by Noah Tree
Shall we keep this simple? You want to go through the intriguing Stephen Sondheim canon again for his numerous precocities, all doubtless worthy of the appreciative cult scrutiny the works receive.
Perfectly understandable to this writer who enthusiastically ghosted the reaction to the first Sondheim tribute as “waves and waves of frenzied accolades….” But for such historical, and in the greater overview, minutial—not to be misconstrued as trivial—‘and then he wrote’ lists, there is the Internet.
Thus for nitty-gritty serious consideration—setting aside the lyrics-only works, as if West Side Story with Leonard Bernstein, Gypsy with Jule Styne and Do I Hear a Waltz? with Richard Rodgers could be set aside—let us merely consider main events. The composer/lyricist events.
Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, WiseGuys/Bounce/Road Show.
These diverse musical excursions of the mind have a common denominator: a subtext of intelligence. They ingeniously amuse, involve and most importantly inspire thought. Sondheim’s lyrics are either deceptively conversationally straightforward, an emotional pin-prick to the heart, or a rat-tat-tat ricochet of fiendishly clever word play which, for all its intricacy, never loses the inherent cogent meaning. He uses similar construct with his scores, again sometimes disarmingly pared down to expose achingly exquisite reality.
If you have had the good fortune to experience his artistry in the theater, you are the richer for it. If not, listen to the recordings. Take away the talented collaborations, the staged spectacle, it’s the words and music that are irreplaceable. The ichor of it all.
Stephen has supposedly said it was difficult to find a rhyme for orange. It is, conversely, easy to rhyme Sondheim.
His rhyme is brilliant.
Category: Hall of Fame