By MARK KENNEDY, AP Leisure Author
NEW YORK (AP) — In 2010, the yr he turned 80, Stephen Sondheim needed to endure a public fuss when a Broadway theater was being renamed in his honor.
At a ceremony outdoors the 1,055-seat auditorium on West forty third Road, the composer appeared sheepish by the point he bought to the rostrum following gushing phrases from admirers that included Patti LuPone and Nathan Lane. He additionally supplied up a window into his psyche.
“I’m thrilled, however deeply embarrassed,” he stated, tearing up as a mid-September solar fell over the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. “I’ve all the time hated my final identify. It simply doesn’t sing.”
The remark revealed how Sondheim’s good musicality and his perfectionism went hand-in-hand. The theatrical large, who died Friday at 91, was as complicated as his lyrics, dogmatic in his guidelines and never beneficiant with reward about his work.
A pushed, obsessive purist, he was additionally a magician, creating lyrics and music to such towering reveals as “A Little Night time Music,” “Into the Woods,” “Firm,” “Follies” and “Sunday within the Park with George.”
However he was additionally his worst critic. Take, for instance, his feeling in regards to the iconic tune “America” from “West Facet Story,” for which he equipped the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music.
“Some traces of this lyric are respectably sharp and crisp, however some soften within the mouth as gracelessly as peanut butter and are not possible to understand, reminiscent of ‘For a small charge in America,’ which smashes the l’s and the f’s collectively, making it sound like ‘For a smafee,’” he wrote in his autobiographical self-critique, which took two volumes.
To the remainder of us, Sondheim was genius, whether or not with the easy lament, “The solar comes up/I take into consideration you/The espresso cup/I take into consideration you,” or the marginally paranoid, “Watch out the stuff you say/Kids will pay attention,” or the chic “Marry me a bit/Do it with a will/Make just a few calls for/I’m in a position to fulfill.”
Six of Sondheim’s musicals received Tony Awards for greatest rating, and he additionally acquired a Pulitzer Prize (“Sunday within the Park”), an Academy Award (for the tune “Sooner or Later” from the movie “Dick Tracy”), 5 Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he acquired a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.
He had been engaged on a brand new musical with “Venus in Fur” playwright David Ives, who referred to as his collaborator a genius. “Not solely are his musicals good, however I can’t consider one other theater one that has so chronicled an entire age so eloquently,” Ives stated in 2013. “He’s the spirit of the age in a sure manner.”
Early in his profession, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for 2 reveals thought-about to be classics of the American stage, “West Facet Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959). “West Facet Story” transplanted Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the streets and gangs of modern-day New York. “Gypsy,” with music by Jule Styne, advised the backstage story of the final word stage mom and the daughter who grew as much as be Gypsy Rose Lee.
It was not till 1962 that Sondheim wrote each music and lyrics for a Broadway present, and it turned out to be a smash — the bawdy “A Humorous Factor Occurred on the Strategy to the Discussion board,” starring Zero Mostel as a wily slave in historic Rome craving to be free.
But his subsequent present, “Anybody Can Whistle” (1964), flopped, operating solely 9 performances however reaching cult standing after its solid recording was launched. Sondheim’s 1965 lyric collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers — “Do I Hear a Waltz?” — additionally turned out to be problematic. The musical, based mostly on the play “The Time of the Cuckoo,” ran for six months however was an sad expertise for each males, who didn’t get alongside.
It was “Firm,” which opened on Broadway in April 1970, that cemented Sondheim’s repute. The episodic adventures of a bachelor (performed by Dean Jones) with an incapability to decide to a relationship was hailed as capturing the obsessive nature of striving, self-centered New Yorkers. The present, produced and directed by Hal Prince, received Sondheim his first Tony for greatest rating. “The Women Who Lunch” turned a normal for Elaine Stritch.
The next yr, Sondheim wrote the rating for “Follies,” a take a look at the shattered hopes and dissatisfied desires of ladies who had appeared in lavish Ziegfeld-style revues. The music and lyrics paid homage to nice composers of the previous reminiscent of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and the Gershwins.
In 1973, “A Little Night time Music,” starring Glynis Johns and Len Cariou, opened. Primarily based on Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer time Night time,” this rueful romance of middle-age lovers comprises the tune “Ship within the Clowns,” which gained recognition outdoors the present. A revival in 2009 starred Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a greatest revival Tony.
“Pacific Overtures,” with a ebook by John Weidman, adopted in 1976. The musical, additionally produced and directed by Prince, was not a monetary success, nevertheless it demonstrated Sondheim’s dedication to offbeat materials, filtering its story of the westernization of Japan by a hybrid American-Kabuki type.
