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Farewell to an Incomparable Musical Giant

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 27, 2021 19:17

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Stephen Sondheim passed away a day after Thanksgiving and Broadway will never be the same. Musical theater stars like Barbra Streisand and Rita Moreno paid tribute to the lyricist whose work spanned six decades.

If you had the privilege of growing up in New York and living near Manhattan, you should remember the grandeur of Broadway shows. Nostalgia is a good thing when I think of seeing plays like West Side Story or Gypsy live on the Broadway stage. 

One of the first songbooks my elementary piano teacher requested I learn was from West Side Story-- a tale of unrequited love between two young lovers, Maria and Tony, from rival gangs. I can still sing the lyrics--they were pure magic. Sondheim was a lyricist who rarely comes along.

Last week, I wrote in my opinion piece that the Beatles were a once-in-a-lifetime band. The term 'once-in-a-lifetime' also applies to composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who passed away last Friday, one day after Thanksgiving. 

Sondheim's friend/attorney F. Richard Pappas said Sondheim had enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with friends on Thursday. He passed away suddenly the next day at 91, at home in Roxbury, CT.

The gifted singer Barbra Steisand said of Sondheim, "Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics! May he Rest In Peace." This was one of many tributes to the Broadway giant.

Sondheim's music is the gold standard of musical theater. Among the plays he wrote lyrics for are Into the Woods, Company, and Follies. Sondheim songs most of us recognize include the haunting Send in the Clowns and Somewhere from West Side Story.

The words of Stephen Sondheim touch emotions deeply. However, some music critics say his songs are a bit glib, but I could not disagree more. There is nothing disingenuous about the true and heartfelt expressions of love that Sondheim conveyed through his work. The artist said in an NPR 'Fresh Air' interview in 2010, "I'm interested in the theater because I'm interested in communication with audiences. Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I'd be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry -- just making them feel -- is paramount to me."

Sondheim was inspired to write early on. He was born on March 22, 1930, in New York into a Jewish Family. His parents worked in the fashion industry as dress manufacturers. A friend's famous father, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II of the legendary songwriting duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, mentored Sondheim when he was a child musical prodigy. Later, Sondheim won a fellowship to study music at Williams College. After graduation, he composed for TV and wrote West Side Story at 27. 

The composer won many awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. He is survived by his husband and a half-brother.

Stephen Sondheim's songs will always stand out. In simple terms, the music of Stephen Sondheim offers joy and hope with a dose of entertainment -- which we all need, especially now.

 

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 27, 2021 19:17

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Source: The Wrap

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