James Lapine’s documentary, which was originally broadcast on HBO, offers a unique celebration of composer Stephen Sondheim. The production traces Sondheim’s tumultuous life and career in a collage of interviews that he gave over the years, with clips culled from such diverse settings as Mike Douglas’ old TV talk show to a 60 Minutes chat where Diane Sawyer all but genuflects to Sondheim.
The eponymous sextet refers to a half-dozen classic songs from Sondheim’s shows, and their creator offers modest and funny recollections of how they came about. Three of the songs are presented in vintage clips – Larry Kert singing “Something’s Happening” from a 1958 TV broadcast, Dean Jones offering a stunning turn on “Being Alive” in a scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Company: Original Cast Album and the cast of Sunday in the Park with George performing “Sunday” from a PBS production of the show.
Three other songs are given new interpretations in strange settings: Audra McDonald sings “Send in the Clowns” in a lighting fixture warehouse, Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker oozes “I’m Still Here” in a seedy nightclub setting (the scene is directed with zero subtlety by Todd Haynes) and the Merrily We Roll Along number “Opening Doors” is played with excess cuteness by Darren Criss, America Ferrera and Jeremy Jordan, with Sondheim joining in briefly (and, oddly, pretty badly).
Sondheim offers selective autobiographical morsels, with an emphasis on a troubled childhood and an evasive acknowledgement of being in a same-sex relationship (he never identifies his partner’s name). All told, it is a mess – but it is a tuneful and happy mess centered around a charismatic musical genius, and the film will certainly delight Broadway devotees.