The news of the passing of Stephen Sondheim filled me with joy. Not because he died, I’m sorry the world is without him. But because the great joy he gave me as the greatest composer and lyricist of the American stage. He constantly expanded and challenged the music theater art form and we are forever indebted to him. “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is easily my favorite musical of all time. And my favorite production was in 2017 when the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village was transformed into a certain meat pie shop and we sat at community tables in a very intimate setting. There was an option to order meat pies before the production but I passed, not being certain who was being served that evening.
The list of shows I love and have seen are so numerous I can only call out a few – “Company,” “Assassins,” “A Little Night Music,” “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Pacific Overtures,” just to name a few. Heck, I even enjoyed “Passion.” But always it was fresh and new and challenging and riveting.
Though I have not read it in the many tributes that have been printed recently I recall reading a story that places him in context. You may already know that he was a mentee of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. When he was a teenager he attended the find dress rehearsal of “Oklahoma!” which was written by his mentor and Richard Rodgers. Since that musical is considered the start of modern musical theater, turning the early practice of filling the stage with frothy production numbers, comic turns and bevy of gals into a serious art form with a full plot and character building songs – he has been alive and part of the American Musical Theater scene for its entire existence. While first only entrusted as a lyricist in his early career, he soon started being accepted as a composer as well, which has transformed one of my favorite categories of music. He had a long, productive, and influential career. Thank you, Mr. Sondheim. You will be dearly missed but always loved by me.