Great works of art speak to us regardless of circumstance, even if they have a tendency to take circumstance and fold it into their architecture. Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (1987) is such an expansive work – ranging over ideas of parenting and childhood, moral culpability, risk and renewal, death and community – that it will always feel relevant, a grand canvas of the human condition. And yet, in the midst of a global pandemic that is still shutting theatres and clogging hospitals, this work seems more relevant than ever. We have entered our own woods, and the way out is unclear.... (read more)
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to witness the extinguishing of a genius who not only defined an era or a movement but also ruptured an art form. Virtually nothing of Shakespeare’s death is recorded, so we are left to invent the dying of that light. Mozart’s funeral was infamously desultory, and Tolstoy’s swamped by paparazzi as much as by the peasantry. Stephen Sondheim, the single greatest composer and lyricist the musical theatre has ever known, died at his home in Connecticut on 26 November, and we who loved him feel the loss like a thunderbolt from the gods. Not because we’re shocked – he was ninety-one after all – but simply because we shall not see his like again.... (read more)
Late into Take Me to the World, the live-streamed isolation concert to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday, Nathan Lane quips that the composer has ‘been so under-appreciated all these years. I can’t believe there’s never been a tribute to this unsung musical genius.’ It’s a delicious routine, because every fan of the indisputable master of the American musical knows just how many Sondheim tributes are extant, and how unlikely it is that this will be the last. For a while it seemed as though this one might just slot in with the others, a standard – if, given the format, unorthodox – collection of musical performances showcasing Sondheim’s particular talents.... (read more)
Stephen Sondheim may be famed for his wit, but many critics over the years have lacerated him for it, finding in it proof of emotional frigidity or even callousness. Reaction to his work largely mirrors that of another revered auteur, Stanley Kubrick, who shares with Sondheim an exacting and interrogative attitude to humanity.