1960s/1970s Musical Theatre Revolution / Sondheim Controversy

Sally Durant Plummer
Stand-by
joined:8/15/13
Hello. I am writing a paper for a class on the revolution of musical theatre, mostly through the works of Stephen Sondheim and the varying opinions on whether or not it had improved or deteriorated musical theatre and why. I would love to get some comments on everyone's opinion on this (and everyone has a strong opinion) that I could use in my paper. Thank you so much in advance, for your insightful opinions!
HorseTears
Broadway Legend
joined:3/25/05
JoeKv99
Broadway Legend
joined:12/27/04
There is always a revolution going on in musical theater.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
themysteriousgrowl
Broadway Legend
joined:11/10/10

something something morass

something something idolaters

MARY, MARY something something
CHURCH DOOR TOUCAN GAY MARKETING PUPPIES MUSICAL THEATER STAPLES PERIOD CUM OIL
CarlosAlberto
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/10
MARY, MARY, that movie sucked.
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
You're gonna quote (or paraphrase) message board comments in an academic paper??

Anyway, obviously I think it improved musical theatre. This is a very arguable point, and of course can just be chalked up to snobbery, but it really wasn't until the Prince shows (maybe going back to Cabaret/pre Sondheim) that critics and theatre academics started to seem to look at Broadway musicals with the same amount of analysis (and debate) as Broadway drama--even earlier shows like R&H works, Gypsy, Fiddler, West Side Story, etc, while largely lauded still seemed to be treated in a different respect.

You could probably find a lot of great quotes just pulled from various reviews to show the differing opinions (ie the early 70s reviews especially that often put down the music while praising the lyrics, or called the plays as misogynistic, or marriage hating, or too self contained in a self referential theatrical meta structure and compare them with later more generally positive reviews...)
PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04


Sondheim changed the game, but in many ways he ended it. No one since has been able to step into his shoes. There are younger composers and lyricists who are wonderful but no one comes close to in his overabundance of melody, poetry, wit and psychological insight.

But...the same was said about Bernstein before Sondheim...and about Rodgers before Bernstein...and about Gershwin before Rodgers.



yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates
Updated On: 5/5/14 at 04:07 PM
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
While of course none of Sondheim's shows were a 1000+ performance blockbuster, he undoubtedly changed the game as PJ said. I think one thing is--at least from a modern perspective we can see his musicals often as sorta bridging a gap between the R&H style. While at the time some critics might have hated the music of Company or the non pastiche songs from Follies, Sondheim's work now doesn't sound all that difficult to modern audiences IMHO the way many post Sondheim composers (Guettel, LaChiusa even more so) do. It's like musicals that wanted to try to push what Sondheim was doing even more so--ad I'm a big fan of many of them--just have gone over the line of ever being possible for a commercial Broadway audience.
Kad
Broadway Legend
joined:11/5/05
Well, certainly Sondheim moved more in that less-commercial direction in the 80s and early 90s. Not only with the type of music, but with the subject matter, as well.
After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
Sally Durant Plummer,

Make your paper concise.

Just write the following truisms:

His work marked the death knell of the American musical.

The bad guys who hated/hate seeing other people enjoy themselves saw this as an opportunity to stick it to them once and for all by relentlesly foisting this horrible, ugly, tuneless, mean, cold, misogynistic crap on all of us. (And they're still doing it.) The weeds succeeded in choking out the flowers and now all we're left with is with barren sod.

But the bad guys are happy.

Updated On: 5/5/14 at 04:36 PM
Kad
Broadway Legend
joined:11/5/05
SHOCKING!

I'm glad to see After Eight is incorporating new bits into his routine: the misogyny charge has only been popping up in the last few months. Never with an explanation, naturally. After Eight NEVER has to explain things.
Updated On: 5/5/14 at 04:39 PM
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Broadway Legend
joined:9/16/07
Yeah, because After Eight has always presented himself as someone who loves seeing other people enjoy themselves.
JayG 2
Stand-by
joined:12/19/12
What godforsaken school do you go to? What teacher would accept sources from anonymous bloggers who know nothing but their own opinions? If your school does accept this kind of research, I recommend one thing - TRANSFER to a real school.
ggersten
Broadway Legend
joined:5/11/06
Revolution is a big word. Sondheim wrote the music/lyrics - but he did not write the books - he did not direct. Why is it you think Sondheim is at the front of the revolution? Seems like Hal Prince would be a better choice.

Also, Sondheim learned at the feet of Hammerstein and Bernstein and kept their views and lessons foremost in his works. So, where's the revolution?
Alternatively, does anyone claim to be a protege of Sondheim? To follow what Sondheim did?
It's not much of a revolution if it doesn't overthow the prior regime and institute a new one. And the big hits after Sweeney Todd were Evita, 42d Street, Dreamgirls, and Cats. Look at some of the nominees for Best Musical in the 80s - which shows do you think demonstrate that Sondheim had changed the game (other than Sondheim's own shows)?

