Monday, January 30, 2006

Once is delicious but twice would be vicious or just repetitious

A peerless composer and lyricist in the Broadway realm, Stephen Sondheim has been in the biz for over five decades, creating huge hit musicals that are continually revived. During his rocky childhood - his father abandoned him and his mother was clingy and smothering - he became a friend of the son of Oscar Hammerstein II (the musical giant behind such shows as Show Boat, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music), who was a profoundly influential mentor to Sondheim. After graduating from Williams College in 1950, he studied under the composer Milton Babbitt, known for his bold forays into electronic music.

Sondheim first found praise as a lyricist, penning West Side Story in his mid-twenties and Gypsy in 1959, and his first Broadway production as both a lyricist and composer, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, opened in 1962. His next success was Company in 1970, centered on a bachelor's 35th birthday and his married friends, "middle class people with middle class problems" as Sondheim calls them. Based on the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, A Little Night Music (Merritt's 1973 entry on the list) was another hit, featuring one of Sondheim's most famous songs, "Send in the Clowns." Other productions include the gruesome Sweeney Todd from 1979, which is currently experiencing a revival, Sunday in the Park with George about the pointilist painter Georges Seurat, and the psychological fairy tales of Into the Woods from 1987.

One of the most well-known versions of "Send in the Clowns" is Barbra Streisand's take, and the title refers the circus practice of dispatching a team of clowns to distract the audience after something goes awry. Streisand was actually pursued by Merritt and Claudia Gonson to be a singer for the second 6ths album; Gonson said, "I wrote a lot of letters to Eartha Kitt and Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand, and I got a lot of responses that were kind but noncommittal." The second track this week is "I Never Do Anything Twice," originally written by Sondheim for the 1976 film about Sherlock Holmes, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (by the way, the title isn't an "I've solved it!" solution, but instead refers to a 7% cocaine, 93% saline solution.) The Three Terrors performed it as part of their "...Go Hollywood" show in April of 2001.

Barbra Streisand - "Send in the Clowns"
Julie Wilson - "I Never Do Anything Twice"


Post a Comment

<< Home