Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yay Stephen Sondheim Theatre!

Today marks a very special day in my book.  It's the day when the marquee of the newly dedicated Stephen Sondheim Theatre is unveiled and lighted at a 6:30 PM ceremony at 124 W. 43rd Street in Manhattan's Theatre district.

Stephen Sondheim is a huge part of why I love musical theatre.  He also has a lot to do with why some popular contemporary music has become oftentimes as boring as a box of rocks to me.  After listening to Sondheim shows filled with unpredictable melodies, brilliant lyrics and beautifully layered orchestrations (love to Jonathan Tunick),  I have become one of those people who listens to NPR or musicals in the car.  Yeah.  I'm one of those.  

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for ROAD SHOW, PASSION, ASSASSINS, INTO THE WOODS, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SWEENEY TODD, PACIFIC OVERTURES, THE FROGS, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, FOLLIES, COMPANY, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, as well as the lyrics for WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY and DO I HEAR A WALTZ?  I'm sure I'm leaving a few out, but regardless, he's the bomb.  And no, I'm not really sure why I always feel the need to capitalize the names of shows.  Adds gravitas maybe…

Christine Quinn, Todd Haimes, John Weidman,
Stephen Sondheim, Nathan Lane, Patti LuPone, and Tom Tuft

So anyway, Sondheim is famous for, among other things, his extensive use of counterpoint.  What is counterpoint you ask?  It can be roughly defined as the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.  There are many examples of counterpoint in the canon of musical theatre greats, but this is all about Sondheim, right?  So to illustrate this, let's take a listen to a real gem, shall we?

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC opened on Broadway in 1973, with music and lyrics by the man, Stevie Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and has been performed about a zillion times by theatre and opera companies alike.  Recently we were lucky enough here in St. Louis to be treated to a beautiful staging by Opera Theatre St. Louis.  In this example, we'll be listening to 3 of the main characters of this show:  Fredrik Egerman is a middle aged lawyer who's married to a much younger Anne, a rather flighty lass who is still a virgin -- after eleven months of marriage mind you.  Needless to say, Fred is frustrated.  His son, Henrik, a seminary student, is also frustrated.  He's got the hots for his stepmother who's only a year younger than he is, and nobody really ever pays him any attention.  In this tune, "Now/Later/Soon", these 3 characters express their current state of mind:  Fredrik wants to get laid - "Now", Henrik wants to be acknowledged - "Later", and Anne, apprehensive about giving it up, promises that she will - "Soon".

The song starts with Fredrik.  He's lamenting the fact that he still hasn't figured out a way to get into his wife's pants.
- Then at 3min. 24sec., Henrik's somber refrain is introduced.  Poor erratic Henrik.
- At 6min. 14sec., Anne's beautiful lilting melody is introduced.
- And then at 8min. 26sec., we enter the contrapuntal glory that is Stephen Sondheim.  The last 30 seconds or so is like magic to me.

Genius, right?!  *sigh*  I love him.  Congratulations and best wishes on the lighting of your marquee Mr. Sondheim!  I cannot WAIT to see a show there.  I'll probably burst into tears the minute I walk through the doors.

Because I feel compelled to do so, I'm gonna end with another clip -- the Prelude (The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd) from SWEENEY TODD.  Why you ask?  Well, I don't know how many of you saw the film, but while I really liked it, Tim Burton for some reason felt it necessary to leave out all of the chorus tracks.  Travesty.  An act that I am sure he will be punished for to some degree in the afterlife.  So, I kinda feel like it's my responsibility.  Enjoy!

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