BWW Blog: Jessica Vanek - Birthday Time For Stephen Sondheim
Jess here. I've been counting down the days to March 22nd. You might be wondering what the significance of this date is, or if you are a musical theatre buff, you may already know. March 22nd marks the 87th birthday of one of the greatest composer/lyricists of all time: Stephen Sondheim.
Ever since writing the incredible lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, Sondheim has left his mark on the entertainment industry. With many of his musicals reaching beyond the Broadway stage to the silver screen, this man's iconic career is unparalleled. His musicals have redefined American musical theatre, and host a number of productions that have been celebrated and embraced by the general public. The adaptations of his stage productions into film are legendary. The movie versions of Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, etc, have helped to widen the acceptance of the art of musical theatre, and are responsible for attracting millions of new fans.
My first encounter with the music of Stephen Sondheim began when I was very young. Back in middle school, I sang "Children Will Listen" for a county-wide talent show. At the time I knew very little about Sondheim. I was unfamiliar with Into the Woods and the importance of the song, but looking back I can see that it was the start of a new chapter in my life. I will be forever fascinated with the story, music, and lyrics of Into the Woods. I find its unconventional plotline entertaining, and songs like "Last Midnight" and "I Know Things Now" are equally impressive. Next I discovered Sweeney Todd, and it was at that time that I truly began to appreciate the genius of Sondheim. His intricate melodies and key changes are very recognizable, and his lyrics are witty and beautiful. Take "A Little Priest" for example; no other lyricist could create such a dark, yet hilarious song.
Some of my favorite Sondheim works include Company, Sweeney Todd, The Frogs, and Evening Primrose. However, my absolute number one Sondheim show has to be Sunday in the Park with George. The dilemma of George is one that I feel many artists may struggle with: where should you draw the line between the time for your art, and the time for your loved ones? One of my all-time dream roles is Dot because her songs exhibit meaningful character development, and well-honed vocal skills. She is a strong, complex female character unlike any other ever created. I also admire the character Bobby in Company, with "Marry Me a Little" being one of my favorite songs from the show.
One thing that deeply saddens me is the lack of Sondheim works being produced locally here in Las Vegas. I wrote a review a few months back about a production of A Little Night Music that I thoroughly enjoyed, but one production every few years is not nearly enough. There are so many wonderful Sondheim shows that deserve to be seen and heard. I would love to see a production of
Anyone Can Whistle. I've never seen it done before, and I think the story is extremely relevant in our current political state. In order to widen the love for Sondheim, Sondheim productions need to be more available to the public. That being said, I must stop a moment and give a shout-out to one of my dearest friends and mentor, Bill Fayne. Maestro Fayne has dedicated much of his local career to honoring the music of Stephen Sondheim. He produced and directed a musical review of Company several years ago that was a huge success, and always includes several Sondheim compositions in all of the shows he does locally. He has been a supporter and fan of Mr Sondheim for as long as I've known him, and has shared his love of this composer's works with me, as well as many other local entertainers, and audience members alike.
If I had the opportunity to meet Stephen Sondheim, I would thank him for helping to make me the performer I am today, and through his works, to visualize the performer I wish to become. His thought-provoking lyrics and beautiful melodies drive my passion for musical theatre, thus fueling my ongoing pursuit of the art. I know I will be celebrating on March 22nd, and I'm sure the world of Broadway will be too. Happy 87th birthday, Stephen Sondheim!
"Getting away on Sunday brightens the dreary week ahead." -Stephen Sondheim