Sure of his lines. No one is there.

Stephen Sondheim, master of musical theater, dead at 91

19 thoughts on “Sure of his lines. No one is there.

  1. Last night I watched A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when I realized that Sondheim wrote the songs for that show. It’s a funny movie that I had on DVD, but it was only when I was watching it that I realized that they morons took out almost all of Sondheim’s songs from the show. So much for my personal celebration of Sondheim to honor is passing.

    Oh well, I laughed, and Comedy Tonight and Everybody Ought to Have a Maid are still two of the best, and amusing, songs from musical theater.

    And it was preferable to sitting thru A Little Night Music just to see Elizabeth Taylor muddle through Send in the Clowns, my favorite Sondheim song.

    1. The lyrics to Comedy Tonight are amazing. Most people know a line or two, but that entire song is just gem after witty gem.

      And, of course. It sold more oatmeal than Wilford Brimley:

      There is a plus
      in breakfasts like us
      we are the ones
      both warm and nutritious

      Instant or reg’lar
      or one that’s flavored
      Something delicious
      Something nutritious
      Something to help you start your day
      Nourishment for breakfast
      Oatmeal today!

      1. Per Wiki: “During the out of town pre-Broadway tryouts the show was attracting little business and not playing well. Jerome Robbins was called in to give advice and make changes. The biggest change Robbins made was a new opening number to replace “Love Is in the Air” and introduce the show as a bawdy, wild comedy. Stephen Sondheim wrote the song “Comedy Tonight” for this new opening.[1] From that point on, the show was a success.”

        Also, I learned that Pseudolus and Miles Gloriosus were not names they made up for the show, but actually taken from the original Plautus. So have to give the old guy some credit.

        1. Plautus rocked. Not the inventor of the situation comedy – apparently Menander was – but the first to leave a sizable output for us. They’re fun reading and there is quite a bit on video.

  2. I am super curious about The Bearded One’s remake. It’s been a passion project of his for years. He’s obsessed with the original film version.

    It’s a strangely structured show too, and the movie version moved a lot around (spoiler alert…Riff and Bernardo do not make it to ACT II). In fact, on stage, the first act is almost twice as long as the second. And the second act is very dour other than the odd choices of I Feel Pretty and Krupke early in the act.

    However, script aside, Bernstein’s score is epic. Sondheim has some great wordplay. And the dance is incredible. Watching the previews, I can also say they have definitely tinkered with the script. I Co. Directed and played Riff in my high school production and I k ow that script inside and out. I don’t think any trailer dialogue matches the show’s book.

    No matter what I am super excited to see it, especially with Sondheim’s passing.

    1. I love musicals, and after all these years West Side Story is still my favorite musical score.

      Sondheim’s contribution – not so much. Some of those lyrics were either lame or wildly out of character. I Feel Pretty seems like it should be sung by a character in an Oscar Wilde adaptation rather than by an minimally educated immigrant with English as a second language. And the less said about the infamously lazy line “suns and moons all over the place,” the better. I’ll bet he would have loved a mulligan on some of those lines.

      In later years, of course, Sondheim’s lyrics, both comical and dramatic, would soar to magnificent heights.

      1. Have to take issue with your criticism of Sondheim’s lyrics for West Side Story–even though Sondheim agrees with you. I think you’re both wrong. Those songs are all terrific, words & music.

        Listen, it is a musical where juvenile delinquents stop fighting each other to sing and dance in the seedy streets of New York. It’s not exactly realistic. So who cares if Maria sings lyrics that are not exactly right for her character? Do you think the leader of the Jets could actually dance like Russ Tamblyn? You have to have some suspension of disbelief. In that context, the songs are all terrific.

        I love Spielberg but it is insane for him to remake a nearly perfect movie. Why not take a musical that they really screwed up transferring to film and re-do that (Man of La Mancha comes to mind). We don’t need another version of WSS, the one we have is too damn good.

        Finally, I don’t think it is fair to call Applause a remake of All About Eve. When you make it a musical, it’s not a remake. It is a musical version of the original. My two cents.

