Perfectionist. Genius. Icon. That Was Stephen Sondheim

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NEW YORK: In 2010, the 12 months he turned 80, Stephen Sondheim needed to endure a public fuss when a Broadway theater was being renamed in his honor.

At a ceremony outdoors the 1,055-seat auditorium on West forty third Street, the composer seemed sheepish by the point he acquired to the rostrum following gushing phrases from admirers that included Patti LuPone and Nathan Lane. He additionally supplied up a window into his psyche.

Im thrilled, however deeply embarrassed, he mentioned, tearing up as a mid-September solar fell over the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Ive at all times hated my final identify. It simply doesnt sing.

The remark revealed how Sondheims sensible musicality and his perfectionism went hand-in-hand. The theatrical big, who died Friday at 91, was as advanced as his lyrics, dogmatic in his guidelines and never beneficiant with reward about his work.

A pushed, obsessive purist, he was additionally a magician, creating lyrics and music to such towering reveals as A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, Company, Follies and Sunday within the Park with George.

But he was additionally his worst critic. Take, for instance, his feeling in regards to the iconic music America from West Side Story, for which he equipped the lyrics to Leonard Bernsteins music.

Some traces of this lyric are respectably sharp and crisp, however some soften within the mouth as gracelessly as peanut butter and are unimaginable to grasp, akin to For a small price in America, which smashes the ls and the fs collectively, making it sound like For a smafee, he wrote in his autobiographical self-critique, which took two volumes.

To the remainder of us, Sondheim was genius, whether or not with the straightforward lament, The solar comes up/I take into consideration you/The espresso cup/I take into consideration you, or the marginally paranoid, Be cautious the belongings you say/Children will pay attention, or the elegant Marry me a bit/Do it with a will/Make just a few calls for/Im in a position to fulfill.

Six of Sondheims musicals gained Tony Awards for greatest rating, and he additionally obtained a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday within the Park), an Academy Award (for the music Sooner or Later from the movie Dick Tracy), 5 Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he obtained a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.

He had been engaged on a brand new musical with Venus in Fur playwright David Ives, who known as his collaborator a genius. Not solely are his musicals sensible, however I cant consider one other theater one who has so chronicled a complete age so eloquently, Ives mentioned in 2013. He is the spirit of the age in a sure manner.

Early in his profession, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for 2 reveals thought of to be classics of the American stage, West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959). West Side Story transplanted Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet to the streets and gangs of modern-day New York. Gypsy, with music by Jule Styne, instructed the backstage story of the last word stage mom and the daughter who grew as much as be Gypsy Rose Lee.

It was not till 1962 that Sondheim wrote each music and lyrics for a Broadway present, and it turned out to be a smash the bawdy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, starring Zero Mostel as a wily slave in historical Rome craving to be free.

Yet his subsequent present, Anyone Can Whistle (1964), flopped, operating solely 9 performances however attaining cult standing after its forged recording was launched. Sondheims 1965 lyric collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers Do I Hear a Waltz? additionally turned out to be problematic. The musical, based mostly on the play The Time of the Cuckoo, ran for six months however was an sad expertise for each males, who didn’t get alongside.

It was Company, which opened on Broadway in April 1970, that cemented Sondheims popularity. The episodic adventures of a bachelor (performed by Dean Jones) with an lack of ability to decide to a relationship was hailed as capturing the obsessive nature of striving, self-centered New Yorkers. The present, produced and directed by Hal Prince, gained Sondheim his first Tony for greatest rating. The Ladies Who Lunch grew to become an ordinary for Elaine Stritch.

The following 12 months, Sondheim wrote the rating for Follies, a take a look at the shattered hopes and upset desires of ladies who had appeared in lavish Ziegfeld-style revues. The music and lyrics paid homage to nice composers of the previous akin to Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and the Gershwins.

In 1973, A Little Night Music, starring Glynis Johns and Len Cariou, opened. Based on Bergmans Smiles of a Summer Night, this rueful romance of middle-age lovers comprises the music Send within the Clowns, which gained recognition outdoors the present. A revival in 2009 starred Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a greatest revival Tony.

Pacific Overtures, with a e-book by John Weidman, adopted in 1976. The musical, additionally produced and directed by Prince, was not a monetary success, however it demonstrated Sondheims dedication to offbeat materials, filtering its story of the westernization of Japan by way of a hybrid American-Kabuki type.

