On Friday, the theatre world lost Stephen Sondheim at the age of 91. During his long life, Sondheim was a lyricist and composer, who revolutionized musical theatre as an artform. His impossibly clever lyrics, combined with ingeniously innovative music, against the backdrop of stories with sources ranging from literature, film, art, and drama.
I have two favorite Sondheim musicals. Fortunately for theatre geeks like me, both had productions filmed live on Broadway, and are available on DVD and streaming.
Of the two, Into The Woods is the most well-known. It’s a mash up of fairytale characters and plots in an original story. The first act is funny and clever, though it embraces the darker, more subversive tones of fairy tales. The second act explores the purpose behind these stories, the ways that people use narrative to cope through hard times.
My other favorite, Passion, is definitely one of his more polarizing works. It’s a one act musical that tells a dark tale of obsessive love, based on the novel by IU Tarchetti. It introduces three main characters, all hard to like in their own ways. As their lives intertwine, we invest more strongly than we realize and we become almost uncomfortable with some of the feelings evoked.
I think the best send-off I can give Sondheim is in his own words, from Into the Woods:
“Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. Do not let it grieve you. No one leaves for good.”