I am not alone in thinking Stephen Sondheim is the greatest American composer/lyricist ever to work in musical theatre. Just check out the folks at Roundabout Theatre Company, who just renamed one of their Broadway spaces The Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Sorry Henry Miller fans, the theatre which used to carry his name now belongs to the Tony- and Oscar-winning Steve.Sondheim is, these days, late in his career, but his work is still being showcased all over the place. On Broadway, for example, as I write this, the acclaimed revival of West Side Story, for which he contributed lyrics way back in the 50s, is still going strong after a year or more. The first revival of A Little Night Music is poised to swipe some Tony awards, with the star power of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury keeping the houses full (this revival is the fulfillment of a wish I made a while ago). And as if that were not enough, the newest revue of Steve's work, Sondheim on Sondheim is currently in previews, with a starry cast including Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams (I wrote about seeing the first Broadway revue of Sondheim's work, Side By Side By Sondheim, here), and a second revue called Putting it Together remained on the Great White Way as long as its star, Carol Burnett.
I was first introduced to the work of this genius in my college days, by one of the biggest Sondheimophiliacs ever, my friend Valerie. Val is a few years older than I, and headed a clique which centered around musical theatre, so I was always flattered to be included in her gatherings. At one such evening, she pulled out the cast album of the original A Little Night Music, and I was entranced. Frankly, I was so blown away that I sat in a corner the rest of the night, reading along with the lyric sheet as the album played.
I was hooked. I was soon studying the lyric sheets and cast albums of Follies and Company, and since then, am sure I have spent countless hours reveling in the Sondheim canon as it developed. I suppose I would have eventually found Sondheim on my own, but Valerie's enthusiasm for his genius was infectious. She has become one of Steve's acquaintances over the years, and with his approval, has just created a new revue of his work appropriate for teen performers, entitled Our Time. A few years ago, Val flew out to DC, and we enjoyed an out-of-town tryout of Sondheim's most recent show, Bounce. Well, at the time it was called Bounce; by the time it finally reached New York, it was called Road Show. (If you are interested, I revealed in previous pages my feelings about how Steve's work has been translated to film, and my reactions to the Company revival of several years ago.)
I have a full list of roles in Sondheim musicals I would like to play, but most will remain out of my vocal range. I've had a ball in the two roles I have played, in Sondheim's first Broadway appearance as both composer and lyricist, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Back in the very early 80s, I played conniving slave Pseudolus in a dinner theatre venture:
Over a decade later, I played the comic lech Senex in another production (both of which were directed by my best buddy Judy):
Have I wandered down memory lane long enough? Stephen Sondheim turned 80 years old last Monday, and a star-studded celebration was held in New York; the concert will be telecast on PBS later this spring. For this week's Dance Party, here is a clip from Steve's 75th Birthday Celebration, held in San Francisco. The song is from one of Sondheim's film scores, Dick Tracy, and was introduced to the world by Madonna, of all people (another Sondheim song from that film, Sooner or Later, won the Oscar.) Here, the song is performed by an adolescent belter named Hannah Rose Cornfeld:
Happy Birthday, Steve, and give us many more years of your genius.