21 January 2009

Merrily He Rolls Along

I love Stephen Sondheim. Can't you just die at the man's brilliance? (If you don't know who Sondheim is then read no further. Seriously, what's the point?) He is the diamond in the coal bin of American musical theater, the sunshine in the day, the silver lining around the cloud. In all of Broadway history, his is the greatest talent at music and lyrics. No one comes even close to him, with the possible exception of William Finn ("Falsettos" among many others).

My greatest failing (probably only failing) in the ten years I was theater critic for our afternoon daily newspaper was not being able to get audiences to understand Sondheim. Despite some really excellent productions, people stayed away in droves. I suppose I should not be too down on myself as the same holds true on Broadway: people mount Sondheim shows and audiences stay away. Go figure.

But, put on a half-assed production of "Sound of Music" and you cannot get a ticket. I understand the appeal of such shows, but I find the works of, for example, Rodgers and Hammerstein, silly, sappy and without much merit. I know, I know, everyone in the world loves "King and I" and "Flower Drum Song" -- but really.

Compare any of the songs in those shows with anything by Sondheim and you will see what I mean. I saw Andrea Marcovicci in her cabaret performance singing "Finishing the Hat" (from "Sunday in the Park with George") that brought the entire house to tears (well, me for sure). That would never happen with "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" no matter WHO sung it.

So, put that all together and just imagine my joy at finding an article about a recent (and rare) appearance Sondheim made to discuss the musical theater, and rip apart the current Broadway revival hit of "South Pacific" -- which, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen. But I have seen plenty of productions of it (and even worked a production of it many years ago) so I am familiar with it.

You can find the article here.

More about the man is available here.

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