Last Friday, immediately completing my 5 Tips for Giving a Great Golden Age video, I opened up Instagram to see a post from Rachel Bloom with no words, just a picture of Stephen Sondheim. As I glanced down the screen, I saw more pictures posted by other people, and I said, “no, no, no, no….” and then the news notifications popped up that, in fact, Stephen Sondheim had died at the age of 91. My husband came home an hour later and I was still weeping.
As others have said, we knew this day was coming – I mean, 91, come on… but he was just on Colbert in September and he looked better than I’d seen him look for years. He was articulate, he was funny, he was insightful. I thought to myself, “Oh, I hope he’ll live to be 100.”
I have not felt so sad about the death of a famous person since Robin Williams died. This is something I told my husband over dinner, and something I saw echoed in the posts of friends of mine on Facebook.
Maybe it’s because I hoped I’d meet him somehow, someday, somewhere (wait, a second, that sounds familiar). I know people who’ve worked with him, who’ve spoken with him – I even found out that one of my friends had lived next door to him for 20 years! Maybe it’s because he overcame an upbringing by a narcissistic and emotionally abusive mother to become the greatest musical theater composer and lyricist of the 20th century and, from all accounts, a genuinely nice and good human being.
In the week since he died, Stephen Sondheim has been compared to both Mozart and Shakespeare. And the analogy is pretty dead-on for both, because he was both composer and lyricist, the latter for his own works and those of others. Just yesterday I was listening to On Broadway in the car and heard “Ya gotta get a gimmick” from Gypsy, and was laughing at the lyrics, and then I remembered, “Oh, that’s right! Sondheim wrote those!” He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, which he claimed to be embarrassed by, and some of them are kind of trite (“It’s alarming how charming I feel!” — hey, he was just a kid back then), but some are absolutely exquisite.
I was going to list my favorite lines from his shows, but there are too many. Instead, check out his books, Finishing the hat (currently out of stock) and Look, I made a hat for a complete listing and his own personal analysis of his lyrics. (I still haven’t read the second one, even though I own it. I’m going to do it before March 22, which would be his 92nd birthday.)
Here’s Lin-Manuel Miranda reading from that second book right before Broadway paid tribute to him, singing the title song from his masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George, which I just saw this weekend (available on Hoopla for free!).
Sondheim said that he did not care about leaving a legacy, because he wouldn’t be around anyway. But care or not, he left one, and it will live on forever. Thank you for changing so many of our lives, Mr. Sondheim. I will miss you.
(Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wrap Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, and Betty White in metaphorical bubble wrap. Because I can’t deal with losing any of them in 2021.)
Previous blogposts of mine in which I reference Stephen Sondheim include: