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BWW Exclusive: 'Everybody Rise!' - In Honor of STEPHEN SONDHEIM - The 91 GREATEST SONDHEIM SONGS (One For Each Year That He Lived)

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Rest in Peace, Dear Man

"Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood/Do not let it grieve you - no one leaves for good." --Stephen Sondheim, "Finale/Children Will Listen"BWW Exclusive: 'Everybody Rise!' - In Honor of STEPHEN SONDHEIM - The 91 GREATEST SONDHEIM SONGS (One For Each Year That He Lived)

"Everybody Rise!!!" --Sondheim again, "The Ladies Who Lunch"

Stephen Sondheim and my father shared an exact birthday: March 22, 1930. They also lived interesting parallel lives: They both journeyed to summer camps in Maine as kids; they both attended college at small, prestigious New York schools; and they both pledged Beta Theta Pi fraternity. My father, a mathematician and engineer, loves musical theatre and puzzles; Sondheim, a composer and lyricist, exceled at mathematics and puzzles. I always assumed that the two of them would hit it off.

On November 26, 2021, I called my 91-year-old dad. It was a sad call, to inform him that our beloved Stephen Sondheim had passed away. "My birthday twin," my father said. It was as if we had lost a member of the family.

As the single most important figure in American musical theatre, Mr. Sondheim tackled almost every subject in his 60+ years of composing for Broadway. There's farce (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum); marriage (Company); show business (Follies); romance (A Little Night Music; Passion); the Westernization of Japan (Pacific Overtures); murder and revenge (Sweeney Todd); disillusionment told backwards (Merrily We Roll Along); art and the act of creation (Sunday in the Park with George); assassinations (Assassins); and Freudian fairy tales (Into the Woods). And that doesn't even include his work with other composers (West Side Story; Gypsy; Do I Hear a Waltz?).

I must give total disclosure and admit that I proudly drink the Kool-Aid poured by Sondheim's many acolytes. He could be a number of things--underrated, sensitive, penetrating, astonishingly brilliant and full of robust--all at the same time. There's never been another quite like him. I cannot understand the people who label him "cold" or "remote" as a songwriter. Listen to "Being Alive" from Company or "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along if anyone ever thrusts around the old Sondheim-is-cold-and-distant argument.

The hero of Sondheim's life was his mentor and stand-in patriarch, Oscar Hammerstein II; he not only mentored Sondheim in musical theatre, he gave a guideline for Sondheim's other passion: teaching. Watch Mr. Sondheim in action and he's a role model for all educators. (It all stems from a favorite line from The King and I: "[If] you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught.")

If there was a villain in his life, it would be his mother. As he had often told, she once wrote him a letter before going into surgery that the one mistake in her life was giving birth to him. It's beyond shocking, one of the worst matriarchal moments of all time, making Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest look like Carol Brady.

Imagine a world where his mother's wish had come true and we would have been without our beloved Mr. Sondheim and his works. It's unfathomable. Like imagining a world without Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or no William Shakespeare and Hamlet. A world without Sondheim would be a sad, cold world...a world not really worth living. We would function, of course, but so much of the joy of the past sixty years would be lost. Imagine different lyrics to West Side Story or Gypsy. Imagine never seeing the funniest musical of all time, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Imagine no cutting-edge Company (no "Being Alive"!), no Follies, no "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music. Imagine Sweeney Todd as nothing more than a forgotten non-musical. No cult faves like Anyone Can Whistle, Pacific Overtures, or Merrily We Roll Along. Imagine no Sunday in the Park with George (which means no "Finishing the Hat"--the song and the two volume autobiography), no professional or high school productions of Into the Woods, no Assassins, no Passion. Imagine musical theatre never growing up, where Rent or Hamilton would never have happened (the door may never have been opened for them to happen without the trailblazing force of Mr. Sondheim). It would be a barren dystopia in the world of musical theatre, and I find it quite a disturbing thought.

So, thankfully, his mother's wish never came true, and we are all so fortunate that the greatest single person in musical theatre history was gladly unleashed upon us in our lifetime. He may no longer still be here, but his works will live forever.

The following list, written last March in honor of his 91st birthday and now reworked in honor of his amazing life, features his 91 greatest songs (one for every year of his life). Obviously such a task is subjective in nature, and some of your favorites may surely be missing.

As we mourn, let's mourn together. Please sit back and enjoy my choices for the 91 greatest Sondheim songs. If a number is unfamiliar to you, then use this as an opportunity to seek it out. I put these 91 songs in a playlist and listened to them this morning. It helps me get over this loss, and it also inspires me. To be better. As a person and as an artist. Always striving to be better. And giving, art as the ultimate gift. This is what I'll be teaching my students through the works of Mr. Sondheim. And this open-heartedness of his, this giving of his gifts and talents throughout his life and now past his lifetime, may be his single biggest legacy.

