Editor’s Playlist # 161

Stephen Sondheim, iconic composer and lyricist of ” West Side Story ” and ” Sweeney todd », Died at the age of 91.

Legendary Broadway songwriter Stephen Sondheim died at his Connecticut home on Friday at the age of 91, according to the New York Times. Very prolific, he was the creative force of some twenty musicals from 1954 (including West Side Story (lyrics), The Forum in madness, Follies, Sweeney todd, Into the Woods, and many others) as well as numerous projects for film and television, from adaptations of his Broadway hits to original songs for films such as Dick tracy and The Birdcage. During his remarkable seven-decade-long career, Sondheim has won nine Tony Awards, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize, and an Academy Award, among other accolades.

Versatility was Sondheim’s hallmark. Thanks to his willingness to experiment and innovate, he has rarely taken the same path twice, going from farce to romance or historical drama. No subject was too obscure or offbeat to serve as a basis for one of his shows: Sweeney todd followed a murderous, cannibalistic barber against the backdrop of the industrial revolution; Sunday in the Park With George explored the creative inspirations of pointillist painter Georges Seurat; Pacific Overtures dealt with the westernization of Japan at the end of the 19th century; Assassins spoke, literally, of assassins of presidents.

Along the way, several of Sondheim’s songs entered pop culture. The dismal “ Send in the Clowns », Taken from A Little Night Music (1973), became his greatest success after Frank Sinatra recorded it that year (this is his version that we hear in the end credits of the film Joker by Todd Phillips). Barbra Streisand also memorably covered it in 1985, and Sondheim even wrote an additional verse for the occasion.

In presenting Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, Barack Obama underlined the complexity of the songwriter’s work and his desire to set the bar high, both for himself and for theatergoers: “ As a composer and lyricist, and a genre all on his own, Sondheim challenges his audience. His greatest hits are not tunes you can hum; they are reflections on roads we have not taken, on wishes gone wrong, on relationships so worn and fractured that it remains only to send the clowns. Yet Stephen’s music is so beautiful, his lyrics so precise, that even though he exposes the imperfections of everyday life, he transcends them. We transcend them. To put it simply, Stephen has reinvented the American musical.

Stephen Sondheim grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and, following his parents’ divorce, attended a military academy and boarding school in Pennsylvania before going to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he attended. specializing in theater. In his youth, he was mentored by another titan of musical theater, Oscar Hammerstein II (he had become friends with his son).

I am interested in communicating with the public », Sondheim explained to Terry Gross, of Fresh Air. “ I love theater as much as music, and the idea of ​​communicating with the audience, to make them laugh, to make them cry, to make them feel, is essential for me.. “

Several Sondheim musicals have been successfully revived in recent years, including Sweeney todd and Sunday in the Park With George (with Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of the painter). A planned takeover of Company (a virtually plotless love and marriage meditation that won six Tony’s after her 1970 debut) with Patti LuPone in the lead role, which was due to coincide with Sondheim’s 90th birthday in March 2020, has been postponed to cause of the Covid-19 pandemic. The preview took place a few weeks ago in Manhattan. The adaptation of West Side Story by Steven Spielberg is set to hit theaters on December 10.

Upon news of Sondheim’s death on Friday, Broadway stars past and present took to Twitter. Josh Gad, star of Snow Queen and Tony nominated for his role in The Book of Mormon, wrote : ” Perhaps the theater has not lost such a revolutionary voice since April 23, 1616. Thank you Mr. Sondheim for your demonic barber, your little night music, this Sunday in the park, this good time in the forum, this out into the woods, and for telling us a West Side Story. Rest in peace “.

Maria Fontura

Translated by the editorial staff

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Editor’s Playlist # 161