Sunday, March 22, 2020

Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

As many of us quarantined theater geeks living in NYC are trying to get through not having live performances, one of our giants, STEPHEN SONDHEIM, celebrates his 90th birthday.  Thanks to COVID-19, many planned events to celebrate him have been cancelled, including the highly anticipated opening of another revival of Company.  I will admit that I was a late bloomer to the genius of Sondheim. I thought his music and shows were something that only the white theater folks would shame me for not knowing well.  Of course, there were many moments in my life that my ignorance of WHO he is, allowed me to appreciate him unconsciously. He wrote the lyrics to 2 of my favorite musicals WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY.  2 shows that I first saw as movie musicals. I hold them both responsible for awakening my inner show queen, along with Wonder Woman, but I digress. His vast musical theater cannon of shows exhibit a mastery of drama, comedy, and the macabre. 

I remember seeing Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd on PBS, and not seeing the big deal at first. Fairy tales and a serial killer who kills people and then gives them to the lady downstairs to make meat pies, were not big on my radar.  At the time, I gravitated to things closer to my experience: The Wiz, All Black Casts of Hello Dolly and Guys and Dolls, Jelly’s Last Jam, and 5 Guys Named Moe. Over the years and out of context, I would randomly hear songs like Losing My Mind, Broadway Baby or I’m Still Here, especially with a big orchestra, being sung by a grand diva like Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook, or Barbara Striesand, and I would get carried away by those lyrics, big finishes, and buttons. Like Blanche Devereaux on the Golden Girls said to the wedding planner, “you just wanna fly right out of here!” 

It was not until I was in my first real relationship with an even bigger theater geek than myself that I started to understand the genius of Steve (I heard that is how he signs his personal notes). My ex and I went to see so many shows, and when we scored great seats to see the 2011 FOLLIES revival. All of the sudden, things made sense from a universal place. The longing loss of love along with the other complicated emotions of life are on full display, even with the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Once my understanding of his universality came to me,  hearing artists later like Billy Porter and Heather Headley interpreting Sondheim's music, I soon felt a new level of soul. The real aficionados of Mr.Sondheim will agree that his work speaks differently to everyone. I admit that his funny and sassy tunes get me every time, and depending on my own state of being, the other tunes are just as powerful. So in honor of his birthday and my endless need to be trendy, I would love to share with you some of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs.

Gotta Get a Gimmick- GYPSY ( lyrics only)

Broadway Baby from FOLLIES


You Could Drive A Person Crazy, COMPANY

The Ladies Who Lunch from COMPANY

AMERICA from WEST SIDE STORY ( lyrics only)

Have a Little Priest from SWEENEY TODD

The Boy From “...”  from THE MAD SHOW


Buddy’s Blues from   FOLLIES 

Let Me Entertain You from GYPSY

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