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Stephen Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns' -- a YouTube survey

August 2, 2010 | 11:38 am

Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" is one of the composer's most beloved musicals, and it contains what is perhaps the most famous song he has ever written -- "Send in the Clowns."

A melancholy aria about longing and middle-age regret, "Send in the Clowns" is considered one of the great showpieces for stage actresses of a certain age. The number is often performed in a sing-speak style that makes it ideal for performers who may not have the best singing voices but who know how to act their way through a song.

Bernadette Peters, who recently took over the role of Desiree from Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music," is the latest actress to put her signature stamp on "Send in the Clowns." 

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times recently praised Peters' rendition, writing: "I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced with such palpable force -- or such prominent goose bumps -- the sense of being present at an indelible moment in the history of musical theater."

When Zeta-Jones performed the song at the Tony Awards in June, many viewers voiced their disapproval of her histrionic style via Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking sites. "Why is Catherine Zeta Jones singing Send In The Clowns like a mental patient who just got her meds?" wrote one tweeter.

Other actresses who have performed the song -- in concert settings and in full productions-- include Glenn Close, Judi Dench, Barbra Streisand, Glynis Johns (the original Desiree on Broadway), Elizabeth Taylor and more.

 Thankfully, some of these versions have found their way to YouTube. Click through to view (the Close version is above) and let us know in the comments section who your favorite is.


Updated: Bernadette Peters, performing "A Little Night Music" on Broadway


Catherine Zeta-Jones, performing on Broadway


Judi Dench, in a concert version


Barbra Streisand, performing in Las Vegas


Glynis Johns, re-creating her Broadway role as Desiree


Elizabeth Taylor, in the 1977 film version of "A Little Night Music" (starting at the 5:00 mark)


-- David Ng

Photo: Catherine Zeta-Jones performs "Send in the Clowns" at the Tony Awards. Credit: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images



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Comments () | Archives (31)

Barbara Striesands Version hands down is the best.

Dench. That's all there is to say. Exquisite.

For sheer dramatic punch, Dench's is very affecting and hard to beat.

For sheer musicality, Streisand is unbeatable.

But I suspect Peters' rendition combines the best of both worlds. I'd love to see her performance.

I remember Bernadette Peters doing a killer version of this on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

I saw Judi Dench do this and she gave one of the most touching, extraordinary performances I've ever witnessed.

And after seeing the video of Bernadette Peters, it's clear that she her own rather splended take on the role as well. Wish I could see it!

My favorite Youtube version of Send in the Clowns is Sondheim coaching students at the Guildhall School of Music:




Barbra Streisand for sure..

Barbara and Catherine get my vote :) Huge Streisand fan, loved Catherine in the show!

Barbara Streisand is the all-around gold standard for musicality. Glenn Close's voice isn't as vibrantly beautiful, but her walk-on stage performance is classy and stunning.

Glynis John's version will forever be my favorite of this song. I remember seeing her sing it on the Tonight Show when 'A Little Night Music' was just breaking on Broadway. I bought the soundtrack that week and it has remained one of my favorite musicals. John was part of the inspiration for the song as Sondheim actually wrote it to fit her voice. I quite liked Peters' and Dench's versions as well.

bernadette easily

Streisand sings beautifully, but that really is besides the point in this song. It's all about the drama, and Peters and Dench capture the feeling of loss and regret that Barbra really can't touch.

Judi Dench tells the story hands down.

Although, Dame Judi is not the best singer, she is the best actress to sing the song. You actual beleive the words as she is singing. So it is the best interpertation.

Barbra Streisand's version has the most feeling and emotion.I can picture what she is singing and feel the longing. Excellent!

As Stephen Sondheim told Dame Judi "This song is yours ". She is the only actress who could tell the story of Desiree's trauma through her facial expressions. She may not be the greatest singer but , she was the best interpreter of the song. She gets my vote hands down.

Bernadette fr the stage version-totally heartbtreaking--Barbra for the concert version-she's the master.

Judi Dench, no question! Listen to her version and you'll UNDERSTAND and believe every single word. She's just the best actress ever!

Judi Dench, without a doubt! The woman breaks my heart everytime. Dame Judi not only "puts the song over", she lets you see the irony, the pain, the anger, the lost hope and the resignation Desiree is going through. As Sondheim says, Judi owns the song.

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