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TodayTix staff remembers Stephen Sondheim

3 December 2021 by TodayTix
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Stephen Sondheim

When Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, 2021, he left behind an incomparable legacy. Having written music and/or lyrics for the beloved shows Gypsy, West Side Story, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and more, he is defined by innovative work that has touched multiple generations of theatre creators, workers, and fans. In Sondheim’s memory, the TodayTix staff — who include many of these fans — reflected on how Sondheim’s musicals, and even encounters with the man himself, have influenced and inspired them.

Sophie, Editorial 

Whether you’re a musical theatre fan or you’ve just listened to a couple of Sondheim numbers, it’s hard to not be moved by his gorgeous, genre-defying melodies. Sondheim’s music transports me to some incredible communal moments too. Sitting in circles with friends trying to learn the Into The Woods score was both stressful and joyful. Listening to Barbra Streisand sing “Children Will Listen” live with 80,000 people by my side was a cathartic experience. There really isn’t a giant in the sky quite like Stephen Sondheim.

Kelsey, Partnerships

One of my earliest memories as a kid is watching the filmed Broadway production of Into The Woods on repeat. VHS, all the way through, rewind, again. Lyrics so beyond my years yet so entrancing. Children will listen. As theatre became a large part of my life, I entered high school as a drama nerd and performed in the first show of the season, Gypsy. Twinkling as Electra meant the world to me. As a senior I got to travel to New York with our class, and my first Broadway stop was the revival of Sweeney Todd. I can still remember the energy when the lights came up. So many formative memories across the years that I cherish and hold dear. All created from one beautiful mind. Thank you Sondheim, you will be missed but never forgotten. 

Maddie, Merchandising 

In 2019 I was a lucky audience member at the Jason Robert Brown concert with SubCulture at Town Hall where Stephen Sondheim made an appearance. While I was counting my blessings for just the opportunity to see Sondheim live, he and Jason Robert Brown took it to a level I didn’t know existed. Jason Robert Brown made the case to the audience that while the melody is what most people will recognize a song by, it is the harmony that distinguishes the style and sound of the composer.

To prove his point, he handed the sheet music to the melody of a piece of his to Sondheim (who was seated at a piano across from him) and asked him to add and play some harmony to this piece on the spot. A gasp-inducing moment followed when Sondheim took a Jason Robert Brown melody and immediately made it sound patently like a Stephen Sondheim phrase. I will never forget the energy of amazement from the audience. We all knew we had just witnessed the unique genius of an incomparable artist. There are numerous ways Sondheim’s work has influenced me and theatre as an industry and art form, but I will look to this as the most thrilling collective moment I’ve experienced with an audience — the kind of experience Sondheim specialized in creating. 

Stephen, Marketing

I remember seeing a preview of the original Broadway production of Passion, which was thrilling to experience. To digest a brand new Sondheim show in New York was the stuff of dreams. I savoured every second, moved by its stirringly sad subject matter and the performances by Donna Murphy, Marin Mazzie, and Jere Shea. Leaving the auditorium, my face still red and wet with tears, I was walking behind two elderly Broadway matrons (older ladies who lunch, for sure), who were clearly less impressed. One turned to the other, shaking her head and said, with a volume that only a woman like that could manage in a public space, “I tell you, that is my laaaaast Sondheeeeeim!”  I literally laughed out loud — and for some reason I loved that they hadn’t enjoyed it. It somehow made my own experience of the show even more meaningful and more personal, and it made me love the show even more. His shows weren’t always for everyone (some more than others, I guess), but they were always brilliant and always unmistakably his. 

Abby, Marketing 

When I moved to New York in 2017, I didn’t really understand what an immersive production was; I hadn’t yet grasped the magic that occurred off Broadway, across the city, every single night. That is, until I went to the Barrow Street Theatre in late 2017 to sit in a working pie shop for the immersive revival of Sweeney Todd. I lost my damn mind the second I walked in and my mind continued to be gone throughout the show; I didn’t even know theatre could be like this. The actors weaved their way through our seats in the shop, stood on the tables, looked us in the eyes, and sang Sondheim’s delicious lyrics. The magic of this ingenious production was rooted in Stephen Sondheim’s genius. He was truly the best of us, wasn’t he? 

Jasmine, Fulfillment

In February 2019, I was an agent at Choir Boy at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. As I stood there waiting for guests to pick up their tickets, someone behind me said “Excuse me.” When I turned around, it was Sondheim himself! I moved over, watched him walk into the theatre, and stood frozen, not believing what just happened. A customer who I had just given their tickets to walked back up to me and said “Did you —,” and before they could finish their sentence I said “YES!” It was like we were the only two people who saw him! For the next two months, I told anyone that would listen that Stephen Sondheim ACTUALLY TECHNICALLY SPOKE TO ME! It was also the middle of winter on a very cold night, Sondheim didn’t have a coat on, and I remember thinking, “Where is his coat?” But does anyone still wear a coat? (I hope whoever reads this gets that Company reference!)

Suzy, Editorial

I’ll never forget the day I saw Company and Follies back to back in the West End; it was one of the most transformative theatregoing days in my entire life. For the first time, these stories felt achingly current, with a woman playing “Bobbie” for the first time, and I was struck by the complexity of his heroines and how raw and relatable they all were. I also saw so much of his characters in each other — a more hopeful Bobbie could become a more jaded Phyllis in Follies and the juxtaposition of the two shows and productions really illuminated more of his brilliance for me. What made Sondheim an icon wasn’t just his grand scores and incisive lyrics, it was also his specificity and his willingness to capture the whole of the human experience, flaws and all. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the master for showing us both as we are and as we would like to be.