In 1979, Sondheim and Prince collaborated on what many imagine to be Sondheim’s masterpiece, the bloody but typically darkly humorous “Sweeney Todd.” An bold work, it starred Cariou within the title position as a murderous barber whose clients find yourself in meat pies baked by Todd’s prepared confederate, performed by Angela Lansbury.
The Sondheim-Prince partnership collapsed two years later, after “Merrily We Roll Alongside,” a musical that traced a friendship backward from its characters’ compromised center age to their idealistic youth. The present, based mostly on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, solely ran two weeks on Broadway. However once more, as with “Anybody Can Whistle,” its unique solid recording helped “Merrily We Roll Alongside” to change into a favourite amongst musical-theater buffs.
“Sunday within the Park,” written with James Lapine, could also be Sondheim’s most private present. A story of uncompromising inventive creation, it advised the story of artist Georges Seurat, performed by Mandy Patinkin. The painter submerges every part in his life, together with his relationship together with his mannequin (Bernadette Peters), for his artwork. It was most not too long ago revived on Broadway in 2017 with Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Three years after “Sunday” debuted, Sondheim collaborated once more with Lapine, this time on the fairy-tale musical “Into the Woods.” The present starred Peters as a glamorous witch and dealt primarily with the turbulent relationships between dad and mom and kids, utilizing such well-known fairy-tale characters as Cinderella, Little Pink Using Hood and Rapunzel. It was most not too long ago revived in the summertime of 2012 in Central Park by The Public Theater.
“Assassins” opened off-Broadway in 1991 and it appeared on the women and men who wished to kill presidents, from John Wilkes Sales space to John Hinckley. The present acquired principally unfavorable opinions in its unique incarnation, however a lot of these critics reversed themselves 13 years later when the present was performed on Broadway and received a Tony for greatest musical revival.
“Ardour” was one other extreme take a look at obsession, this time a determined lady, performed by Donna Murphy, in love with a good-looking soldier. Regardless of successful the best-musical Tony in 1994, the present barely managed a six-month run.
A brand new model of “The Frogs,” with further songs by Sondheim and a revised ebook by Nathan Lane (who additionally starred within the manufacturing), performed Lincoln Heart throughout the summer time of 2004. The present, based mostly on the Aristophanes comedy, initially had been performed 20 years earlier within the Yale College swimming pool.
One among his extra troubled reveals was “Highway Present,” which reunited Sondheim and Weidman and spent years being labored on. This story of the Mizner brothers, whose get-rich schemes within the early a part of the twentieth century lastly made it to the Public Theater in 2008 after going by a number of totally different titles, administrators and casts.
Sondheim wrote sometimes for the flicks. He collaborated with actor Anthony Perkins on the script for the 1973 homicide thriller “The Final of Sheila,” and moreover his work on “Dick Tracy” (1990), wrote scores for such films as Alain Resnais’ “Stavisky” (1974) and Warren Beatty’s “Reds” (1981).
Through the years, there have been many Broadway revivals of Sondheim reveals, particularly “Gypsy,” which had reincarnations starring Angela Lansbury (1974), Tyne Daly (1989) and Peters (2003). However there additionally had been productions of “A Humorous Factor,” one with Phil Silvers in 1972 and one other starring Nathan Lane in 1996; “Into the Woods” with Vanessa Williams in 2002; and even of Sondheim’s much less profitable reveals reminiscent of “Assassins” and “Pacific Overtures,” each in 2004. “Sweeney Todd” has been produced in opera homes all over the world. A reimagined “West Facet Story” opened on Broadway in 2020 and this yr an off-Broadway “Assassins” opened off-Broadway at Traditional Stage Firm and a scrambled “Firm” opened on Broadway with the gender of the protagonist switched. A movie model of “West Facet Story” is to open this December directed by Steven Spielberg.
Sondheim’s songs have been used extensively in revues, the best-known being “Facet by Facet by Sondheim” (1976) on Broadway and “Placing It Collectively,” off-Broadway with Julie Andrews in 1992 and on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1999. The New York Philharmonic placed on a star-studded “Firm” in 2011 with Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert. Tunes from his musicals have recently popped up in every single place from “Marriage Story” to “The Morning Present.” He himself was most not too long ago portrayed on movie by Bradley Whitford in “Tick, Tick… BOOM!” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. “It’s scary to have that obligation however Lin was there to drag the blood out of me,” Whitford advised The Hollywood Reporter.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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