“Melodically… the starting point of [the Into the Woods score] is the jingle, whose essence is the very property that critics have so often been reluctant to grant him, hummability, though doubtless even this virtue will be construed as poverty of invention or intellectualization by some.”—Stephen Banfield, Sondheim’s Broadway Musicals, pg 408
Scene 3 (Garden Sequence) (from Passion) by Stephen Sondheim Performed by Jere Shea, Marin Mazzie, and Donna Murphy
This is one of my favorite Sondheim scores, moreso than Forum, than Pacific Overtures, than Into the Woods or Merrily, even. The music has a direct and deep line to my soul - it physically doubles me over. It’s remarkable. My favorite parts of this track:
Marin’s simple, casual, and so affecting “How ridiculous”
Perhaps it was the dress, / The fragrance of her dress, / The light perfume of silk / That’s warm from being in the sun, / That mingles with a woman’s own perfume, / The fragrance of a woman…
What happens in the orchestra at the key change under “Love that fuses two into one”
Stupidity is their excuse, / As ugliness is mine, / But what is yours?
The incredibly placed rest between “I would” and “think of coming downstairs,” that allows Donna, as Fosca, to wind up for the release on “stairs,” so that it sounds like an event, which her coming downstairs was.
One show that exemplified my stubborn faith was the very next Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George. The night I reviewed it, people were walking out all around me, yet as the first act ended, with the re-creation of a Georges Seurat canvas, I felt that tickling sensation on the back of my neck that always arrives when the theater speaks to me at a level so deep that y spirit responds before my mind.
I didn’t understand everything that I had seen on stage that night. When all the reviews came out and were mostly hostile, I was full of self-doubt and shaken by the loneliness of my stand, especially since I couldn’t articulate my response to Sunday to my own satisfaction. So I went back and saw it again and again and again—and kept being moved and kept writing about it until I felt I had made my case. One consequence of my obsession was to dramatize the Times’s power, since my essays kept alive a production that many others deemed worthy of a quick death.
”—Frank Rich, “Exit the Critic,” Hot Seat pg. 974.
“In one number in Sunday, Seurat’s work is dismissed by contemporaries as having “no passion, no life” —a critique frequently leveled at Mr. Sondheim. But unlike the last Sondheim show, Merrily We Roll Along, this one is usually not a whiny complaint about how hard it is to be misunderstood, underappreciated genius. Instead of a showbiz figure’s self-martyrdom, we get an artist’s self-revelation.”—Frank Rich, in his New York Times review of Sunday in the Park with George, as reprinted in Hot Seat (pg. 315)
Hi! I'm incredibly envious of your near-encyclopaedic Sondheim knowledge, so I'm just curious: when/how did you first get introduced to his work? Love this blog, and I do hope you don't mind if I reblog some posts over to fuckyeahsondheim once in a while. Cheers, Rachel.
Thanks! And definitely, reblog away!
To answer your question, I grew up in a home filled with showtunes. I remember listening to Company at a very early age, mostly because I really liked the design of the album cover.
I’m not sure when I became aware of Sondheim’s musicals as a distinct subset within the world of musical theater, but by the time i was nine years old, Into the Woods had premiered on Broadway and I remember buying the cast album on cassette for myself — one of the first cast albums I bought with my allowance. That year I did a research project on Sondheim for school that exposed me to the full range of his work up to that point and found me reading Sondheim & Co. over and over again. I also started writing letters to Steve, as he asked me to call him in his first reply — he never failed to reply. In the coming weeks I’ll scan some of those letters and share them here.
My parents took me to New York when I was 11 for my first trip to Broadway. We saw three shows: A Chorus Line, Anything Goes, and Into the Woods. By that point I was hooked.
I took advantage of my local library, which had a huge collection of both cast albums and scripts. By the time I was in the tenth grade, I had my first internet email address and got involved in the Sondheim Listserv and learned a lot from that online community of fans (some of whom are still my friends to this day).
That’s the short version. :) Basically, I have a big memory and love to read.
Maria Friedman singing “More” from Dick Tracy at the 1998 “Sondheim Tonight" tribute concert at the Barbican in London. One of my favorite Sondheim songs (I know, I have a lot of favorites) in a stellar arrangement.
What a night! First of all, I achieved and then surpassed 200 followers! I didn’t expect that to happen today, so I don’t have any video surprise ready or anything else appropriately celebratory. However, I do want to thank Hannah, aka ijustreallyfuckinglovecats, for being #200. I really fucking love cats too, Hannah. I have two of my own, Maestro & Rhoda. Here’s a picture of me with them:
(Maestro is the gray one; Rhoda is the black & white one.)
Well, some of the chords aren’t right and there’s a couple of unfortunate notes… but I asked the internet for more Sondheim ukulele videos and the internet provided, so I’m not complaining! (And it’s one of my favorite songs, too!) Thanks, Duncan!
(And, of course, all of this happened while I was sitting in a theater watching a pretty good production of Nine, and any evening spent in a theater watching a musical is pretty good to begin with, isn’t it?)
So thanks everyone for following and hopefully enjoying the stuff I share. And especially thanks for not getting annoyed with my crotchety “you’re doing it wrong!” and “you don’t know the whole story!” comments, which come from a place of love.
That’s all. We now resume our Sondheim-fetishizing in progress.
“She wanted to make it relevant to the music business, so she asked me if I could just fix one word to replace ‘lasers,’ and I said, ‘why don’t you say “vinyl” instead?’ and she leaped at it and thought that was wonderful. And i said, ‘Let me look at the rest of the lyric, if you want to personalize it. I’m sure I can make it more record-oriented and less art-related, which is what it was in the context of the show.’ Once you get into it, then it becomes fun to do, and that’s why I did it. I figured, why do it half-assed—there’s no point in making it confusing. So it started with her asking for a word to be changed and I ended up rewriting half the song. The way it turned out, I think it’s terrific.”—Stephen Sondheim, on working with Barbra Streisand to customize “Putting It Together" for The Broadway Album. From Sondheim & Co.
“Steve Sondheim is, without a doubt, a classy composer and lyricist. However, he could make me a lot happier if he’d write more songs for saloon singers like me.”—Frank Sinatra, as quoted in Sondheim & Co.
Julie Wilson, the only performer who’s ever made me laugh at “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” from her album The Stephen Sondheim Songbook. Her delivery exists somewhere between cabaret singing and slam poetry. It works.