Earlier this week, I found myself mesmerized by a video recording of Bernadette Peters singing “Anyone Can Whistle” I hadn’t seen before, and for the first time I understood how quietly devastating it is. “What’s hard comes easy. What’s natural comes hard …” There are parts of life that we think should be so easy, yet they have a way of remaining just out of reach. Stephen Sondheim had a way of delivering universal truths with what seemed like ease in nearly every one of his songs. The mark of his brilliance was his uncanny way of finding the words and the music that define what it is to be human.
One would imagine that at the age of 91, Sondheim might have been leading a leisurely life, but his death came at a time when he was actively working on a new musical with David Ives. In the recent Netflix production of “Tick Tick Boom,” based on the posthumous musical by “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson, there’s a cameo by Sondheim in the form of an answering message, a message which Sondheim rewrote. James Lapine’s “Putting it Together,” charting the author’s two-year odyssey making “Sunday in the Park with George” with Sondheim hit bookshelves in August. And, the Broadway revival of “Company” with Patti Lupone is in full swing.
I am among the countless people who were saddened by the passing of the musical theater legend. I feel a small kinship with writer Frank Rich, “There are few things that remain constant in life, but for me one of them is this: Stephen Sondheim’s work has touched me for more than half a century.” It may not be as long as Rich’s relationship with the composer, but that’s merely due to age. Sondheim’s music has run through my head ever since its introduction by way of the 1980 Broadway revival of “West Side Story” my father took me to. A Sondheim soundtrack has continued to play throughout so many stages of life, including a tangle with singing “Send in the Clowns” at the request of my fifth grade teacher; a heartfelt rendition of “Not While I’m Around” as a high school junior; working through “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” at a musical theater class at HB Studio in my twenties; and listening to the “Into the Woods” score one crystal clear September morning on a bus making its way into Manhattan. The fact is that you don’t have to be a celebrity like Lin-Manuel Miranda or Stephen Colbert to feel a hole by Sondheim’s passing. I’d wager that there are many ordinary mothers who lead relatively ordinary lives who share this sentiment.
In the spirit of celebrating the gifts he has left behind, be sure to check out some Sondheim items in the library’s collection.
Photo courtesy of rawpixel.com
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