GOODBYE FOR NOW (REDS, 1981)
Sondheim’s work for film is rare. Well, he did write the screenplay for The Last Of Sheila (1973), a neo noir directed by Herbert Ross and written with Sondheim’s friend Anthony Perkins, and starring Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch. Check it out; it is delicious.
But this song is from the Warren Beatty film about activist John Reed. The movie is quite chilly, with more snow scenes than Dr. Zhivago, but it is warmed by this gorgeous love song.
SO MANY PEOPLE (SATURDAY NIGHT, 1954)
Sondheim’s first Broadway show was supposed to have been Saturday Night in 1955. It was not; the death of the producer left it unperformed over 40 years. His lyrics for West Side Story turned out to be his first Broadway credit.
LOVING YOU (Passion, 1994)
Sondheim’s most glorious love-or-die song. If you love Musical Theatre, and if you adore the works of Sondheim, and if Passion remains unknown to you, then stop reading this and listen to it. Now.
DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (Do I Hear a Waltz?, 1965)
Sondheim was mentored as a youth by the great Oscar Hammerstein II of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Six years after Hammerstein’s passing, Sondheim worked with Richard Rodgers. Do I Hear A Waltz? was adapted from gay writer Arthur Laurents‘ play The Time Of The Cuckoo (1952), which was also the basis for the film Summertime (1955) starring Katharine Hepburn. Laurents originally conceived it as a small chamber musical with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and with Mary Martin in the lead role. By the time the project was about to get off the ground, Hammerstein had died, and Sondheim was asked by Laurents and Mary Rodgers, Rodgers’ daughter, and Sondheim’s best friend, to write the lyrics. Sondheim didn’t want to do the show; Laurents, who had recommended him for West Side Story, so he felt obliged to accept the offer.
EVERYBODY SAYS DON’T (Anyone Can Whistle, 1964)
This is one from Sondheim’s most famous flop. Anyone Can Whistle ran for just nine performances on Broadway. Maybe the world was not ready for Sondheim. In the decades since its closing, this terrific show has had notable productions, including a 1995 concert version at Carnegie Hall, and full productions in London and Los Angeles in 2003 that included revisions, and a 2010 concert staging for the Encores! at New York City Center. Its score is now treasured as a part of Sondheim’s canon, and songs have been widely performed. The show is also notable as the the stage musical debut of Angela Lansbury.
Be careful, this song and its lyrics will ear-worm you: “Everybody Says Don’t/Everybody Says Don’t/Everybody Says Don’t, It Isn’t Right/Don’t Is Isn’t Nice/Everybody Says Don’t/Everybody Says Don’t/Everybody Says Don’t Walk On The Grass/Don’t Disturb The Peace/Don’t Skate On The Ice…”
PROLOGOS – INOVCATION AND INSTRUCTIONS TO THE AUDIENCE (The Frogs, 1974/2004)
The Frogs is “freely adapted” by Sondheim and Burt Shevelove from a play by the Ancient Greek comedy writer by Aristophanes. In this musical version, Dionysus, despairing of the quality of living playwrights, travels to Hades to bring George Bernard Shaw back from the dead. William Shakespeare has a poetry slam with Shaw, which he wins. Dionysus brings Shakespeare back to the world of the living in the hope that Theatre can save civilization.
The musical was originally performed in Yale University’s gymnasium’s swimming pool in 1974, with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver in the cast. The show was produced on Broadway in 2004 with a new book by Nathan Lane and some new songs from Sondheim. It had revival in London in 2017.
Gods of the Theatre smiled on Sondheim with this witty opening number to the musical take of Aristophanes‘ The Frogs: “Don’t say ‘What?/To every line you think you haven’t got/And if you’re in a snit because you’ve missed the plot/(Of which I must admit there’s not an awful lot)/Still don’t/Say, ‘What?'”
ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (Anyone Can Whistle, 1964)
That’s what they say.
A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY (A Little Night Music; 1973)
The champagne and caviar of Musical Theatre ensemble numbers.
EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, 1962)
The funniest song in the funniest musical of all time.
SOONER OR LATER (Dick Tracy, 1990)
You might not think that a bald broken down old man could perform this Academy Award-winning song with more elan than Madonna; you would be wrong. But Bernadette Peters can.
*Your writer has performed all of these Sondheim gems in various full productions of his musicals, revues, and in your writer’s club act and shower.