So, without further ado, here they are...

THE 91 GREATEST Stephen Sondheim SONGS...

91. THE BOY FROM... [The Mad Show; 1966; music by Mary Rodgers; lyrics by Esteban Rio Nido]

The breathy vocals of the lead singer make this a hoot, a parody of "The Girl from Ipanema" with lyrics by Sondheim under the nom de plume Esteban Rio Nido (which translates as Stephen River Nest). It recounts a young girl who just doesn't understand why the object of her affection--the Boy from Tacarembo la Tumba del Fuego Santa Malipas Zacatecas la Junta del Sol y Cruz--wears vermillion, must be Castilian, whose friends call him Lillian, and who shows 100% no interest in her. An overtly gay storyline three years before Stonewall.

90. OVERTURE [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music by Stephen Sondheim]

Although a resounding flop upon its opening in 1981, Merrily We Roll Along boasts one of Sondheim's most exciting scores. And that heart-thumping excitement, along with some of his most beautiful melodies, can be heard in this, one of his finest Overtures, which means it's one of the finest Overtures of any work. Listen to it in the car and watch you foot hit the accelerator.

89. JOHANNA (Judge's Version) [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

There are three versions of JOHANNA on this list, and this is certainly the oddest--fodder for Sondheim cultists. Judge Turpin's big solo, cut from the show in its initial Broadway run, is what it would sound like if Bernard Herrmann wrote a musical. In it, the Judge yearns for his young ward, flagellating himself and muttering "mea culpa" over and over. It's a shame it's cut from most performances of Sondheim's masterpiece; it gives the Judge a humanity while also making him scarier at the same time. Guaranteed to cause your skin to crawl.

88. THERE WON'T BE TRUMPETS [Anyone Can Whistle; 1964; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Another brilliant Sondheim concoction cut before the show, perhaps Sondheim's most famous flop, opened for its 9-show run on Broadway. Was the mainstream world not ready for Sondheim? Maybe not, although A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a hit just a couple of years earlier. But the world was not ready for this Sondheim; it would catch up to him, but it was too late for this amazing show to be anything other than a cult favorite among Sondheimites. But THERE WON'T BE TRUMPETS, Fay's hope for a hero to save the day, lives on in a world that knows this song if not the musical from which it had sprung.

87. GOODBYE FOR NOW [Reds; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim's movie work is rare, such as this, from the 1981 Warren Beatty film, Reds, about activist and communist John Reed. The film is indeed quite chilly, with all those snow flurried scenes resembling outtakes from Dr. Zhivago, but it is immensely warmed by this gorgeous love song.

86. LOVELAND [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The transformative number from Follies about a fantastical world where "lovers are always young and beautiful, and everyone lives only for love" and "folks use kisses 'stead of cash." In this, we are introduced into this bizarro world featuring the older couples' younger selves, sort of what you get if you combine The Ziegfeld Follies with Back to the Future.

85. SO MANY PEOPLE [Saturday Night; 1954-1955; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

We know the rocky path that led to Sondheim's first Broadway show. No, Saturday Night was not it, although it was scheduled to be. But the death of a lead producer left it in the dust until over forty years later. This led Sondheim to write the lyrics for West Side Story, which would turn out to be his first Broadway credit. And this song is the best of the prodigious composer's works from the show. Obviously, the world wasn't ready for this young earth-shaker of an artist.

84. IT TAKES TWO [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The Baker and his wife get this dandy of an Act 1 number, one of Sondheim's great duets.

83. FOUR BLACK DRAGONS [Pacific Overtures; 1976; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The Fisherman, the Thief, the Reciter, and the Townspeople come together to sing about seeing these dragons spitting fire: ""And the earth trembled/And the sky cracked/And I thought it was the end of the world."

82. SIDE BY SIDE BY SIDE/WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT YOU? [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

A "third wheel" anthem. The Act 2 opener from Company, where the whole cast gets together for a hat and cane routine. Such a strong song, one of Sondheim's greatest group numbers, that a big revue of the 1970's would take its title from it--Side by Side by Sondheim.

81. I REMEMBER [Evening Primrose; 1966; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

In the Made-for-TV Evening Primrose, poet Charles Snell's love interest, Ella, has lived in a department store for years after closing time. She sings this as she remembers the daytime after not seeing the sun for over a decade. It's Sondheim at his most beautifully poetic: "I remember leaves/Green as spearmint/Crisp as paper/I remember trees/Bare as coat racks/Spread like broken umbrellas..."

