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Sondheim Discussion

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4 years ago
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4 years ago
  • Joe Burns
    Jan 26th, 2014

    Sondheim is in a class by himself in the musical theatre world and I adore so many of his scores. I haven”t listened to all of them, but here are my thoughts on the ones I have.

    1. Company is one of my very favorites, the score has a wonderful, iconic feel to it, even if the story feels dated. The score has an incredible emotional range, the OBC is fantastic, and the lyrics are right up there as some of his very best.

    2. Follies is considered by some Sondheim fans to be his masterpiece given the legendary reputation of the original stage production. I have been hot and cold on it: I find the score of strong quality and listenable, but it has not aged well in any way and the plot is very flawed. Never the less, there are some great songs such as Too Many Mornings, Don” t look at me, in buddies eyes, I”m still here, Could I Leave You(Fabulous lyrical piece), and Losing My Mind.

    3. With the clear exception of Send In The Clowns, A Little Night Music is one of the most underrated Sondheim works. I personally find that a shame because it is really one of his very best. Although it also feels stuck in its time, the score is filled with such magnificent beauty, insight, and intelligence that constantly reveals new things to me every time I listen to it.

    4. Sweeney Todd is obviously a masterpiece that has fully stood the test of time and is simply fantastic. It is so emotionally consuming that its hard for me to listen to it all the whole thing all the way through, but its one of the best pieces of theatre ever.

    5. Sunday In The Park With George is originally such a difficult show when you first see it, at least it was for me. The show felt so odd and jarring at times and also polarizing. But the score grew on me more and more and when I watched the DVD of the show 5 years after I had first watched, I fell in love with it. The show is so deep and beautifully intimate and emotional, and it still is uneven in terms of story, but not in its message and in its music. Outstanding acting too.

    6. Into The Woods is another one of my very favorites. It has the best book of any Sondheim show and again, the music and lyrics are superb. OBC is terrific!

    7. Assassins is a very interesting show, given its concept and use of music. It is quite fascinating and enjoyable, although the subject matter is too disturbing for me to listen too frequently. Still, it’s one that needs to be performed more often.

    I know, I know, I highly need to listen to Merrily We Roll Along and also Pacific Overtures. I could never connect to Passion though, despite some excellent pieces like I Read. I should probably force myself to watch it though, lol. I”ve never listened to A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Forum, but I definitely should.

    So, what are your favorite scores? Do you like his earlier works or his later ones more? What are your favorite songs of his? What are the shows you need to look into or give another try?

    Dec 17th, 2011

    It is almost a cliche to bow down to Sondheim, but I certainly will do so.

    I considered myself to be very adept to liking or loving most kinds of musicals during my early teen years but there was a time where I wasn’t that engrossed into Sondheim. Ironically enough, the one Sondheim musical I loved from a young age was Company. I still love Company, but as I have gotten older, my appreciation has dwindled some. I feel some of the songs, at least lyrically, are a little forced (The Little Things You Do Together being a prime example) or just kind of there (Someone is Waiting).

    For me, it is hard to seperate what I’d consider to be his best musical and his best score. I think the best musicals he has been attached to are Gypsy and Sweeney Todd, and I would also probably rank Sweeney Todd as his masterpiece score.

    Anyways, I will just start in order and work my way up through his years of work.

    SATURDAY NIGHT: As he himself stated, he was so young so the work does seem weak at times but a solid show…better musically than lyrically but obviously one of his more forgotten works.

    WEST SIDE STORY: I use to criticize most of his lyrical work here but I know a lot of it had to do with his composer, Leonard Bernstein, pushing for more poetic prose at times. I think when Sondheim was writing closer to aesthetic (Something’s Coming or A Boy Like That), it was a lot better. As a show, I like parts of it but have always found it overrated. When done well, it can be an intriguing evening of theatre but it is often done poorly.

    GYPSY: As mentioned above, GYPSY is in contention of being the best musical that he is attached to. Once again only as lyricist, Sondheim improves upon his work is WSS (though I will never stop hating the Santa Claus lyric in Everything’s Coming Up Roses). I think, as a whole, his lyrics remain strong by today’s standards.

