Tag: musicals

Stephen Sondheim: America’s Greatest Living Writer

There are many virtuoso musical writers and performers in the United States. The most successful and long-standing artists are the ones that have the ability to adapt and possess well-established careers that have been able to cross over and interconnect people throughout many decades and generations. One of those artists happens to be one of the most prominent lyricists and musicians in theatre: Stephen Sondheim.

He will be turning ninety-one this month, on March 22nd to be exact. Some of the most beloved musicals that he has written and composed would be Into the Woods, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Gypsy. Over his sixty-six year-long career he has won eight Tonys, six Grammys, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize.

Though most of his musicals have not been considered megahits on Broadway such as Phantom of the Opera, it is because of what Sondheim focuses on in his musicals. While Broadway thrives on larger-than-life plots and music, Sondheim finds the beauty of the world through the authentic complexity of human emotions that fall into liminal space or into the darkness itself. He states in his second volume of collected lyrics, “There is a tonic in the things men do not wish to hear, it’s been said. But not much money.”



Unlike most starving artists who are discovered while in obscurity, Sondheim started his career in the mid to late 1950s creating the megahits West Side Story and Gypsy. Before he reached the age of thirty, he had already done more than what most writers have done in a lifetime. But these musicals do not represent who Sondheim is at his core. Through collaboration with directors Hal Prince and James Lapine, then a decade of hits and misses, he created the musical ‘Company,’ which started another quarter-century of success for Sondheim with musicals varying from topics of middle-aged showgirls in Follies and the American opening of Japan in Pacific Overtures.

What makes Sondheim’s musicals come together though is that each of them is essentially a piece of literature that has a musical score. He based Company off of a novel and essay that were written in the late 1960s, when he wrote the musical, and spoke of the sexual revolution occurring during this time period in the United States which is reflected in the musical through vignettes of each of the characters and how they handle the culture shock.


Image via Time Out

Company won a Tony for Best Musical in 1971 but left many people confused. New York Times critic Walter Kerr left the production feeling ‘cool and queasy.’ Sondheim reflects on the fact that the adjective cold is frequently used by critics of his musicals stating that, ‘It all began with Company.’


Sondheim’s musicals were being compared to brass comedies like Hello Dolly and The Sound of Music. But the biggest difference between them is how the music portrays emotions. Most Broadway musical characters know how they are feeling, what they want, and show that through music. In Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Todd shows his contempt towards people and society through the song ‘No Place like London.’ But Todd is not unlike other characters of Sondheim’s. Sondheim uses music in all of his works to illustrate a self-conscious, reflective, unknowing mindset that is more in line with how people actually process their emotions, wants, and state of being. We do not know until after the fact. An example of this can be seen in the song ‘Send in the Clowns’ from the musical A Little Night Music where the character believes that she is a fool after proposing to her lover who rejects her for a younger woman. It tells the audience of the self-contempt that the character possesses for herself without telling the audience.


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It sounds like none of Sondheim’s characters get what they want, but in his musical Into the Woods they do. Act 1 shows the fairytale aspect of each character; Cinderella gets the prince, Jack climbs the beanstalk. But then in Act 2, just like people, when they do get what they want they begin to want something else. So the cycle repeats itself, resulting in the fact that there is no such thing as a happily ever after in reality. The only thing we can learn to accept is peace in the past and the future. Sondheim is a realist in an industry that relies on vice versa. Seeing the brutally honest humanity that Sondheim portrays in his musicals is the reason why his works are still standing.



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7 Books Turned Musical That Might Surprise You

What comes to mind when you hear Matilda, The Color Purple, and Oliver Twist? The books by Roald Dahl, Alice Walker, and Charles Dickens, of course! But did you know that these titles, and more, have been made into popular musicals, and that some of your favorite musicals are based on books? Well below are seven musicals based on books that just might surprise you.




Wicked, the untold story of the witches of Oz, took the world by storm seventeen years ago, and is based on the first book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire. It is the first book of The Wicked Years series. So if you like the musical and want more, there are three sequel books that you can check out.


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Carrie, a beloved cult classic by Stephen King, became a musical in 1988 and had an Off-Broadway revival in 2012.


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The Phantom of the Opera

Yes, that Phantom of the Opera. The 1968 musical, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on a book written in 1910 by French author, Gaston Leroux, originally titled Le Fantôme de l’Opéra.


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Tuck Everlasting

You guessed it; that book you had to read in sixth grade has also been turned into a musical. Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 novel, Tuck Everlasting, which has become a class of children’s literature and has had a run on the banned books list, took to the stage back in 2015 and had a thirty-nine show run before closing production.


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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Another well-known literary classic turned musical is seen in Jekyll and Hyde, whose musical narrative takes inspiration from the 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson… with multiple renditions and revivals bringing the gothic thriller into public view.


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Be More Chill

With original music and lyrics by Joe Iconics, this musical captured public attention back in 2015 and had a limited run on Broadway in 2019. But what fans might not know is that Be More Chill is based on a book by American author, Ned Vizzini.


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Percy Jackson

Fans of the Percy Jackson series were devastated by the 2010 film adaptations, so much so that they got together and made a musical! The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a faithful adaptation of the first book in author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It had a limited run on Broadway earlier in January 2020.


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