80. A PARADE IN TOWN [Anyone Can Whistle; 1964; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Proof that Sondheim was our all-time greatest lyricist can be found in this splashy number: "Was a parade in town?/'Cause I'm dressed at last/at my best, and my banners are high/Tell me, while I was getting ready/Did a parade go by?"

79. LOVING YOU [Passion; 1994; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of Sondheim's most glorious love-or-die romantic songs. If you love musicals and more particularly the works of Sondheim, and if Passion remains alien to you, then stop reading this and listen to it. Now. It's up there with Sondheim's brightest treasures.

78. OLD FRIENDS [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

77. MY FRIENDS [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The titles say it all...or do they? Merrily We Roll Along's OLD FRIENDS remains one of Sondheim's finest pal-around songs, an ode to friendship. Sweeney Todd's MY FRIENDS is something else indeed: A love song, a romantic ballad to a barber's razors that will soon bloodily slit many throats. Instead of saying "You complete me" to his darling razors, Sweeney exclaims: "At last, my arm is complete again!" These two songs, together, showcase the range of Sondheim's works--one is a bouncy toast to friendship, the other a potential serial killer barber's love song to his sharp blades of choice.

76. ANOTHER NATIONAL ANTHEM [Assassins; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

This is harrowing stuff, an unsettling masterpiece, brilliantly dark, making Cabaret look like The Song of Norway. And this song, sung by the collection of losers, presidential assassins and would-be assassins, who want to get a voice in a world that has shut them out, still chills: "We're the other national anthem, folks/The ones that can't get in/To the ball park." I thought of this song when I saw the storming of the capitol on TV earlier this year, all of those insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists filled with so much rage and resentment; they were like a ragged road show of Assassins, and it would have made sense had they sung this song during their January 6th siege of the capitol.

75. PRETTY LADY [Pacific Overtures; 1976; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Although, with those Cockney accents, perhaps this should be retitled "Pretty Lydies." Three men mistake a samurai's daughter for a geisha, but their song is gorgeous and haunting. If this list of 91 can inspire you to seek out some of Sondheim's lesser known works (at least to the general public), then perhaps you should start by listening to the breathtaking Pacific Overtures. You won't be sorry.

74. NOW YOU KNOW [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

A song about losing your idealism and being forced to face reality. And reality is a pretty scary place, where saints get shot, where bricks can kill you out of clear blue skies, and where Cream of Wheat has lumps.

73. WITH SO LITTLE TO BE SURE OF [Anyone Can Whistle; 1964; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

No one writes a duet as divinely exquisite as Sondheim, and this is one of his most glorious: "It was marvelous to know you, and it's never really through/Crazy business this, this life we live in/Can't complain about the time we're given/With so little to be sure of in this world...We had a moment, a marvelous moment." Make no mistake, but this song is that marvelous moment.

72. DO I HEAR A WALTZ? [Do I Hear a Waltz?; 1965; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim claimed he learned more from Oscar Hammerstein II of Rodgers & Hammerstein fame about song-writing in one extended sitting than from anyone else in his life. Six years after Hammerstein's death, Sondheim got to finally work with Richard Rodgers, and good as much of this is, it proves that no one--NO ONE--could substitute for Oscar Hammerstein when paired with Richard Rodgers, not even the great Stephen Sondheim.

71. THE GLAMOROUS LIFE [A Little Night Music; 1973; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim at the height of his powers: "Ordinary mothers, like ordinary wives/Make the beds and bake the pies/And wither on the vine...Not mine." Be warned: If you Google this, it may lead to Sheila E.'s 1984 hit, and not the Sondheim standout. And fun as Sheila E.'s Prince-driven song is, it can't hold a candle to one of A Little Night Music's strongest moments. Not surprisingly, Audra MacDonald sings my favorite rendition of this (for Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration, a whopping eleven years ago).

70. EVERYBODY SAYS DON'T [Anyone Can Whistle; 1964; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Anyone Can Whistle yet again, which featured so many great songs in a show that just couldn't seem to hold them successfully. But beware, this song will get stuck in your head if you don't watch out: "Everybody Says Don't/Everybody Says Don't/Everybody Says Don't, It Isn't Right/Don't Is Isn't Nice/Everybody Says Don't/Everybody Says Don't/Everybody Says Don't Walk On The Grass/Don't Disturb The Peace/Don't Skate On The Ice..." Whenever I hear someone exclaim, "Don't!," this is the song that immediately comes to mind, an obvious symptom if you, like me, lovingly suffer from Sondheimitis.

69. GREEN FINCH AND LINNET BIRD [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Johanna, Sweeney's daughter in peril, literally knows why the caged bird sings.

