The Mountain Talents of Stephen Sondheim (Opinion)

In a word, that’s what the world at large has been asking itself since Friday morning when Stephen Sondheim, the greatest Broadway musician of the second half of the 20th century and beyond, died aged 91. He leaves behind a formidable and majestic body of work that is visible, relevant, intellectually stimulating and emotionally enthralling.

Sondheim, lived, worked and thrived long enough for everyone to compare his works for William Shakespeare’s. Once you’ve reached that level of recognition, it’s assumed – at least – that you can get on your knees, stretch, relax, maybe spend more time doing the crossword puzzle or figuring it all out. and other word games that master lyricists love to play.
But if the wave of media acclaim, career overviews, front-page obituaries and their dozens of magazines are any indication, Sondheim doesn’t have much to rest – especially after so many times. his award. Although he’s been plagued by health issues lately (still unidentified as of Sunday), Sondheim is still doing his amazingly extensive and long-lasting love interviews. him, since recently open off-Broadway revival from “Assassins” to the upcoming remake of “Company,” in which the main character, played by male actors since its 1970 premiere, will be played by a woman.
There is even the prospect of another original musical, “Square One”, a suitability of two films by Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel that Sondheim worked on over the years with playwright David Ives.
And next month, after delays related to the coronavirus pandemic, Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited “West Side Story” will finally hit theaters, reminding the known world (as if they needed those things). that reminder) of Sondheim’s spectacular Broadway overate in 1957 as a lyricist to the music of Leonard Bernstein and the libretto by Arthur Laurents updating “Romeo and Juliet” from Italy on the 13th and 14th century hinges for the winding streets of upper Manhattan in mid 20th century.
He began working with Shakespeare again, and eventually became his only colleague: Is this an exaggeration? If so, this column is hardly the first to generate it. Most recently in 2009, when Sondheim was just 79 years old, British director Trevor Nunn, whose credits include “Cats,” “Starlight Express,” and Charles Dickens’ classic screenplay “The Life and the adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”, told Time magazine he believe Sondheim’s interests and gifts almost uncanny parallels with the Bard of Avon.
& # 39;  Morning Program & # 39;  and the power of the second act

Both, Nunn says, “are fascinated by human contradictions, with their complexity and ambiguity. Like Shakespeare, there’s a highly poetic expression in Sondheim, but when you dig into it, , you see it connected to something real.”

Indeed, any musical composition – and there are dozens – from Sondheim’s collected works are summaries of such an emotional range and complexity that they can be viewed as their own mini-series. Since I now have a deck, I’m willing to declare, “Being Alive” from the aforementioned “Company” is the closest thing to Sondheim’s vast and varied output to the “To Be or Not To Be” monologue. ” by Hamlet.

As he counts down in his head all the reasons to make a romantic commitment he fears, the musical’s protagonist Robert rummags through all the conflicting evidence (“Someone needs you too much / Someone knows you too well / Someone to pull you short / To take you through hell…”) But in the end, he realizes that he’s not looking for justification for loving, but for living by because” … alone is alone / does not live …”

Although “Being Alive,” on the surface, doesn’t appear to be as skillfully worded as some of Sondheim’s other works, it is the deceptive simplicity of witnessing a mind in conflict with itself that makes You are overwhelmed by the expectations.

And there are plenty of examples of such personal testimony, whether it’s “I’m Still Here” or “Out of my mind” (or really any number) from “Follies” or “Finishing the Hat.” ” from “Sunday in the Park with George” or the poignant theme song from “Anyone Can Whistle” and many more.

To return to the question we started with, it may not be necessary to “embrace” the entire legacy of Sondheim, which transformed the musical theater scene and elevated the art of the genre. All you need to do is wander through the repertoire.

Even if you think you know most – or all – of Sondheim’s songs and stories, countless revivals, restorations, and even reinventions of musicals have suggested that there are still many More discoveries need to be made.

And even if Sondheim’s time on earth is over, the rest of us have plenty of his output to get through – it could last as many centuries as Shakespeare’s work lives on and come to different conclusions about what those words mean.

So let’s wander. Don’t try too hard to keep up with the work. Let it embrace you.


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