Student Blog: When Sondheim Meets Sufjan: A Review of SUF/SOND's Album, 'A Perfect Little Death'

A review of SUF/SOND's (also known as Eleri Ward) unique tribute to Stephen Sondheim and his classics.

Student Blog: When Sondheim Meets Sufjan: A Review of SUF/SOND's Album, 'A Perfect Little Death'
Image courtesy of @eleriward via Instagram.

If you're reading this blog, I'm going to go ahead and assume that you're a Stephen Sondheim fan. This is BroadwayWorld after all, and Mr. Sondheim is someone that us theater people would consider to be a founding father of the artistic community we know and love so much. If I was wrong, and you really can't recall ever even hearing a Sondheim song, it's all good. If you were to reveal this about yourself to me in person I may release a small gasp, but really, it's okay.

However, you really should give some of his musicals a listen. And if musical theater isn't really your speed, you can find a happy medium in Eleri Ward, also known as "SUF/SOND," and her album, A Perfect Little Death.

This album contains thirteen of Sondheim's most popular songs from various musicals, reimagined and performed as indie/folk songs that sound similar to the likes of artist Sufjan Stevens, hence Ward's performance name for the project, 'SUF/SOND.' It all started when Ward posted a video of her singing "Everyday a Little Death" from A Little Night Music on Instagram and captioned it, "Sufjan on Sondheim." After that came a collection of videos that gained her a following on Tik Tok and Instagram, inspiring her to create an entire album.

From Sweeney Todd, to Into the Woods, to Sunday in the Park with George, Ward transforms some of Sondheim's best. I can't think of a more clever project concept. The opening track, which she released as a single, "Johanna (Reprise)" from Sweeney Todd, may be my favorite off the album. Ward's voice, with her beautiful range and style, echoes an innocence very similar to the character that sings the song in the musical, Anthony Hope. His singing of this song is one of the rare beautiful moments in the show, with it's storyline mostly surrounded by vengeance and death. Ward's singing paired with the sounds of the lightly strummed acoustic guitar, that does not shy away from Sondheim's melody, is simply stunning.

Ward manages to add her own flair to Sondheim's music while also keeping the heart and core meanings of the songs present. In her rendition of "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods, the introduction with the acoustic guitar almost makes it sound like a song you might hear on one of Spotify's indie playlists. But then Ward comes in singing those lyrics, like, "Careful the wish you make, wishes are children. Careful the path you take, wishes come true. Not free." It hits you in the heart like it does when performed on stage.

Her rendition of "Being Alive" from Company has a similar effect, except in this song Ward's harmonies are the star of the show, as she recreates Sondheim's accompanying, dissonant, piano notes with beautiful harmonies. That final, "Being alive" sung at the end still has the power to give you goosebumps in it's own way.

Some of my other favorite tracks off the album include, "In Buddy's Eyes" from Follies, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, and "Take Me to the World" from Evening Primrose. I'm not going to lie, when I first heard of the album concept, a tiny part of me wanted to say, "Don't touch Sondheim's work!" Which I guess is a reasonable reaction - but after listening to only one of her cover videos on Instagram, I realized how smart this idea truly is.

This album helps to keep the love of Sondheim alive. It's one of the ultimate ways to honor him, his career and his music. Ward performs each song with such appreciation, that it becomes clear how much homage is being paid. This album can also be a great way to introduce Sondheim to the people in your life who haven't always been keen to listen to musical theater songs. Those beautiful lyrics and melodies are still there, just presented differently. I am so impressed with Ward's work, and will definitely be coming back to this album throughout the summer.

You can listen to SUF/SOND's A Perfect Little Death on popular streaming platforms like Spotify. Ward has also recently released an E.P. of her original music titled, Friction, which you can find here. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Tik Tok too!