        1. Even if if I buy that argument, there’s still no excuse for “suns and moons all over the place.” I’m pretty sure any fourth grader could improve upon that line. That was just lazy and cringe-worthy writing. I assume he must have been pressed for time.

          I think your argument about Applause is fair, but I would call Mame a musical remake of Auntie Mame, and that is common terminology. People also call The Producers a remake of The Producers, even though Bialystock and Bloom start singing in the remake, so I think the same logic would apply to Applause as it relates to AAE. But that’s certainly an arbitrary call on my part, so your argument is valid. I guess it would be more common and appropriate to call it a musical “adaptation.”

          (But every remake differs from the original in some way or another. Some of them have little in common with the original beyond the title, but the term “remake” still gets used. I reckon the term is sufficiently ambiguous to cover a variety of different reinterpretations.)

  3. He was a big presence in tick, tick boom. And even provided his own voice for a bit with an answering machine. I didn’t realize he was such a big part of Larson’s DNA. Great flick by the way.

    1. Tragedy is deeper
      So says the Reaper

      I’m sure his memorial will include “funerals and chases, baritones and basses.”

      It would have been wonderful if he could have made it another couple of weeks for the opening of Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, but the Reaper respects nobody’s timetable but his own. Not even Spielberg’s.

      1. But if the remake sucks, now all the critics will get the chance to say “he’s rolling over . . . “

        1. I don’t reckon the remake will suck, but I’ll bet plenty of people will ask why it was necessary.

          1. There’s an interesting question: how many Best Picture winners have been remade after their win?

            I can think of only five:
            All Quiet on the Western Front
            Mutiny on the Bounty
            All the King’s Men
            West Side Story

            You can throw out Hamlet, because presumably Shakespeare movies are going to be remade forever.

          2. I think Around the World in 80 Days has been remade. Wasn’t there a poorly received version with Coogs and Jackie Chan?

            I think there was also a fairly recent Ben-Hur remake that came and went without attracting much attention.

            I guess that would make West Side Story the most recent “Best Picture” to be remade.

          3. Looking it up ….

            We both missed the 1951 winner All About Eve, which was remade as Applause in 1973. Applause was the fastest remake of a Best Picture winner, coming only 22 years after the original. (The Brando version of Mutiny came 26 years after the Gable version.) With an IMDb rating of 7.3, Applause is also the highest-rated remake of a Best Picture Winner, unless we count Branagh’s Hamlet, which is rated 7.7. If we allow Branagh into the competition, his version of Hamlet is also the only remake to be rated higher than the original Best Picture winner.

            We both missed Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1941 Best Picture), which has been remade several times in multiple languages, most recently last year, with Lily James. Lily’s version is rated a tepid 6.0 at IMDb.

            West Side Story (1962 Best Picture, remade in 2021).

            Ben-Hur (1960, remade in 2016), remake rated 5.7 at IMDb

            Around the World in 80 Days (1957, remade in 2004), rated 5.9

            All the King’s Men, (1950, remade in 2006), rated 6.2

            Mutiny on the Bounty, (1936, remade twice, in 1962 and 1984), rated 7.2 and 7.1

            All Quiet in the Western Front, (1930, remade into a 1979 TV movie), rated 7.1.

            I’ve thrown out Hamlet (1949) since it has been remade innumerable times in many languages and will undoubtedly be remade “from this day to the ending of the world,” to quote ol’ Billy Shakespeare himself. It’s amazing that there was no version earlier than Olivier’s.

        2. I’d suggest an asterisk on Applause, since it was a film of a stage musical based on the movie.

          I actually had made a mental note about Around the World in 80 Days and then promptly forgot about it. Sort of like how both movies are kind of forgettable.

          1. Some of those films that won Best Picture in the 50s are embarrassing. 80 Days was one. That circus thing was even less memorable.

            Looking at the films released in 1956, they could have made many better choices than 80 Days

            1952’s choice was even more egregious. They chose that circus thing over Singin’ in the Fuckin’ Rain! (Not to mention a few dozen other much better films.)

      2. Also, TIL there was a TV series “prequel” to Casablanca.

        Starring Hutch as Rick Blaine!

        Apparently lasted only five episodes in 1983, but won a Cinematography Emmy.

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