November 26, 2021

"Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans, whose music and lyrics raised and reset the artistic standard for the American stage musical, died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 91."

The NYT reports.

A true giant has passed.

A little music for tonight:


Quaestor said...

I'm reminded of Ethel Merman's appearance in the GREATEST COMEDY EVER COMMITTED where she starts to belt out her signature tune, but winds down as the Thorazine kicks in.

tim in vermont said...

I liked when he said he wrote Send in the Clowns because his star wanted a song in the show, and she had limited vocal range. It seems like there are layers in that story.

Tom Grey said...

His two musicals that I saw live as an adult (yuppie 80s, before getting married in Slovakia in the 90s) were both fine:
Sunday in the Park with George,
Into the Woods:
The idea of continuing some fairy tales in part two, after the "happily ever after," was well done and the second meeting of the Princes, now that they're married, was explicitly about being "Charming, not faithful".

I often recall Mandy Patinkin as George, (maybe before The Princess Bride?) singing "Finishing the Hat". How his lover leaves him because he loves art, needs art, is devoted to art, more than to her.

Sondheim was a genius, and accessible, and relevant.

I read all the Althouse posts, and often many comments, and have unwritten comments in mind. Here are some of them.

I liked the tweet of David Crosby's dinner, and Meade's comment on whatever bird was eaten - we had a whole roasted duck and a couple of goose breasts. Plus 'lokse' and red cabbage - a traditional style Duck / Goose feast. Ducks always roast better than Turkeys.

I was cooking the duck, cabbage, and pumpkin pie for hours, listening to The Beatles' White Album. My wife didn't get the destruction reference, "don't you know that you can count me out". (In out...) and I had forgotten how great so many songs there were. For some reason, this was the first time I thought Paul was making a cross dress joke at the end of "Ob la di", where Molly has the kids, while "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face, and in the evening she's a singer with the band.

Molly Jong-Fast seems like an unhappy woman despite her privileges. Perhaps her mother was a bit too interested in Zipless Fucks, and not so much in raising a happy, grateful family. I had thought about Erica Jong when reading your post on Adele's divorce. I think maybe 80% of men are reasonably happy with the ZFs, but only 20% of women, or fewer.

Louis CK was pretty funny, and quite un-PC.

The PC-ish Woke religion, as McWorter identifies it, should be destroyed by Truth. But when its current version is stopped, it will be because of political activism, or counter-activism against the Woke activists. I hope such counter-activists are more interested in falsifiable truths and hypotheses, as I am, but I will support their anti-CRT / anti-Woke activism even if it includes some superstitions. I'll also try to educate out of the superstitions.

rhhardin said...

The local Ohio State University radio station once announced a piece by "the late Johann Sebastian Bach." Talk about a musical giant.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Tom

Fantastic to hear from Slovakia!

Loren W Laurent said...

I quite enjoyed my years in college music theatre.

One year I tried out for Jesus Christ Superstar but they didn't want a Young Jewish Girl as Judas.

Myself, I thought it added layers.

They then offered me the part of Mary Magdalene, because of course they did, but I thought THAT was the more controversial choice, really: a young Jewish Girl singing "I Don't Know How To Love Him" to Christ... I mean, I felt the problem deep in my ovaries.

As for Sondheim: I dated a beautiful girl who greatly admired him, but she has terrible toenail hygiene. And that sums up how I view Sondheim: not as great if you look at the toenails.


loudogblog said...

Sondheim was one of my earlier introductions to musical theater. Back in 1978, I played Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. It's a really fun musical and lots of fun to perform.

gpm said...

WERS, the Emerson College radio station (88.9 FM in and around Boston; can also be streamed) has been doing "Standing Room Only," aka "show tunes," since time immemorial, though they're always changing the timeframe (30 years? fifty years? more?). Which I love. Currently 10am to 2pm on Saturday and noon to 2 pm on Sunday.

One thing I learned/found very interesting from listening is that, in the original Broadway show, the song "America" in West Side Story was apparently an all-female number. IMHO, the change to a male vs. female version in the movie was brilliant, showing the difference between the female vs. male experience in New York vs. Puerto Rico.

The little riffs in the Althouse post were great, though I didn't recognize some.


gpm said...

>>Back in 1978, I played Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. It's a really fun musical and lots of fun to perform.

Heartily agree about it being a very fun musical. I remember seeing it the first time it was on TV around 1970, on or about the same day as the first showing of The Producers.

I saw an amateur theatrical version in the 70s, with Internet wit Andy Borowitz (brother of a college/law school classmate I had some acquaintance with, particularly in law school, but wan't really close to) playing Pseudolus. I thought one of the trickiest pieces was the "floor show," demonstrating the wares for Pseudolus, particularly the twins/Gemini. OK, had to look this one up, but still a great line, particularly for a math major: "Either one a divinely assembled woman, together, an infinite number of mathematical possibilities."

At our now (Covid) defunct neighborhood Irish bar owned and operated by actual Irish people born in Ireland, there were a few movies that some of us could quote by heart. Probably among the top two were Forum and The Producers (another was the Life of Brian, where we were particularly fond of the Latin lesson).


loudogblog said...

