Should Carnegie Hall be producing musical revues? In general, probably not. If it really wants to do something about American musical theater, it can always put up concerts of complete scores by the great show composers, or recitals in which the songs are simply suitably grouped and well sung. Production concepts and choreography fit uncomfortably in a concert venue, even in Carnegie’s new midsize space, Zankel Hall. They do so especially when they’re as ineffectual as David Kernan’s Opening Doors, a Sondheim revue in which, no surprise, the unknown and rarely heard numbers come off best, the standards sound standardized, and the overfamiliar, even when appealingly sung by the likes of Kate Baldwin, Victoria Clark, or Eric Jordan Young, make you wish they would go away.
Kernan’s concept intersperses the songs with taped autobiographical squibs by Sondheim himself. Often pungent, they sometimes link to the songs that follow and sometimes don’t. The juxtaposition produces few revelations; Kernan’s staging ideas produce even fewer. What the show does reveal, ironically, is the reason we don’t need it: Much of Sondheim’s work, “difficult” as it may have seemed at first, has grown so familiar that it’s now the lingua franca of our musical theater—inevitable, quotable, gratifyingly able to survive even a mediocre rendering. He’s great. This show isn’t.