Camp turns things on their heads; it approaches the solemn with levity and ridicule, and it finds the tragic that lurks, so often, just slightly in the wake of the funniest things. It revels in excess.
It goes without saying that Mr. Sondheim is one of our geniuses, of course, but there's no denying that his acolytes at times can treat him with the sort of Parnassian ultra-seriousness long reserved for (to consider one of his polar opposites) Herr Wagner. Therefore, when you take one of his most revered anthems of psychic pain, mix in one of his comic numbers (and actually try to make it funny, rather than, as so many performers do, merely demonstrating that it's clever), and let 'er rip - the results are exhilarating.
And, when, to top it all off, the performer in question is the magnificent, long undervalued, and (now) sorely missed Miss Dorothy Loudon - it's simply heaven.
Loudon is one of those New York stage ladies of the last century whose affect was simply too broad, too volatile, and too, simply, theatrical, to take them to the very first rank of stardom, but who were, each in her own way, irreplaceable. Elaine Stritch, who has found superstardom of a sort in her old-old age, is another; Mary Testa, the darling of Broadway aficionados (and still very much with us) but unknown west of Tenth Avenue, is another. To be in their presence is electrifying, whether in a long-running role or, as here, at a gala one-off, because you can never be quite sure what's going to happen - or rather, since mostly they are total pros, they milk the sense that anything's possible (good or bad) to give the audience that much more sheer pleasure, even as they maintain total control - observe each pause and glance Miss Loudon gives - how she gets a vast laugh, at a crucial moment, just by the set of her jaw.
That's show biz, kids - and it could drive a person crazy. I know, for me, it has, in the best sort of way.