68. THE LITTLE THINGS YOU DO TOGETHER [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim's cynical take on marriage, with some of his most hilariously potent lines: "It's the little things you share together/Swear together/Wear together/That make perfect relationships/The concerts you enjoy together/Neighbors you annoy together/Children you destroy together/That keep marriage intact..." Uh-huh.

67. PROLOGOS - INOVCATION AND INSTRUCTIONS TO THE AUDIENCE [The Frogs; 1974/2004; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Gods of the Theatre smiled on Stephen Sondheim with this brilliant opening to the musical take of Aristophanes' The Frogs. A hoot: "Don't say 'What?/To every line you think you haven't got/And if you're in a snit because you've missed the plot/(Of which I must admit there's not an awful lot)/Still don't/Say, 'What?'"

66. BUDDY'S BLUES [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Patter song also known as "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues." According to Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, "The title of it probably derives from the first time I heard the Gershwins' "The Half of It Dearie, Blues," but I tried to give it the sardonic knowingness of Lorenz Hart ... or Frank Loesser."

65. A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY [A Little Night Music; 1973; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of Sondheim's great group numbers, worthy of celebration; if champagne and caviar were turned into a song, this would be it.

64. ANYONE CAN WHISTLE [Anyone Can Whistle; 1964; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

That's what they say.

63. NO ONE HAS EVER LOVED ME [Passion; 1994; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The most passionate song in Passion, a show that, according to Clive Barnes, both "glows and glowers."

62. FRANKLIN SHEPARD INC. [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

A frenetic comedic tour de force, yet so sad because it also represents the ruining of a friendship, in Merrily We Roll Along. Right?

61. SMALL WORLD [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Herbie can't say no to Rose's charm in this song; neither can audiences.

60. SOMEONE IS WAITING [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Bobby weighs his options in Company. Roll call: Sarah, Susan, Jenny, Amy and Joanne. Who is the woman of his dreams (or the man, as spotlighted in the recent gender-swapping version)? "Would I know her, even if I met her?/Have I missed her? Did I let her go?"

59. A BOY LIKE THAT/I HAVE A LOVE [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Anita confronts Maria after Bernardo's death, and Maria responds, a song so beautiful that Anita changes her tune...but not for long.

58. EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID [A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; 1962; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The funniest song in what many people (including me) consider the funniest musical of all time.

57. BARCELONA [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

A post-coital conversation between Bobby and an airline attendant, June--I mean, April.

56. BY THE SEA [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Ms. Lovett's seaside dream of a different life, involving marriage and the squawk of seagulls. Sweeney's deadly razors are even part of her fantasy: "Bring along your chopper," she offers. She even suggests he could murder some of the guests to pass the time: "Have a nice sunny suite for the guest to rest in, now and then, you could do the guest in!"

55. SOONER OR LATER [Dick Tracy; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

This Madonna Oscar-winner edged Sondheim closer to that elite EGOT status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner).

54. JET SONG [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim was never a rocker, but this early entry from West Side Story, would be the closest to rock that he would come, at least in attitude. The 1950's would force him to be tame (hence "spit hit the fan"), but this song showcases the gangland need for a substitute family ("you got brothers around, you're a family man"). Interestingly, this would be Sondheim's first lyrics performed on Broadway.

53. EVERYBODY'S GOT THE RIGHT [Assassins; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

There is a moment in the last production of Assassins that I saw that still haunts me. The evocative "Something Just Broke" about the assassination of John F. Kennedy has ended, and an African-American woman is exiting the stage. On her way out she passes by John Wilkes Booth. The two of them make eye contact--the past merging with the present, her world destroyed by JFK's death and his life and infamy forever made by his killing of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. It is an incredible snapshot of two worlds, two time periods, two races, colliding. He grins; she lowers her head. And when Booth sings the lines of the closing song--"Everybody Has the Right to Be Happy"--the woman walks away, saddened. She represents all of us, those who are witnessing this horrifying, misguided, weirdly contagious anger. The show had always been entertaining as hell, but in this one instant, as the mourning woman walks away and "Everybody's Got the Right" started being performed, it became crushingly sad.

52. PRELUDE: THE BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

51. PROLOGUE: INTO THE WOODS [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Two of Sondheim's infectiously great openings, one buoyant and the other chilling with that spine-tingling organ that heralds the doom to come. Interestingly, in its own way, Into the Woods would become almost as dark as Sweeney Todd, despite the different feel of both show's openings.

