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Stephen Sondheim, 1930-2021

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.

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Joshua Sondheim, 1930-2021 (from Rachel Bloom’s Instagram)

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.”

September 16, 2021: Late Show with Stephen Colbert

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.)

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Previous blogposts of mine in which I reference Stephen Sondheim include:

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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