It's been a week now and there have been many moving tributes. But like many, I can't stop thinking about the legacy and lessons Mr. Sondheim left us. I'm not much for ballads usually but his move me immensely. I've read people explaining about how he's an expert at expressing "longing" and there is definitely some of that on this list. The other category in here that has a formidable presence is creation and all the aches and pains that come along with that. There's also a lot of Sunday on this list and I even left a few off. (If you haven't watched the moving tribute in Time Square from Sunday here's a link to that video). But here we go:
The Moving Emotional Ones (in chronological order so I don't have to stress about which goes where in my heart):
Edit: Oh my gosh. My first category and it's already gonna be a two parter. Let's just call this Part 2A- pre 1980 and the next one will be 2B post 1980.
"Anyone Can Whistle"- Anyone Can Whistle: This is a show I've never seen, being one of his more tremendous flops. This is one of those exceptions that I'll talk more about out of the context of the show. I've never been within spitting distance of a staging although I had a friend in college (another Sondheim fan) who managed to see a staging that she absolutely raved about and to this day I'm jealous. I heard this song for the first time in college, sung by a friend of mine in a musical theatre class. It was emotional moment in my life, my grandmother had just passed, and something about the raw truthfulness of the lyric coupled with the gentle conversational nature of the melody absolutely slayed me that day. "I can dance a tango, I can read Greek-easy/I can slay a dragon any old week-easy" I think for me personally, there's something very profound in the idea that "what's hard is simple, what's natural comes hard" At my most vulnerable it's hard to admit that while I can be extremely capable I've always had a sense that life's simplest moments have been out of my grasp. "Maybe if you whistle, whistle for... me." Lee Remik's "me" there at the end slays me every time. Looking for other absolutely gut wrenching songs from this show be sure to check out "With So Little To Be Sure Of" which has gotten a lot of play this week too.
"Losing My Mind"- Follies: This song is textbook Sondheim longing. Each Loveland number set in such a specific musical moment is a triumph. In many ways it makes Follies the least "Sondheim sounding" of his scores. This torch song, taking its cue directly from the Gershwins, does everything to give Sally the end all be all of "longing" songs. Again, for the most part I much prefer Sondheim's densely packed witty patter songs, but here it is the grace and simplicity that bring home the emotional center of the song. In terms of expressing the kind of love that just won't let you rest this song does it all. You can hear Sally losing her mind just in the sheer repetition of the lyric. Plus nothing beats the precise imagery of "The sun comes up/ I think about you/ The coffee cup/ I think about you" You know that feeling exactly. It's the one that won't go away. And in this haunting melody it simply tugs and tugs. A good delivery of this song is absolutely gut wrenching. There's nothing you can do from dawn to dusk, you think about them. It is the peer of every great standard torch song, but with that extra bit of Sondheim pain. There is nothing more satisfying/unsatisfying. Also, may any one who has ever said Sondheim doesn't write "hummable" tunes have this stuck in their head on repeat. Feh.
"Everyday a Little Death"-A Little Night Music: I could go on all day about this show which I have seen many many times because luckily people love doing it. Obviously "Send in the Clowns" could have gone on this list but you've all heard it and if you want to hear the definitive version of it look no further than Judi Dench on Cameron Macintosh's birthday concert. I've taught whole classes about that song and love it but it doesn't get to the very core of my being the way "Everyday a Little Death" does. I became aware of the song long before I knew the show. Female duets are less common in the cannon that one would imagine and this one always makes the list. But in the context of the show, even though the scene before it can be played quite comedically, there is nothing at all comedic in the situation and it comes out perfectly in the imagery of the lyrics. Here's a show that is essentially a sex farce and we've had a great deal of comedic and light hearted numbers up until this point and then bam. Both women reeling from the pain of losing love and/or dignity by losing control of their husbands comes to a head in this lilting yet driving number. When the two vocal lines come together they tumble over each other and are left in a heap of emotions, "Ah, well" is all that Charlotte can muster at the end of it. The B section absolutely kills me. I can't pick a favorite line, they are all a perfect combination of hopeless devotion and complete frustration. "He smiles sweetly/ Strokes my hair says he misses me/ I would murder him right there/ But first I die" Ughhhh. I can't. A good Charlotte gets me every time.
Stay Tuned for Merrily and too many songs from Sunday.