50. COMPANY [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

There are a handful of plays that have changed musical theatre as we know it, starting with The Black Crook in 1866. In the next century, Showboat, Oklahoma!, West Side Story and Cabaret had all elevated the genre. But it was Sondheim's Company, in 1970, that put a mirror up to the middle class and upper middle class audiences. They came to the theatre for sheer escapism...and they wound up watching themselves in the most hilarious, penetrating and meaningful way. The show was a hit, caused debates and catapulted Sondheim into the "Genius Sondheim" we know after almost a decade of notorious flops. It was also the next step in the evolution of musical theatre. And as dated as some of it is--references to Optical Art and the use of the word "grass" for marijuana, for example--it still speaks to our world 51 years later. The question regarding the opening number remains: Can you get this out of your head: "Bobby? Bobby? Bobby baby? Bobby bubi? Robby? Robert, darling?" I sure can't.

49. TOGETHER WHEREVER WE GO [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

I first heard of this song on a Friday night in 1973 when it was featured as a mother-daughter duet on an episode of "The Brady Bunch" (Marcia and Carol Brady sing it as fun-loving hoboes for the high school's Friday Night Frolics). Marcia even mentions that it's from the musical Gypsy. It's the song with a lyric that, according to Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, made Cole Porter jump up with an "a-ha!" upon hearing it. The rhyme that did the trick? "We go" with "amigo."

48. PUTTING IT TOGETHER [Sunday in the Park with George; 1984; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Not everyone is a fan of Sunday in the Park's Act 2, even though it features so many amazing songs, including this. One of Sondheim's greatest numbers about artistic creation, what it takes so that your work (and not you) gets put on exhibition. For a fun variation, don't miss Barbra Streisand's version that opens her 1985 Broadway Album.

47. I KNOW THINGS NOW [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Little Red has experienced something so profound that she is forever changed. One of the great numbers about growing up (though in the context of the musical, she had just been devoured by a wolf and cut out of his belly).

46. SOMETHING JUST BROKE [Assassins; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of the most haunting "Where were you when?" songs, this one about the assassination of John F. Kennedy as recounted by a stunned nation. After Sondheim's passing, this title appeared on many memes and tweets.

45. LAST MIDNIGHT [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The Witch of Into the Woods is all things, part creepy creature, part broken-hearted mother. And this is her big exit song, a number foreboding and ominous enough that it could easily fit into Sondheim's ultimate creep-fest, Sweeney Todd.

44. YOU COULD DRIVE A PERSON CRAZY [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Bobby's three current girlfriends, a trio acting like hip Andrews Sisters, compare negative notes in YOU COULD DRIVE A PERSON CRAZY: "I could understand a person/If he wasn't good in bed./I could understand a person/If he actually was dead./Exclusive you!/Elusive you!/Will any person ever get the juice of you?" The recent male version of the song takes the Andrews Sisters reference and turns it into something like The Four Freshmen, and it's still just as effective and funny.

43. AGONY [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The Princes compare notes about Cinderella and Rapunzel in this over-the-top comedy-fest from Into the Woods. It's anything but agonizing to see performed.

42. GOOD THING GOING [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of Sondheim's great 1980's love ballads. Interestingly, in the context of the show, it's presented as a song that Charlie and Frank write and perform at a party to adoring fans (before they sing it again and the party guests get bored). The ending with its play on words (think of an auction) is Sondheim at his cleverest: "It could have kept on growing/Instead of just kept on/We have a good thing going/Going, gone."

41. SOMEONE IN A TREE [Pacific Overtures; 1976; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sort of Rashomon set to music.

40. THE BALLAD OF BOOTH [Assassins; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sung by the Balladeer and John Wilkes Booth, this is Assassins big early moment, starting off the show with this homespun account of President Lincoln's killer. It begins bouncy ("Johnny Booth was a handsome devil") and ends with a harrowing plea: "Damn you Johnny/You paved the way/For other madmen/To make us pay/Lots of madmen/Have had their say--/But only for a day."

39. BROADWAY BABY [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Show-stopping part of Follies Montage along with "The Rain on the Roof" and "Ah Paris." This has now become one of the iconic Broadway songs, along with "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "The Broadway Melody." Don't Miss Young Daisy Egan's brilliant belting of it in Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall.

38. SOME PEOPLE [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Mama Rose begs her father for money, but this turns out to be her personal philosophy-better a rabid pitbull than a tame poodle. She's wants a better life than "some people" because she doesn't want to live a humdrum existence and give up on her dreams. It's a fierce song, rafter-quaking, and we realize that Mama Rose will become the Ultimate Stage Mom in all of the negative connotations that that implies.

37. GETTING MARRIED TODAY [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Many times mistakenly titled "NOT Getting Married Today." Amy has second thoughts on her nuptials in Company, and she has a nervous breakdown, going off in one of the great frantic-freak songs ever conceived: "A wedding. What's a wedding? It's a prehistoric ritual/Where everybody promises fidelity forever,/Which is maybe the most horrifying word I ever heard of,/Which is followed by a honeymoon, where suddenly he'll realize/He's saddled with a nut, and want to kill me, which he should..." Never has a musical meltdown been so entertaining.

