Stephen Sondheim

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Stephen Sondheim, c.1970

Stephen Sondheim is one of the 20th Century's most respected composers of musicals. He's won seven Tony Awards, an Academy Award, several Grammy Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. He began on Broadway as a lyricist, and then began writing his own music. Critics of his work complain that the songs are too complex and unhummable, which he went on to Lampshade in works like Merrily We Roll Along and Sunday in The Park With George.

  • Saturday Night (1954, though unproduced until 1997) (book by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein)
  • West Side Story (1957) (music by Leonard Bernstein; book by Arthur Laurents; directed by Jerome Robbins)
  • Gypsy (1959) (music by Jule Styne; book by Arthur Laurents; directed by Jerome Robbins)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) (book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart; directed by George Abbott)
  • Anyone Can Whistle (1964) (book by Arthur Laurents; directed by Arthur Laurents)
  • Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) (music by Richard Rodgers; book by Arthur Laurents; directed by John Dexter)
  • Evening Primrose (1966) (made for ABC TV) (book by James Goldman, based on the short story by John Collier)
  • Company (1970) (book by George Furth; directed by Hal Prince)
  • Follies (1971) (book by James Goldman; directed by Hal Prince)
  • A Little Night Music (1973) (book by Hugh Wheeler; directed by Hal Prince)
  • Pacific Overtures (1976) (book by John Weidman; directed by Hal Prince)
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979) (book by Hugh Wheeler; directed by Hal Prince)
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1981) (book by George Furth; directed by Hal Prince)
  • Sunday in The Park With George (1984) (book by James Lapine; directed by James Lapine)
  • Into the Woods (1987) (book by James Lapine; directed by James Lapine)
  • Assassins (1990) (book by John Weidman; directed by Jerry Zaks)
  • Passion (1994) (book by James Lapine; directed by James Lapine)
  • Bounce (2003) (book by John Weidman; directed by Hal Prince)
    • In 2008 Bounce was re-worked, with some songs removed and others added, one character entirely cut, and the plot rewritten; the resulting piece is now called Road Show and it opened off-Broadway in November 2008, directed by John Doyle.

Stephen Sondheim provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Alliteration: He loves this. Any Sondheim musical will include lines like "I feel fizzy and funny and fine," "The realities remain remote," "The bong of the bell of the buoy in the bay," and the infamous "That's the puddle where the poodle did the piddle."
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Although he avoids this trope about half the time, he's perhaps the only man ever to adapt a painting into a full-length musical.
  • Cut Song: The revue Marry Me A Little was made entirely from his Cut Songs.
  • Deconstruction: Present to some degree in most of his works, most notably the following:
  • Double Meaning Title: Follies, Pacific Overtures, perhaps to a lesser extent Company
  • Downer Ending: Assassins, West Side Story, Merrily We Roll Along (subverted in that it's placed at the beginning), Sweeney Todd, Follies, Evening Primrose.
  • Gossipy Hens: Most of the minor characters in Sunday in The Park With George, and some Gossipy Roosters in the form of the soldiers in Passion.
  • Leitmotif
  • Lyrical Dissonance
  • Reconstruction: Arguably, Passion, of the archetypal love epic.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: He's got several - "Epiphany" from Sweeney Todd, "Getting Married Today" from Company, "Live, Laugh, Love" from Follies, "Franklin Shepard Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along, and "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy.
  • Self-Parody:
    • Sondheim joined forces with Andrew Lloyd Webber for "Hey Mr Producer", a tribute concert to Cameron Mackintosh. They performed a duet riffing on their songs "Send In The Clowns" and "Music of the Night", all while playfully ribbing Mackintosh.
    • For the retrospective Sondheim on Sondheim, he wrote a new song: "God"
  • Shout-Out: In the opening of Pacific Overtures, the Reciter sings of far off lands where, among other things, women are being praised, which is arguably a Shout-Out to 'In Praise of Women' from Sondheim's previous musical A Little Night Music.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very cynical in most cases.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: More often inverted than played straight. Often he'll complete the rhyme, but in a way you'd never guess. Or he'll stuff in a bunch of internal rhymes where no other songwriter will dare.

Into the words
Your content always comes before your form and style.
Into the words
Internal rhymes that even baffled Merman.

  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Used dramatically in Follies, in which half the songs are numbers that the women used to sing in their days in the Ziegfeld Follies-esque show, but are used to point up the melancholy of the story.
  • Villain Song: He's good at this.
    • Surprisingly, the villain in Evening Primrose (Ms. Munday) did not receive one, most likely because it was only written to fit within an hour of television broadcast time. Many fans think that if Evening Primrose were to be expanded for stage, Ms. Munday should deserve a song.
  • White Dwarf Starlet: Half the cast of Follies, a show which does a little examining of this very phenomenon.