Posts tagged Stephen Sondheim
My favorite writer
photo by Colin Dodgson for the New York Times

photo by Colin Dodgson for the New York Times

And then for a moment you let in the depth and intensity and range of Stephen Sondheim’s feeling for the past half-century. That Tony and Maria of “West Side Story” first fell in love as Sondheim sharpened his Blackwing pencils, finding the words for their doomed romance at age 25. That Mrs. Lovett of “Sweeney Todd” hatched her diabolical plans from this writing couch as Sondheim talked to himself. That within Sondheim, somewhere, is both Georges Seurat and Fosca, Pseudolus and Mama Rose, John Wilkes Booth and Madame Armfeldt, Charley Kringas and Little Red Riding Hood. He has served up vodka stingers for Joanne (“Company”) and chrysanthemum tea for the Shogun (“Pacific Overtures”). Sixty years of iconic theatrical moments, and they exist as a result of the specific way Stephen Sondheim feels. Line by line, note by note, surprise by surprise.

And if you’re Sondheim, there are days like today, when you feel under the weather and the day is full of distractions. But there are also nights when you write “Finishing the Hat,” and you’re so proud of what you’ve made that you have to call a friend and say, “I just wrote this song.”

THIS SONG!! > > > > >


Can you imagine?

In the meantime, their friendship grew through one of Sondheim’s favorite mediums, games. Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson hosted holiday parties that included charades, in which Streep participated. Mia Farrow brought Sondheim to one.

“I play a different kind of charades than Meryl does,” he said. “I play running charades, in which there are two teams in relay. She likes to play the kind of charades where her team makes up all the things and our team acts them out and they giggle at what assholes we are as we’re doing it.”

Streep replied, “His version is too complicated to do when you’re drunk.”

Sunday in the Park with George @ the Hudson

It was nice that I could sigh and cry in unison with the bow-tied gentleman sitting beside me. I think we both felt the experience belonged to us individually (i.e., you can't possibly love Sondheim as much as I love Sondheim) yet needed to be shared with a sympathetic, like-minded stranger (i.e., there is no such competition). My Sondheim is as specific to me as his was to him and as yours is to you (if in fact you have a Sondheim?): they are one and the same person but we define that person by the singular meaning his work has for us. I have weighted mine down with the sum total of all my sense memories over decades and years and hours and dollars and tickets and miles, and he belongs to me alone. I couldn't share him with another soul if I wanted to. Which I do not, really.

Sunday in the Park with George is one of my top 3 favorite Sondheim shows but I did not care for the last Broadway revival, which seemed cold and pinched and brown, somehow. I was sad for all the wrong reasons. This is not a show that needs help being "serious": it needs flesh and blood and heat. Here we get all three from the scruffy puppy dog central presence of Jake Gyllenhaal (sorry, but it's in that beard, it's in those eyes), whose dreamy, far-off nature feels more innate than calculated: what he wants he cannot say; what he feels, he cannot give. It goes onto paper, it goes into canvas. Dot (Dot! DOT!) can only wait so long, and Annaleigh Ashford is everything too much all at once: too smart, too needy, too passionate, too pragmatic. She's delightful. She's also the second actress I've seen in the role who I preferred as Marie in the second act (the first would be Audra McDonald): that song "Children and Art" has become precious to me, and when she's being wheeled off the stage at the end of it, and she turns one last time and says "Goodbye, Mama" as she waves up at the painting, well... both my seatmate and I nearly collapsed into the aisle.

From the minimal staging to the overeager Celestes and the perfect pitch and glorious sway of the onstage orchestra, the whole thing felt loose and comfortable—maybe the fact that it's not competing for Tonys released them having to make it feel "Important." It's Sunday in the Park with George! It already is important! But how much better when it's filled with color and light and simply allowed to sing.

Between the coughing fits, Patti LuPone!

It's been 96 hours of misery with no end in sight and at this point I have no reason to believe I'll live to see another day. I just don't understand how a single body can harbor this much mucus and keep on living. Last night I performed the requisite "nasal irrigation" and so much salt water poured out of my mouth that I gagged and puked up my dinner. Classy! I have also sneezed all over my own glasses and at least three times in my own hair. So I bid you adieu with my favorite insane performance video of all time, which I have posted in this blog/space no fewer than half a billion times before, give or take. It's good to go out on a raucous affirmation of life that doubles as a cry for help (this number takes most mortals at least three minutes to plow through, but Loops sings it like she's got a herd of flaming goats nipping at her heels).

ps. Remember me fondly in your wills! I intend to spend hog wild in the afterlife.

Some old dreams: watching “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened”
Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince... Who else could have been in that room? Christ and Moses?!
— Jason Alexander

The terribly titled but profoundly rewarding Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is a study of anticipation and disappointment, youth and aging, triumph and loss. A documentary detailing the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along, a notoriously troubled—and now much beloved—musical written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth and directed by Hal Prince, it moves from conception to casting to rehearsals to previews to opening night and then closing night...after only 16 performances. In the course of months, lives were changed. Careers were shaken and thrown off track just as they were starting. Hopes died, partnerships ended. ET CETERA. That’s show business.

Director Lonny Price (who won the role of Charley Kringas at the ripe old age of 22) laces the film with behind-the-scenes footage and recent interviews with many of the principals (Furth died in 2008). We see the actors 35 years ago as children, some of them, on Broadway for the first time, and now in middle age, still touched by the luck of the lightning that struck them and then, in most cases, moved on—the primary exception being, obviously, Jason Alexander. They gather at the end on the same stage where the show ran (now the Neil Simon, then the Alvin), and wonder what might have been.

We see the show’s creators, veritable theater gods at the height of their power and fame, who had a long way to fall before rising again. (It's okay: there was Sunday in the Park with George for one and POTO for the other, and many more, although they never collaborated together again.)

And ultimately what we see is that everybody dreams and everybody fails—even our heroes, as one actress remarks of Sondheim and Prince. We reach and we stumble and then we stand up once more. What else is there to do? There are no perfect endings, even in art, but the joy born here lives on and on.