I don’t get a lot of Stephen Sondheim‘s music. His lyrics are certainly impressive and witty, and though my former professor of musical theater Steve Swayne (Sondheim expert) might throw his hands up at the statement, I nevertheless have trouble digesting a good chunk of Sondheim’s music. I had trouble sitting through shows such as Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park…, and The Frogs – the interplay of musical themes is there, and they make sense, but the themes themselves never really resonated with me. Yet, for every ten oddly discordant or unmelodic Sondheim songs, there’s one that stands out as tremendous. When Sondheim does a good song right, it’s really right – and these songs completely justify Sondheim’s success and relevance in the culture of American musical theater. Here are a few of my favorites…
Surprisingly for most, Sondheim wrote some of the music to the movie, Dick Tracy (starring Warren Beatty and Madonna). And this entire soundtrack is pretty good. Following Spiderman’s Broadway debut, there was some discussion on the web about producing Dick Tracy on stage. Why not?
“What Can You Lose?” from Dick Tracy
In Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, death is engrained into the soul of the show. The musical’s hero repeatedly kills people, and then butchers their bodies into meat pies. The reoccurring “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” is based on the Dies Irae, the mass for the dead. When Sweeney murders, there is no chorus of angels celebrating the life of the deceased and the flow of the show is hardly interrupted. Accordingly, the romantic ode, “Johanna” is both sweet and haunting.
“Johanna” from Sweetney Todd
For a third selection here, I was torn between A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Company. Both are great shows with no shortage of entertaining and harmonious songs. Whereas Forum music is sort of witty and playful, Company is serious and moving.
“Being Alive” from Company