A God Amongst Men

 
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I use the phrase “A God Amongst Men” for 2 musical theatre writers. The first being Frank Loesser. I don’t use that phrase for writers like George Gershwin or Cole Porter or Harold Arlen (actually I think I have called Harold Arlen "A God Amongst Men" as well), but Frank Loesser, I do. Just think about it, the man could write a song, sometimes for other people and let them take the credit, I'm looking at you Meredith Wilson. That’s taking nothing away from Gershwin, or Porter, or Arlen, or anyone else that writes, but Frank was a league above. We're going to add Frank Loesser to the list of topics that I need to write a blog post about. We'll get to that list one day, it keeps getting longer and longer. This is exciting, every time I write a new blog post I realize how much of a nerd I am. Don't worry I also play board games. 

The second, quite obviously:

Stephen Sondheim

By Meryle Secrest

Where do you start when talking about the man that IS American Musical Theatre? That’s easy for me to decide... I won't talk about the man too much, but you should read Stephen Sondheim: A Life by Meryle Secrest.

Seriously, buy the book. Read it, it's amazing. Then read the one about Leonard Bernstein, also by Meryle Secrest. You won't be disappointed.

I’ll let you do your research on Sondheim... if, for some reason you haven’t already. Let me be honest for a moment. Just a moment though, if this blog is proving anything, it's proving that I am seldom honest... I usually beat around the bush. If you don’t know every inch of Stephen Sondheim’s life, I am judging you. If music theatre is something you really want to do with your life, become an expert in it. You should be able to recite Sondheim’s biography from heart. The people he’s worked with (Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein), the shows he’s written (he wrote a straight play that was on Broadway for a hot second), the number of cigarettes he smoked a day (too many), who his neighbor was in NYC (Katherine Hepburn), etc., etc., etc. If you can’t spout off Sondheim trivia the same way you can spout off contestants on The Bachelor, do better at your career. You’re hard pressed to meet a doctor that doesn’t want to know everything about their career choice. You should be the same way. That’s a whole different blog post that also involves me yelling at you if you can’t read music and don’t want to learn. I’ll get there later, but if you can't read music, go to TheoryWorks right now and get on it. Immediately.

Okay, back to Sondheim, let’s chat through his shows, alphabetically...


list of Sondheim Shows and Revues:

Anyone Can Whistle

Donna Murphy doing her thing.

Book by: Arthur Laurents
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: April 4, 1964 - April 11, 1964 (12 previews - 9 performances)

This is a crazy pants musical - thoroughly crazy pants - but it was also Angela Lansbury’s first stage appearance. And despite what playbill.com posted the other day, she is still alive and amazing.

Briefly - There’s a corrupt mayoress and crazy shit happens, there’s a spring that pops up out of a rock that people think is a miracle, and crazy shit happens. All spanning over 3 Acts. Yes 3! All including crazy shit... that happens.

Great songs:
There Won’t Be Trumpets
Simple
Anyone Can Whistle
Everybody Says Don’t
See What It Gets You (ladies, look at this song)
With So Little to Be Sure Of

 


Assassins

Book by John Weidman
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original run (off-Broadway): December 18, 1990 - February 16, 1991 (73 performances)
Broadway run: April 22, 2004 - July 18, 2004 (26 previews - 101 performances)

This is one of my favorite musicals, hands down. It’s so good. Take a bunch of people that did or tried to do terrible things and throw them all together and have them convince another terrible person to do a terrible thing. Right up my alley. Frank Rich had a great line in his original off-Broadway review…

Assassins will have to fire with sharper aim and fewer blanks if it is to shoot to kill.
— Frank Rich

Candide

Book by: Lillian Hellman
Music by: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by: John La Touche, Dorothy Parker and Richard Wilbur
Additional Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein
Original Broadway run: December 1, 1956 - February 2, 1957 (73 performances)
Revival (with additional lyrics by Sondheim): March 10, 1974 - January 4, 1976 (740 performances)

It’s Voltaire - I’m not going to get into it. Look it up. There’s a girl, there’s a guy... Candide means innocence.