36. IF MOMMA WAS MARRIED [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of musical theatre's most enduring duets, one of the few greats sung by younger girls. How many times in a Jr. Thespian festival is this performed?

35. EPIPHANY [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sweeney decides to take his vengeance to the next level, even threatening the audience. If done right, the audience should not feel safe during it.

34. MOMENTS IN THE WOODS [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Who is the Baker's Wife? She not only doesn't have a name, she's only known by her husband's occupation. And she feels that she is in "the wrong story." This song, not only Into the Woods most underrated treasures but maybe the most underrated in all of Sondheim's oeuvre, the Baker's Wife gets her say. She has an affair with Cinderella's Prince before perishing at the hands, or foot, of a giant. "Oh, if life were made of moments," she sings. "Even now and then a bad one!/But if life were only moments/Then you'd never know you had one..." Act 2 of the show is pure Sondheim Land, and the Baker's Wife emerges as a fully dimensional character in this beautiful song.

33. MARRY ME A LITTLE [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Bobby's Act 1 closer, the first glimpse of his yearning for something more out of life and relationships.

32. YOU GOTTA GET A GIMMICK [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

In Gypsy, with "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," three strippers-Mazeppa, Tessie Tura, and Electra-teach Louise the Burlesque ropes in one of the funniest, sauciest songs ever written.

31. COMEDY TONIGHT [A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; 1962; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Pseudolus, Funny Thing's crazily charismatic lead (and a slave), will do anything for his freedom. In out of town tryouts, the original opening song, "Love is in the Air," just wasn't cutting it, and audiences didn't get the show at all. Stephen Sondheim, earning his first Broadway credit as both composer and lyricist, replaced the opening song with "Comedy Tonight," and Funny Thing really became a funny thing as well as an instant hit. And Sondheim's lyrics told the world that a major player had indeed landed on the Great White Way: "Pantaloons and tunics/Courtesans and eunuchs/Funerals and chases/Baritones and basses/ Panderers! Philanderers!/Cupidity! Timidity!/Mistakes! Fakes!/Rhymes! Mimes!/ Tumblers! Grumblers!/Bumblers! Fumblers!/No royal curse/No Trojan horse/And a happy ending, of course!"

30. OPENING DOORS [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim's most autobiographical number, with a wink to those who complain that his music is not hummable enough. (He uses a few bars from "Some Enchanted Evening" to drive home this point.)

29. UNWORTHY OF YOUR LOVE [Assassins; 1990; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Leave it to a warped genius like Sondheim to have one of his most gorgeous duets sung by a Jodie Foster-worshipping John Hinkley (who shot President Reagan) and a brainwashed Charles Manson follower, Squeaky Fromme (who shot but missed President Ford).

28. ANOTHER HUNDRED PEOPLE [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of the finest songs about New York City and the feeling of watching the passers-by, strangers hurrying down the street, getting off busses and planes. You feel the anonymous crowds of New York hurry by in this, people strutting, staring straight ahead. Listening to it is the next best thing to being in that great city.

27. JOHANNA (Anthony's Version) [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

26. JOHANNA (Quartet) [Sweeney Todd: The Demon barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Two very different songs with the same title from the same show. Anthony's solo version of "Johanna" is one of Sondheim's most beautiful love songs, and the Quartet is Sondheim at his grisly greatest. The lovely quartet-Anthony, Sweeney, The Beggar Woman and Johanna-frame a song that features the slitting of throats and buckets of blood spewing like spigots. Although other Sweeney Todd songs rank higher on this list, this particular one is my personal favorite.

25. GIANTS IN THE SKY [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Jack's coming-of-age song. The giants can be seen as a metaphor for life in all of its vicissitudes--both terrible and awesome, scary and wonderful.

24. OUR TIME [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of the most idealistic songs every written. In the context of Merrily We Roll Along, it's the climax, where the three main characters--Frank, Charley and Mary--come together. Their path, as we have seen (the show runs backwards in time), has been a rocky one, ending in cynicism and selling out. But here, in the 1950's, all is well in their lives and in the world (the space age has just begun as they search for Sputnik in the night sky). If ever you feel down, tackled by life's follies, then listen to this ode to optimism, an instant pick-me-up: "It's our time, breathe it in/Worlds to change and worlds to win/Our turn coming through/Me and you, man/Me and you."

23. GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The show's creators wouldn't have gotten away with it, but initially they wanted this fun-filled, buoyant tune about juvenile delinquency to be the first Broadway show to feature the f-word at the end. But they had to settle for a pun on the name Krupke for audiences of the 1950's: "Krup You!" There's an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" devoted to this song and the side story behind Krupke's cuss-substituting name.

22. NO ONE IS ALONE [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Another Act 2 glory from Into the Woods, a quartet between Cinderella, Little Red, Jack and the Baker. This one of the Genius' most moving, hauntingly beautiful songs. This should replace Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" as the Broadway song of choice at funeral services.

21. SOMETHING'S COMING [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Although this was Tony's first big number, in some ways it's telling us that a major talent is on the horizon. "Something's coming, something good!" And that "something" would be the career of Stephen Sondheim.

20. MOVE ON [Sunday in the Park with George; 1984; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

19. CHILDREN WILL LISTEN [Into the Woods; 1987; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Two of Sondheim's most moving Act 2 masterworks-both so powerful, leaving the audiences reeling after the experience of Sondheim's 1980's classic musicals. "Move On" will produce gooseflesh, its message universal-we must all move on, progress, be the best we can be. "Children Will Listen" is more haunting, and there's a very cool version of the song sung by Betty Buckley, mixed with "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along, that was a highlight of Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall.

18. AMERICA [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sometimes musical theatre works best when it deals with tough subjects, like prejudice. West Side Story's "America" turns into a debate song between Puerto Ricans who yearn for life back home because the USA is for white people instead of the "PR's" versus those integrated in the American way. In the original musical, it's the Shark girls who are in the midst of the argument, but the movie as well as the recent Broadway updating correctly have the Shark girls (led by Anita) versus the Shark boys (led by Bernardo) trading barbs in the midst of the entertaining feud. Similar to the "Habanera" in Bizet's Carmen, Bernstein's driving music has never been more effective.

17. PRETTY WOMEN [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Leave it to Sondheim to have taken one of his loveliest songs and turned it into a duet between a barber and a judge that may lead to a very bloody throat-slitting. Simply to die for.

16. SOMEWHERE [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Last year's Ivo van Hove WWS revival was too tattoo-cool to rely on what made this one of the great theatre songs: The "Somewhere" ballet. This dream ballet, where Tony and Maria find a Utopian "place for us," turns into a nightmare of remembrance and makes this a truly theatrical piece. If you watched the 1961 Oscar-winning movie, you would never know how remarkable this song is. (Like the current revival, they also cut the ballet.) Its many covers-by The Supremes, Phil Collins, the Pet Shop Boys, and especially Barbra Streisand and her 80's-synth New Age version--helped turn this into one of musical theatre's more iconic songs.

15. NOT WHILE I'M AROUND [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Toby sings this to Ms. Lovett, in one of Sondheim's loveliest creations. And beautiful as it is, it also moves the plot--Toby's mistrust of Sweeney and the realization that something nefarious happened to his mentor, Pirelli, when he finds Pirelli's money pouch with money still in it. At the end of the song, when it turns into a duet, Ms. Lovett realizes that she must desperately keep close to her because he knows too much. Two people singing the same song, but now with very different meanings.

14. SUNDAY [Sunday in the Park with George; 1984; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Is there any scene as thrilling as the end of Act 1 of Sunday in the Park with George, when the entire Seurat painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, comes to life to the tune of this song. It was chosen as the closing number of Sondheim's 80th celebration, and to see the master in a paroxysm of tears watching it will cause tears to flood your own eyes. And nowadays, on this weekend, this may be the Sondheim song I listen to the most.

13. NOT A DAY GOES BY [Merrily We Roll Along; 1981; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Perhaps Sondheim's finest love ballad of the past forty years, a tune so lovely that it can melt your knees with just one listen. Look a the list of luminaries who have covered it: Whitney Bashor, Lea Solonga, Christine Ebersole, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Kevin Thomason (along with DC's Gay Men's Chorus), the fabulous Marin Mazzie (my personal favorite), and most famously by Broadway royalty, Bernadette Peters, where this may stand as her signature song.

12. THE LADIES WHO LUNCH [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

One of the finest female character roles--Joanne in Company-gets her moment in the spotlight. "The Ladies Who Lunch" contains some of Stephen Sondheim's most cynical, steely and incisive lyrics. Check out he inner rhymes in the following lines: "And here's to the girls who play wife/Aren't they too much?/Keeping house but clutching a copy of Life/Just to keep in touch." In the updated version they changed "Life" to "Time," which doesn't carry anywhere near the same power of the play on words of the magazine's title. As first made famous by Elaine Stritch, a vodka stinger cupped in her hand, it's a song of surrender to the modern age, a masterpiece that, though it may include '60's lingo ("optical art"), can still make sense to modern sensibilities.