    A FUNNY THING……FORUM: This is an interesting case for me because when I first heard this score, I found it forgettable and kind of boring and bland. Then I actually acted in a production (as Marcus Lycus) and got that typical bug of falling for the show after becoming familiar with it. After hearing the score more, I grew to like it but don’t be surprised if you dislike it at first. Part of the problem is, and Sondheim points this out in his book (read his two books if you haven’t because they are fantastic and fascinating), his music just didn’t fit in with the farcical nature of the show’s book, which is hilarious and very strong. As stand alone songs, there are some catchy old time melodies like Impossible or That’ll Show Him….and listening to the score, you won’t believe that this is the man who went on to do Company or Sweeney Todd or Sunday. Pretty Little Picture is the song where you start to see the glimmer of what the man would become.

    ANYONE CAN WHISTLE: The biggest flop of his career, which he admits might be due to his and Arthur Laurents’ egotistical take on the piece but the score those contain some gems such as the title song and also Everybody Says Don’t. It could use a re-listen on my part as well.

    DO I HEAR A WALTZ?: A charming show…pleasant and smooth. This is the one show he regretted doing because he did it strictly for favors and money. As only the lyricist (the last time it would happen) to Richard Rodgers, he did a solid job.

    COMPANY: Despite what I said about my love for it dwindling, I still rank it among his best.

    FOLLIES: Joe, you nailed it on the head with the polarizing comment. Some people view it as one of the best musicals ever written while others view it as a very obtuse mess. Frankly, I fall in neither camp. In terms of Sondheim’s score itself, it is definitely among his better works as a whole. What hurts this show is actually the Book, which I always found myself waiting for the songs (you could argue that most musicals are like that but I’d want to enjoy everything).

    A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: Some of his most rich and lush work came from this score, but it is also one of his scores that I have to hear when in a specific mood because I don’t find it easy to sit through. One of my favorite songs of his came from this score, and no it isn’t Send in The Clowns, but The Miller’s Son. As a show, it is definitely a well-written piece.

    PACIFIC OVERTURES: It is not one of his most famous works nor is it often produced but it does well with what it was trying to accomplish. I could listen to it again for better analysis. Someone in a Tree has often been one of the songs Sondheim himself has expressed to being a personal favorite.

    SWEENEY TODD: Definitely his best score and probably his best musical, at least tied with Gypsy.

    MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG: Despite a constant shakeup of Book rewrites, one thing remains clear and that is this: his most underrated and one of his best scores came from this legendary flop from 1981. Not a Days Goes By, Old Friends, Franklin Shepard Inc….many different kinds of songs that all have a flair that many of his other scores didn’t have. I think the revised book helps the show dramatically but even with the old Book, I still think it was a solid musical.

    SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE: His other polarizing musical, but in this case: I am completely won over. I adore Sunday in ways that I am not really sure why I do. The passion and creativity he put into his music and lyrics were a big factor and of course the great ensemble led by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. The Act One finale “Sunday” may be his most beautiful work, especially on the lyric ‘Forever” which gives me chills every time I hear it.

    INTO THE WOODS: So beloved by many but I have never gotten behind. It has some solid songs by him but I never really find myself going to listen to it as much as I do his other work. This is one example of the Book overpowering the Score, as James Lapine did wonders with the storyline ,especially the twists in Act Two.

    ASSASSINS: It wasn’t until recently that I grew to love Assassins. I had seen the maginificent 2004 revival but I only found it that great because of its staging and cast and for only parts of the Book and Score. I know someone who isn’t a passionate Sondheim fan but loves this musical and had always encouraged me to go back to it. I am glad I did because, honestly, the show is close to perfect in achieveing what it wants and Sondeheim has agreed to that.

    PASSION: Oh Passion….it was a lush musical with a strong Book by James Lapine, but when it came to the score, it was beautiful but something was missing from it. It certainly isn’t a show that is full of vibrant life, but it is a solid show that contains some truly lovely moments particularly “I Read”, “Loving You” and then the amazing scene where the Captain finally falls for Fosca…..the acting in the original production was stellar by Jere Shea and Donna Murphy. I think Passion would benefit more from viewing the DVD recording so you can see the acting with it; listening to it was never easy for me.

    I apologize for the encyclopedic length of this but I am a Sondheim fanatic!

    (I chose not to comment on Road Show or The Frogs as I only listened to them once and didn’t care for them and it isn’t far to judge them until I hear them again)

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