 


Company

Watch Sondheim's pure approval during the patter sections, it's amazing.

Book by: George Furth
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: April 26, 1970 - Jan 1, 1972 (7 previews - 705 performances)

There’s a guy, his name is Bobby, he’s working through some stuff… Not necessarily successfully. Look up the story of "Another Hundred People" and Pamela Myers, it's a real life Peggy Sawyer tale. COMPANY is also the first time Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince worked together as writer and director.

Great songs:
Sorry-Grateful
You Could Drive a Person Crazy
Another Hundred People
Getting Married Today
Marry Me a Little (is not a great song, stop singing it)
The Ladies Who Lunch
Being Alive

 


Do I Hear a Waltz?

Do I Hear a Waltz? Music & Lyrics by Sondheim (not from Do I Hear a Waltz?)

Book by: Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Music by: Richard Rodgers
Original Broadway run: March 18, 1965 - September 24, 1965 (1 preview - 220 performances)

Oscar Hammerstein was originally intended to write lyrics, but he died. So Arthur Laurents (who wrote the source play) and Mary Rodgers (Richard’s daughter - Stephen's dear friend) approached Sondheim to write lyrics. Neither Rodgers or Sondheim thought the play would make a good musical. But Sondheim felt obligated to write it since Arthur Laurents had recommended him to write lyrics for West Side Story.

I actually don’t know this show well, shame on me. I’m going to do some research after I post this blog. From what what I know, it’s not that great.

Great songs:
Someone Like You
Take the Moment
Do I Heart a Waltz? (also check out the version of this song that Sondheim wrote lyrics and music for, he ended up using a lot of those lyrics for the Rodgers version, but musically this version is superior, my opinion)
Stay

 


Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose with subtitles in Spanish (bonus).

Book by: James Goldman
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Air Date: November 16, 1966 (ABC)

This is a bonkers TV special that starred Anthony Perkins, Charmian Carr, Larry Gates, and Dorothy Stickney. It involves a group of people that live inside a department store and pretend to be mannequins during business hours, or something, it's crazy. There's a group known as the "Dark Men" and the lead girl got separated from her mom when she was 6 and fell asleep in the Women's Hats department. Crazy. But worth a watch, it's pretty fascinating.

Great songs:
If You Can Find Me, I’m Here (this is one of my all-time favorite songs)
I Remember
When
Take Me to the World

 


FOLLIES

Follies Overture

Original title THE GIRLS UPSTAIRS
Book by: James Goldman
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: April 4, 1971 - July 1, 1972 (12 previews - 522 performances)

Old Follies girls collide with their younger counterparts in a run down theatre before it’s demolition. One of the best scores ever written. Period. End of story.

Great songs:
Beautiful Girl
Don’t Look at Me
Waiting for the Girls Upstairs
Rain on the Roof
Ah, Paris!
Broadway Baby
The Road you Didn’t Take
Bolero d’Amour
In Buddy’s Eyes
......
***Okay, the whole score, the whole damn score is great songs***

 


The Frogs

Book by: Burt Shevelove
Book Revised (2004) by: Nathan Lane
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Production: Yale Repertory Theatre in the Yale swimming pool May 20, 1975 (8 performances) cast included: Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang
Original Broadway run:  July 22, 2004 - October 10, 2004 (34 previews - 92 performances)

The tag line says it best - The time is the present. The place is Ancient Greece. The opening of THE FROGS, "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" was originally drafted as an opening number for A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.

Great songs:
Invocation and Instructions to the Audience
I Love to Travel
Hades

 


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Remember when things like this happened in the White House...

Book by: Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: May 8, 1962 - August 29, 1964 (8 previews - 964 performances)

Sondheim's first Broadway musical where he wrote Music and Lyrics. This whole show is a farce, and a damn funny farce. Opening numbers cut out of town included: "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" and "Love is in the Air". Jerome Robbins was called in to act as a "play doctor" and he suggested a song like "Comedy Tonight" to open the show, the rest is history.

