Stephen Sondheim, musical genius and creator of tunes, words, and musicals that have sustained me for decades, died yesterday.
I just took this photo of these books that are always near me:
Those books — “Finishing the Hat” and “Look, I Made a Hat” — contain his lyrics for all his musical numbers and descriptions of his creative process. I love his creations so much that two years ago, my request to Michael for a birthday present was that he just find the blue book, which was packed away in boxes after our last move.
Stephen Sondheim’s music moves me like no others’. I’m sure there are hundreds of blog posts here that feature his music.
Stephen Sondheim’s music has always spoken to me, even when I didn’t know it was him. One of the first songs I chose to sing in front of an audience was “Do I Hear a Waltz” when I was a little kid. Years later, I found out that he had written the lyrics for that. When I was 13 and struggling to physically and emotionally survive heart issues, I was completely captured by a TV production of “Evening Primrose,” which sent me to John Collier‘s incredible short stories. Years later, I found out that Stephen Sondheim had written the lyrics and music for that. When I was dealing with heart problems in 2016, I chose to share this beautiful song from “Evening Primrose” in this blog.
Before A Little Night Music opened on Broadway in 1973, it came through Boston and I saw it with my beloved late parents, who took me to many, many musicals. I was completely enchanted by all the music, including this:
Today’s Daily Bitch Calendar mentions clowns!
Honestly, everything is going to evoke Sondheim for me right now.
When I was in my early 20’s, I was part of The Vocal Minority for a local production of Company. Sitting on stage with the musicians, I hit all those high notes and, to this day, the score feels like it’s a part of my mind, body, and soul. Eleven days ago, I saw the latest version of Company on Broadway with my son Aaron, (who appeared, when he was in high school, in a local production of Assassins in the role of John Wilkes Booth).
My cherished, late friend Michelle loved “Being Alive” from that musical, and her partner, Joe, recounted at her memorial how Michelle insisted he listen to that song the night they met. Joe played “Being Alive” for us as we gathered in 2018 to grieve her loss.
Stephen Sondheim, who is no longer being alive on this earthly plane, has helped so many of us in being alive.
One of my most memorable experiences in the theater was seeing the original production of Sweeney Todd on Broadway in 1977. I can still feel the startling whistle blast and see the stage in my mind, as the chorus sang the opening — “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”
A few years later, in the early 1980’s, I tried out for a local production of Sweeney Todd, hoping to be in the chorus to sing this amazing music. For days and days after I auditioned, I waited painfully to hear back from the production. I did not get the call and rehearsals began, as I grieved the chance to participate. The day after the first rehearsal, I got a call from the show’s producer. She said, “Ann, why weren’t you at rehearsal last night?” I said, not adjusting to this new information, “I wasn’t there because I didn’t get in.” She said, “What? Nobody called you? Oh no! You’re in!” I was ecstatic, and that was a peak experience of my life, learning and singing that profoundly gorgeous music for months.
Sondheim seemed to focus on and create works that have deeper meanings for me. In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with the Italian film Passione D’Amore. A few years later, Sondheim created the musical Passion based on that film, which includes this incredible song:
One of the reasons I cry and grieve today is that, at the time of his death, Stephen Sondheim was working on a new musical that is based on two films of Luis Buñuel, one of my favorite film directors. I wanted to see and hear that musical, but I also have faith that Sondheim has left us enough.
I could go on and on with more memories about how important Stephen Sondheim’s music has been to me. Instead, I’ll just share images from yesterday, captured before and after I heard the news of his passing.
No one is alone. To Stephen Sondheim, to all who have interpreted and been moved by his artistry, and — of course! — to you, for sharing this with me, here and now, thank you so much!