Loren W Laurent, don't be such a hard case. Just take a look at what you wrote.

"One year I tried out for Jesus Christ Superstar but they didn't want a Young Jewish Girl as Judas."

I think that it goes without saying that almost everyone knows that Judas was Jewish.

You're trying to find offense where none was intended. I'm not saying that historical characters need to always to be played by actors of the same race and gender, but that is usually the case. Audiences kind of expect that historical roles will be played by the same race and gender as the historical figure was. (Unless there is a very definite, themeatic reason to cast against type.) You need to stop being critical of people for just being "normative." (i.e. normal)

Also, bringing up the toenail hygiene thing is especially odd and possibly inappropriate given the Arbery case. Toenail hygiene is a very personal thing and all it says about a person is how they deal with toenail hygiene. (Which is a very intimate and personal subject.)

gpm said...

>>I'm reminded of Ethel Merman's appearance in the GREATEST COMEDY EVER COMMITTED where she starts to belt out her signature tune, but winds down as the Thorazine kicks in.

Not sure I can sign on to "GREATEST," especially while we're discussing Forum, but otherwise yeah.

Always love your posts, including the Twilight Zone Billy Mumy as your avatar: "DANGER WILL ROBiNSON, DANGER!"


gpm said...

>>we had a whole roasted duck and a couple of goose breasts

Sorry I can't manage to embed a clickable link, particularly this late at night, but here's an amusing link from UHub (all things Boston) about goose for Thanksgiving that plays on the invasion of geese and coyotes:

Maybe a bit ironic because there is a much greater invasion of turkeys, particularly in Brookline (I live in Boston, thank you!, not half a block away in Brookline). And not to mention all the bunnies that are everywhere.


DLH said...

I saw his name and the only reason I even know who he is because Bono interweaved his lyrics of “Send in the Clowns” at the end of “The electric co” on the Under a Blood Red Sky live album and they got sued and they blanked it out on future releases.

David Begley said...

Sirius/XM has a channel called Broadway’s Best. I’m sure it will devote time to this giant.

Joe Smith said...

Not a huge fan...a lot of his music seemed like regular dialog, but sung.

I saw the movie 'Into the Woods' and it was torture.

Rollo said...

Certainly a marvelous talent. Musical comedy won't be the same. I did notice that his pessimism or cynicism or misanthropy seemed to increase with time, but I understand he mellowed in his last years. Oscar Hammerstein II was a neighbor and Stephen's mentor, so he was in the tradition and learned from the best.

FWBuff said...

What an amazing career! He was a genius on par with Rodgers & Hammerstein and the Gershwins.

William said...

People from Slovakia frequently have checkered pasts.....Sondheim produced quite a huge body of work. What is it about Broadway composers that keeps them ticking and in the zone for decades? Rock composers have a shelf life of only five to seven years--although a hit rock album like Tommy probably amassed more sales than the entire catalog of Sondheim.....I think Sondheim's talents as a lyricist were more formidable than his talents as a composer, which is to say that his talents as a lyricist were quite something.

Mrs. X said...

Oh no! My favorite broadway composer, bar none.

Random factoids:

His mother hated him and told him she was sorry she’d given birth to him. He didn’t attend her funeral.

He was supposed to write both music and lyrics for Gypsy but Ethel Merman insisted on Jule Styne for music. Sondheim, 28 at the time, initially refused but his mentor Oscar Hammerstein talked him into doing it.

He disliked lyrics that were clever only for cleverness’s sake.

But boy were his lyrics clever!

A Little Priest Sweeney Todd

Norpois said...

Interesting that most of the commenters think of Sondheim as the funny, clever, crowd-pleasing lyricist for Gypsy and writer of Funny Thing/Forum; plus maybe one or two later audience-friendly songs. That phase of his career ended in 1962.
The fact is, this are not the works that have caused the avalanche of fawning
adulation in the MSM in the last 24 hours. Sondheim is being celebrated not for his art but his politics and his "darkness". Consider his "masterpiece" -- Sweeney Todd (would you celebrate a musical about a "demon barber" who slits the throats of his random customers and then his girlfriend makes meat pies of the remains and sells them? Yeah, we're down with that because...Sweeney is an oppressed victim of the System.) Or how about "Assassins" which made a musical out of the lives of..... killers of American Presidents. This is not an oeuvre I would celebrate. Actually, I execrate it. (And I haven't even mentioned the utter fatuousness, the pretentiousness, the boringness of works like "Sunday in the Park", "Merrily We Roll Along", and so many others. All listened to in reverent silence by his fans). Oh well, to each his own. But I'm surprised so many commenters on here are fans -- at least of his pre-1963 work.

Mrs. Bear said...

I don't like Mr. Sondheim's work. He seems too coldly clever to me. He is my primary suspect in the Case of the Murder of the American Musical.

rcocean said...

Any man who wrote "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupka" can't be all bad.

Just 99 percent bad.