In 1979, Sondheim and Prince collaborated on what many consider to be Sondheims masterpiece, the bloody but typically darkly humorous Sweeney Todd. An bold work, it starred Cariou within the title position as a murderous barber whose prospects find yourself in meat pies baked by Todds prepared confederate, performed by Angela Lansbury.

The Sondheim-Prince partnership collapsed two years later, after Merrily We Roll Along, a musical that traced a friendship backward from its characters compromised center age to their idealistic youth. The present, based mostly on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, solely ran two weeks on Broadway. But once more, as with Anyone Can Whistle, its unique forged recording helped Merrily We Roll Along to develop into a favourite amongst musical-theater buffs.

Sunday within the Park, written with James Lapine, could also be Sondheims most private present. A story of uncompromising inventive creation, it instructed the story of artist Georges Seurat, performed by Mandy Patinkin. The painter submerges all the pieces in his life, together with his relationship together with his mannequin (Bernadette Peters), for his artwork. It was most lately revived on Broadway in 2017 with Jake Gyllenhaal.)

Three years after Sunday debuted, Sondheim collaborated once more with Lapine, this time on the fairy-tale musical Into the Woods. The present starred Peters as a glamorous witch and dealt primarily with the turbulent relationships between mother and father and kids, utilizing such well-known fairy-tale characters as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. It was most lately revived in the summertime of 2012 in Central Park by The Public Theater.

Assassins opened off-Broadway in 1991 and it seemed on the women and men who wished to kill presidents, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley. The present obtained principally damaging opinions in its unique incarnation, however a lot of these critics reversed themselves 13 years later when the present was completed on Broadway and gained a Tony for greatest musical revival.

Passion was one other extreme take a look at obsession, this time a determined lady, performed by Donna Murphy, in love with a good-looking soldier. Despite successful the best-musical Tony in 1994, the present barely managed a six-month run.

A brand new model of The Frogs, with extra songs by Sondheim and a revised e-book by Nathan Lane (who additionally starred within the manufacturing), performed Lincoln Center throughout the summer time of 2004. The present, based mostly on the Aristophanes comedy, initially had been completed 20 years earlier within the Yale University swimming pool.

One of his more troubled reveals was Road Show, which reunited Sondheim and Weidman and spent years being labored on. This story of the Mizner brothers, whose get-rich schemes within the early a part of the twentieth century lastly made it to the Public Theater in 2008 after going by way of a number of totally different titles, administrators and casts.

He had been engaged on a brand new musical with Venus in Fur playwright David Ives, who known as his collaborator a genius. Not solely are his musicals sensible, however I cant consider one other theater one who has so chronicled a complete age so eloquently, Ives mentioned in 2013. He is the spirit of the age in a sure manner.

Sondheim wrote occasionally for the flicks. He collaborated with actor Anthony Perkins on the script for the 1973 homicide thriller The Last of Sheila, and moreover his work on Dick Tracy (1990), wrote scores for such motion pictures as Alain Resnais Stavisky (1974) and Warren Beattys Reds (1981).

Over the years, there have been many Broadway revivals of Sondheim reveals, particularly Gypsy, which had reincarnations starring Angela Lansbury (1974), Tyne Daly (1989) and Peters (2003). But there additionally have been productions of A Funny Thing, one with Phil Silvers in 1972 and one other starring Nathan Lane in 1996; Into the Woods with Vanessa Williams in 2002; and even of Sondheims much less profitable reveals akin to Assassins and Pacific Overtures, each in 2004. Sweeney Todd has been produced in opera homes all over the world. A reimagined West Side Story opened on Broadway in 2020 and a scrambled Company opened on Broadway in 2021 with the genders of the actors switched. A movie model of West Side Story is to open this December directed by Steven Spielberg.

Sondheims songs have been used extensively in revues, the best-known being Side by Side by Sondheim (1976) on Broadway and Putting It Together, off-Broadway with Julie Andrews in 1992 and on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1999. The New York Philharmonic placed on a star-studded Company in 2011 with Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert. Tunes from his musicals have these days popped up in every single place from Marriage Story to The Morning Show. He himself was most lately portrayed on movie by Bradley Whitford in Tick, Tick… BOOM!


Mark Kennedy is at

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