satirical material to avoid the pressure of producing a final magnum opus."
Slant Magazine (Dan Rubins)
"Would Here We Are register as quite so startlingly moving if Sondheim were still alive? Quite possibly not, but theater is always a living art form, each performance’s impact reflective of the moment in which the audience receives it. Here We Are, integrated into the Sondheim canon a decade from now, may lose some of its potency. (The sudden success of Merrily We Roll Along, once a cold-blooded flop but now enjoying a sold-out, emotionally devastating Broadway revival, demonstrates that Sondheim’s works have taken unpredictable journeys in popular reception.) If much of the immediate pleasure in Here We Are derives from the extra-textual experience of watching a new, rich Sondheim show, that doesn’t make the pleasure any less real."
Vulture (Sara Holdren)
"Here We Are is torn between its reasonable desire to obliterate its characters and its aspiration, if not quite to save them, then to remain open-ended as to where they — and we — go from here. If it’s sometimes a muddled impulse, it’s also a humane one. Sondheim certainly didn’t go gentle into the apocalypse of late capitalism, but he didn’t go heartless either. He stayed complicated. He gave us more to see."
The Washington Post (Peter Marks)
"The show itself sends out revolutionary vibes. In its way, it’s a manifesto, calling for innovation in the form and content of musical theater... We’ve been through sharper existential crises with convergences of Sondheim characters over the years: the painted figures stuck forever together on the Seurat canvas in Sunday in the Park with George, the fairy-tale denizens wandering bewildered in the forest of Into the Woods. We’re consoled in Here We Are with one more chance to gather together with Sondheim, to hear his irreplaceable voice on a stage. The resulting evening might not be stranded at square one, but it doesn’t satisfactorily cross the finish line, either."