Singer Eleri Ward Celebrates Sondheim With An Indie-Pop Take On A Broadway Classic

The New York musician hopes to offer a "universal message of comfort" with her acoustic version of "Not While I'm Around" from "Sweeney Todd."

Eleri Ward is continuing her yearslong celebration of Stephen Sondheim with a heartfelt acoustic take on one of the Broadway composer’s most beloved songs.

The New York actor and musician unveiled her version of “Not While I’m Around” from the musical “Sweeney Todd” Friday. The song, she said, offers “a timeless and universal message of comfort” that listeners “need to hear right now, given the state of the world.” It also stands as a testament to the endearing legacy of Sondheim, who died last year at age 91.

“I’ve always been enamored by the darkness he digs into and splays open in his music and lyrics,” Ward explained. “Humans are messy and complicated and it’s what’s hiding underneath that is far more interesting to explore than anything else, in my opinion. It’s in that darkness underneath that we see the light in a more palpable and poignant way than if we only addressed the surface.”

Watch the music video for “Not While I’m Around” below.

“Not While I’m Around” is featured on Ward’s forthcoming album, “Keep a Tender Distance.” Due out Sept. 16 on Ghostlight Records, “Keep a Tender Distance” features 14 songs from an assortment of Sondheim musicals, including “Company” and “Into the Woods,” reimagined in a way that Ward believes offers “a different musical access point for those who know and love his music already, and for those who might not.”

“Keep a Tender Distance” is a worthy followup to Ward’s first Sondheim album, 2021’s “A Perfect Little Death.” That 13-track collection drew glowing reviews from outlets like American Songwriter and landed the Chicago native a coveted spot as the opening act for Josh Groban on his Harmony Tour this summer.

Eleri Ward will release her new album, "Keep a Tender Distance," Sept. 16.
Eleri Ward will release her new album, "Keep a Tender Distance," Sept. 16.
Courtesy of Ghostlight Records

“Sondheim’s work is nothing but honest and true to its core, and I’ve simply chosen to dress his music up in a much more raw and stripped-back costume than originally designed,” she said. “I only ever want to honor the man and the music I love so dearly.”

“Keep a Tender Distance” will kick off a busy fall for Ward. In October, she’ll appear in the new off-Broadway musical, “Only Gold,” featuring songs by British singer-songwriter Kate Nash.

Though she’s mum on specifics, Ward said the show “embodies everything I stand for as a theater artist.”

“It’s a new, original work based in heart while being told in a fresh, bold way both visually and musically,” she added. “I’m just so grateful to be making my off-Broadway debut in a beautiful show that I believe will dazzle audiences while forcing them to look at themselves and assess whether or not they’re living their lives listening to their hearts.”

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