Don't let your admiration for Sondheim think he changed the game. This is not a commentary on the quality of Sondheim's work - or whether others admire what he has done - the question is whether he has had a "revolutionary" impact on theatre.
henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
The mid-late 1960s ended the brief golden age of the American musical. This is true for a variety of reasons. Chief among them the growing disparity between popular music and stage music. Previously there was a constant overlap; since then an incidental one.

But this in no way should suggest that Sondheim's contributions hastened the decline of the musical. Quite the contrary.

Sondheim is not the only one who has created quality work since the late 60s. Some of his most important colleagues were/are similarly "revolutionary"; others were/are not.

But it would be a very sad thing to contemplate the musical theatre of the last 40 plus years without him. And it would be demoralizing to think of the state of the musical theatre of the last 40 plus years without those who, like Sondheim, strived to conceptually and intellectually advance the form.







Updated On: 5/5/14 at 05:00 PM
Steve721
Stand-by
joined:2/21/14
There are books by Sondheim (including his two volumes of collected lyrics, "Finishing the Hat" and "Look, I Made a Hat", which have extensive commentary) and books about Sondheim. There are a gillion articles, including Frank Rich's articles and interviews, like this relatively recent piece in New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/stephen-sondheim-2013-12/.

If you're really interested in Sondheim, you should read some of this stuff.

And isn't your topic really "the evolution of musical theater . . . ."; that certainly makes more sense than "the revolution of musical theater".
henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
"What godforsaken school do you go to? What teacher would accept sources from anonymous bloggers who know nothing but their own opinions? If your school does accept this kind of research, I recommend one thing - TRANSFER to a real school."

Just imagine a school that in its exploration of a popular art form would be interested in what ordinary people who are interested in that form have to say. Why it's absolutely extraordinary. Preposterous!



Updated On: 5/5/14 at 05:09 PM
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
Kad--you're right that when the Prince partnership ended so did the element Sondheim has admitted to of still wanting moments that could only work in a "big Broadway show" (this could be argued, of course.)

Sondheim has undeniably been an influence on those composers often classified as post-Sondheim. But it's true they have had more success in regional and off-Broadway and very little on Broadway. That's where Sondheim may be marked as one of the last big composer innovators to have Broadway impact. Or something--I'm getting confused. Maybe you should just use A8s quotes.
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
I hate to sound cynical but sometimes the comment about Sondheim marking the start of the end does make sense.

There have been dozens of brilliant musicals since then--mostly, I feel, off-Broadway or regional but I have loved a lot of the big shows, even stuff like Miss Saigon. Still, when you look at say the innovation in the form on Broadway from 1927--Showboat to 1957--West Side Story it's really astounding. That's thirty years. Company was nearly 45 years from now--have shows showed that much more evolution? Can they?
hundredsofhats
Understudy
joined:4/16/14
I guess it depends on who read who and who was directly influenced by what, unless there's an unseen and inescapable spirit of the times that seeps into the subconscious of successive creators, which would probably be impossible to measure.
Kad
Broadway Legend
joined:11/5/05
I think there's certainly a limit in what a BROADWAY musical can do.

But off-Broadway offers more potential - just look to this season's Lortel Awards. Fun Home, Here Lies Love, and Great Comet were each more progressive than any Broadway show in recent memory.
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
Absolutely. Just comparing the list of Lortel nominations to the Tonys proves that point.
Charley Kringas Inc
Stand-by
joined:8/12/11
It's also been a long time since Broadway has been the cultural capitol, and moreso than ever* is a gigantic tourist trap. That transition was just beginning to occur when Sondheim and Prince were hitting their stride and I think the best thing he did was open doors as to HOW a musical can be told through its music. Certainly he, and all of his peers, were following in the steps of the Golden Age giants, but no art form exists in a vacuum, nor does it progress from a void. In a way, it helps that popular culture turned away from Broadway as a source of music, because it meant that not every song was written with the direct looming expectation of it being pressed into thousands of seven-inch discs that had to please even those in the flyover states. Sondheim was just as much a product of the cultural revolution that surrounded him as he was a revolution himself.

*I say "moreso than ever" because of course Broadway has always been first and foremost about making money, but it can't be denied that there's a certain monolithic aspect to most of the shows running.
darquegk
Broadway Legend
joined:2/5/09
Confession: I quoted message board comments in my graduate dissertation, because I wanted an active quorum of academic and non-academic theatre experts. There was no conference or round table for what I needed information on.

It actually turned out quite well.
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
I know for certain subjects that have been relatively obscure in university (like a comic book class,) we've been allowed to quote from select blogs, but never forums. However, depending on how it was done and cited--and with other evidence to back it up, I could see that being allowed.
mjohnson2
Broadway Star
joined:11/2/13
PalJoey, though I think Sondheim is one of the best composers of all time and certainly the best lyricist (no competition) there are some composers nowadays who come close. I'd start with Jeanine Tessori and Tom Kitt, and there are cases to be made for LaChiusa and RSO as well.
Anything regarding shows stated by this account is an attempt to convey opinion and not fact.

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