If you’re a fan of musical theater, it’s fair to say that you’re a fan of Stephen Sondheim, the Broadway legend who passed away Friday at the age of 91.
A gifted composer and lyricist, Sondheim created the most artistically significant performances of his generation. And what did they show: “The Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Pacific Overtures,” “A funny thing happened on the way to the forum,” “A little night of music” “The main theme.” Day in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods”, among others. Oh, and let’s not forget his early efforts – a couple of now landmark shows, “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” for which he just happened to provide the lyrics.
It’s not just the Sondheim catalog itself that is so impressive. It’s the fact he’s a living link to the Golden Age of Broadway – the era of Rodgers and Hammerstein (and Sondheim mentored by Oscar Hammerstein), Lerner and Loewe, Frank Loesser and countless others. At the same time, he showed us a future Broadway, one that could be darker and more complex in theme and tone. And a tune can be embarrassing—you can hum a Sondheim tune almost any time—and strangely clever and sophisticated.
Sondheim did not need to write operas to prove his artistic merit. He understands that the great American musical is really just that – an art form that is great (and ours), but it can evolve to fit the times. And while Sondheim doesn’t write in the vernacular contemporary music is rock (that’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s territory – at least with “Jesus Christ Superstar” – and others) or hip-hop (it’s the stage of Lin-Manuel Miranda), work never goes out of style.
I’ve followed Sondheim’s career for as long as I’ve been in theaters – first as a daily spectator and, in recent years, as an art critic and reporter. In fact, my first Broadway show was the original production of “Company” in 1970 – I was six years old then (I suspect my parents were too cheap to hire a babysitter), so I can’t say how much the show has earned. of an impression. But by the time I witnessed the off-Broadway resurgence as a teenager, Sondheim was everything to me.
“Company” is a good place to start when understanding Sondheim. It is a show that examines the loneliness and isolation of contemporary life in the form of a man who finds companionship among his married friends, but is unable to make a personal connection. deeper into his own relationship. In other words, this is silly, adult stuff – and that’s only amplified by the fact that it features one scene set in a bedroom and another involving marijuana (this is Broadway in the year). 1970, remember).
But don’t let “Company” sound a little too serious and personal, just consider a few tunes: bittersweet “Sorry-Grateful” (a poignant summary of love and marriage as any writer has written, be it for Broadway or in the form of a poem or novel); the number of close friends is “Next to each other”; and the last Broadway torch song, “The lunch ladies.”
However, my favorite Sondheim musical – and I’m hardly alone here – would have to be “Sweeney Todd,” the grim reaper of a show about murder, cannibalism and… love. An odd combination for sure, but one that has such a haunting effect. And oh, so many great songs! If I had to name one name that has stuck in my ears for the past few decades, I would say “Johanna,” which manages to convey both a profound tenderness and a loathsome apprehension.
The hit against Sondheim has always shown he’s not quite right commercially. Sondheim has earned his accolades in the Tony Award, the industry’s highest honor, and many other accolades, but he’s never had a big hit on the “Hamilton” circuit. I remember I was talking to a successful Broadway producer once about the shows he decided to invest in and he told me the key was to know where Not to give your money – and Sondheim is one of his biggest disinterested people.
Perhaps he is right, although I must believe that the investment in at least a few musicals in Sondheim has yielded some return. But the funny thing is that even if Sondheim isn’t a definite moneymaker, his presence on Broadway has made it all richer – artistically for sure, but perhaps artistically finance to a certain extent. In a word, Sondheim made Broadway important — and he did so during some of the industry’s toughest times (basically the 1970s).
And through Sondheim’s mentoring and the encouragement of many young artists, he also saw that Broadway would continue. If you’ve seen “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical has just been re-imagined as a movie (and is now on Netflix).
), you know that Larson got the boost he needed at a pivotal point in his career when Sondheim gave him a big vote. (And may I remind you that Larson went on to write “Rent,” the last musical of the ’90s.)
It’s also important to note how relevant Sondheim continues to be. One of the most anticipated shows of the new Broadway season? A bold, gendered revival of “The company.” One of the most anticipated movies of the holiday season? Steven Spielberg in charge “Western Tales.” I’m sure I’ll see both.
Meanwhile, I’ll be listening to recordings of the “Company” and “Sweeney Todd” casts and lots of Sondheim shows that challenge and thrill me at the same time. Lending song title from “Company”, thank you, Mr. Sondheim, that you are still alive.
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/sondheim-was-just-about-everything-how-the-musical-theater-great-kept-broadway-fresh-and-vital-11637973554?rss=1&siteid=rss Opinion: How Stephen Sondheim Keeps Broadway Fresh and Important