Great songs:
Comedy Tonight
Love, I Hear
Free
Lovely
Everybody Ought to Have a Maid
I'm Calm
That Dirty Old Man
That'll Show Him

 


Getting Away with Murder

Written by: George Furth and Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: March 17, 1996 - March 31, 1996 (29 previews - 17 performances)

It's true, Sondheim wrote a straight play that was on Broadway. Sondheim, a fan of puzzles and board games, wrote, appropriately, a murder mystery. I've never read it, but it's on my list.

 


Gypsy

Gypsy is based on the life of this gal... This is a very clean version of her famous routine.

Book by: Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Music by: Jule Styne
Original Broadway run: May 21, 1959 - March 25, 1961 (2 previews - 702 performances)

If you don't know the plot of GYPSY... You are dead to me. It's Gypsy Rose Lee! Fun fact, John Kander, of Kander and Ebb, was the rehearsal pianist and dance arranger for the original production of GYPSY. It's a great show with some incredible moments. If you don't know it, learn it.

Great song:
Some People
Small World
Little Lamb
If Momma Was Married
All I Need is the Girl
Everything's Coming Up Roses
You Gotta Have a Gimmick
Let Me Entertain You
Rose's Turn

 


Into the Woods

Opening of INTO THE WOODS

Book by: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: November 5, 1987 - September 3, 1989 (43 previews - 765 performances)

Into the Woods ties together several fairy tales including:
Little Red Riding Hood
Jack and the Beanstalk
Rapunzel
Cinderella

They are tied together with a quasi invented fairy tale based loosely on the origin story of Rapunzel involving a witch and a baker that wants to start a family. Also... people die.

Great songs:
THE ENTIRE OPENING! Holy shit!
I Know Things Now
A Very Nice Prince
Giants in the Sky
Agony
It Takes Two
On the Steps of the Palace
Moments in the Woods
Last Midnight
No More
No One is Alone

 


A Little Night Music

I really like this girl for some reason.

Book by: Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: February 25, 1973 - August 3, 1974 (12 previews - 601 performances)

He sleeps with her, she sleeps with him. She won't sleep with him. He doesn't sleep with anyone. It's a merry romp in the woods on a weekend. Also there is a bitchin' cello solo.

Great songs:
Now
Later
Soon
Every Day a Little Death
Weekend in the Country
Send in the Clowns
The Miller's Son

 


Marry Me a Little

This is a revue, I don't really count it as a Sondheim show.

 


Merrily We Roll Along

So good.

Book by: George Furth
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: November 16, 1981 - November 28, 1981 (44 previews - 16 performances)

I was 3 months old when this show opened. I was still 3 months old when this show closed. I truly appreciate this show and the cult following it has garnered. The whole show takes place in reverse chronological order. You get to slowly see broken people get younger and more hopefully as the show passes backwards through time, it's heart breaking and hard to follow as an audience member. Sometimes you put together some of the smartest people to write a show, and sometimes it just doesn't work. This would also mark the end of the Stephen Sondheim-Harold Prince collaborations until BOUNCE in 2003.

Great songs:
Like It Was
Old Friends
Not a Day Goes By
Now You Know
Good Thing Going
Opening Doors
Our Time

 


Pacific Overtures

Book by: John Weidman
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: January 11, 1976 - June 27, 1976 (13 previews - 193 performances)

Story of the west opening up trade with the east, as told from the perspective of the east. How could this not be a smash hit! It's a great show, one of my favorites, the main musical scale Sondheim used for this show is actually a Spanish scale which closely resembles many eastern scales but also includes a leading tone. Don't know what a leading tone is? Learn.

Great songs:
Chrysanthemum Tea
Someone in a Tree
Please Hello
A Bowler Hat
Next

 


Passion

Book by: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: May 9, 1994 - January 7, 1995 (52 previews - 280 performances)

PASSION is one of only a few projects that Sondheim conceived of himself, the others being SWEENEY TODD and ROAD SHOW. The show takes place in Italy and deals with a young solider and the changes in him brought about by the obsessive love of Fosca, his Colonel's homely, ailing cousin (I stole that line from Wikipedia because it made me chuckle.) The show is okay, not good, not bad, just okay. Though I did see the Sondheim Celebration production at the Kennedy Center when I was in college starring Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker... Judy Kuhn, playing Fosca, was so good it was like there was no one else on stage but a bunch of amateurs. It was astounding. But the show is still... eh...

Great songs:
Happiness
I Read
I Wish I Could Forget You
Loving You
Just Another Love Story

 


Putting It Together

Another revue. Doesn't count.

 


Road Show

Other titles: BOUNCE, WISE GUYS, GOLD!
Book by: John Weidman
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original off-Broadway run: November 18, 2008 - December 28, 2008

ROAD SHOW tells the story of Addison and Wilson Mizner. They do some crazy things that are sometimes fun and sometimes confusing. I would venture to say that the score is the first Sondheim score that sounds like another one of his scores, that score being INTO THE WOODS. I saw the Washington, D.C. production in 2003 and enjoyed myself, but didn't write home about it, it was called BOUNCE back then.

Great songs:
The Best Thing That Ever Happened
Talent
**There may be more great songs, but that's all I really remember being great**

 


Saturday Night

Book by: Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original off-Broadway run: February 17, 2000 - March 26, 2000 (45 performances)

SATURDAY NIGHT was original slated to open in the 1954-1955 Broadway season. Auditions were held and announcements were made in the Paper of Record. Then a producer died and it all went downhill. Jule Styne almost helped bring it to Broadway in 1960, but alas. The show involves some middle-class bachelor friends on some Saturday nights, one meets a girl who is crashing a party. There is a "get rich quick" scheme... An escape from jail... And other antics.

Great songs:
Class
Isn't It?
So Many People
I Remember That

 


Side By Side By Sondheim
Sondheim on Sondheim

More revues, you know my feelings.

 


Sunday in the Park with George

If this doesn't give you all the feels... You are dead inside.

Book by: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: May 2, 1984 - October 13, 1985 (35 previews - 604 performances)

What can one say about this show. It's so good... Then Act II starts. Seriously, what is the top of Act 2? It's so weird. But outside of that, it's just a superb show. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters are brilliant. Sondheim's score is brilliant, sans the top of Act II. Fun story, Mandy Patinkin first preformed the song "Finishing the Hat" after just learning it before a preview and while holding the music in his hands. So you can feel free to hold your callback sides in an audition. Back to the show, it's a musical based on a painting. Okay, not really, but the painting plays a huge character in the show. Though I will say, naming the romantic interest Dot, is a little on the nose.

Great songs:
Color and Light
Everybody Loves Louis
Finishing the Hat
We Do Not Belong Together
Sunday
Chromolume #7 (Kidding, this is what happens at the top of Act II. WHAT IS THIS!!!?)
Children and Art
Move On

 


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Book by: Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Original Broadway run: March 1, 1979 - June 29, 1980 (19 previews - 557 performances)

The perfect opening to the perfect show.

This is a perfect show. End of summary. I wrote my graduate paper on the compositional techniques used in SWEENEY TODD. Nerd. Have a mentioned that I also really enjoy German invented board games?

Great songs:
Prologue: The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
No Place Like London
The Barber and His Wife (this song contains a spoiler alert)
Worst Pies in London
Poor Thing
**Okay, seriously, the whole score, there isn't a note out of place.**

 


West side story

Book by: Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Music by: Leonard Bernstein
Original Broadway run: September 26, 1957 - June 27, 1959 (732 performances)

Two rival gangs engage in the ultimate dance off. Also people die. There is also jazz music and a couple admittedly terrible lyrics. I joke, but seriously, it's WEST SIDE STORY. It's a classic and a national treasure. Sondheim to this day only makes half of the royalties he should on productions.

Great songs:
I won't ever start, much like SWEENEY TODD, the whole score is perfect, except for "Gee, Officer Krupke".


There you have it. Stephen Sondheim. May we all be blessed to have heard his passion in our lives.

More to come next week! This one was fun.

Make sure you check out February and March classes.

Until next time... Get your sh*t together. Stop blowing it!


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