11. COULD I LEAVE YOU? [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Sondheim at his bitchy best, Phyllis' lacerating turn to her husband, a musical slap in the face. The ending is killer: "Oh, leave you? Leave you?/How could I leave you?/Sweet-heart, I have to confess:/Could I leave you?/Yes./Will I leave you?/Will I leave you?/Guess!"

10. TONIGHT (QUINTET) [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

As good as it gets, a classic ensemble that unites all aspects of West Side Story in plot and song (the Jets and Sharks sing about an upcoming rumble, while Anita pines for her lover to return and Tony and Maria croon about their future evening together). If you like "One Day More" from Les Miserables, then you must see its influence here. Musicologist Will Crutchield wasn't joking when he claimed, in a review for The New York Times, "I can see no reason why the 'Tonight' ensemble should not be compared to the quartet from Rigoletto." That's mighty high praise.

9. ROSE'S TURN [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

1959 was a key year for musical theatre. in Gypsy, Mama Rose gets her moment in the spotlight with the show-stopper, "Rose's Turn," the opposite of Sound of Music Bette Midler was right when she called it "a terrifying piece of music." "Terrifying" - also a great way to describe the demanding, domineering, taxing and formidable Rose--the greatest musical theatre role of all time.

8. A LITTLE PRIEST [Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Some of Sondheim's most delectably macabre lyrics and the greatest song ever written about grinding people into meat pies.

7. FINISHING THE HAT [Sunday in the Park with George; 1984; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Although Sondheim had claimed that his most autobiographical song is "Opening Doors" from the underrated Merrily We Roll Along, there always seems to be something inherently autobiographical about the creation of art in this incredible song, a standout in Sondheim's oeuvre. Yes, it's the character of George Seurat singing, but it's Sondheim's voice and (perhaps) philosophy. Knowingly going over the top with the following comparisons, I would put this in the same company as Vermeer's "The Painter and His Model," Van Gogh's "Self Portrait as a Painter," and even Fellini's "8-1/2." Yes, we must separate the art from the artist, but how can we in this instance when the work itself is one of the great statements about creation from a true master? There's a reason that, out of all the titles of his songs, Sondheim called his first book of lyrics, which actually acts as a quasi-autobiography in and of itself, Finishing the Hat.

6. I'M STILL HERE [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

In this bluesy list song, Sondheim's psalm of survival, Carlotta Campion lays out a litany of historic events that she lived through, such as Amos and Andy, Windsor and Wallis, the Dionne babies, and the two Hoovers-J. Edgar and Herbert. Although Yvonne DeCarlo did a marvelous job in the original Broadway cast, perhaps Elaine Stritch performed the ultimate version (astutely claiming that no one under 80 should even go near the song).

5. MARIA [West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

it seems so deceptively simple. Ex-gang member Tony meets the rival gang leader's sister, Maria, at a dance in a gym, falls in instant love and learns her name for the first time. And the song that follows, where he compares the sound of her name to a prayer, is rapturous, like he's floating in a dream as he walks the city streets. And how many times does he mention the girl's name in the song? 29! Talk about obsessive.

4. EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES [Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

There's something powerful about end-of-Act 1 anthems that catapult audiences into Intermission with excited chills and gooseflesh. All of the best musical theatre songs have a certain drive, and the terrific "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy galvanizes desperate optimism-smiling in the face of destitution. It's the last song of Act 1 of one of the greatest of all musicals (if not the greatest), and it's so straining to be upbeat, so full of pushy wannabe goodwill, that you can't help but feel swell after hearing it. But in the show, it's a cry of desperation. And both sad and incredibly powerful, like Scarlett O'Hara in the fields, grasping a handful of dirt, swearing that she will never starve again. Who sings it better, Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone? Let's call it a draw and enjoy both divas, both forces of nature.

3. LOSING MY MIND [Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Where "Seasons of Love" from Rent deals with an entire year, Stephen Sondheim's yearning, haunting "Losing My Mind" subtly deals with a single day: from "the sun comes up," to "the morning ends," to "all afternoon," ending with "sleepless nights." Near the end of Follies a former showgirl is obsessed with the politician Ben, and this is her big torch song moment: "All afternoon, doing every little chore/The thought of you stays bright/Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor/Not going left/Not going right..." Liza Minnelli's odd Pet Shop Boys version of this scored a Top-10 hit in the UK.

2. SEND IN THE CLOWNS [A Little Night Music; 1973; music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Some consider this Sondheim's finest song. It's certainly his most popular, charting twice on the Billboard Hot 100 for Judy Collins (in 1975 and 1977). The Collins' version even won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1976. For more modern audiences, it reared its head with a particularly creepy version in the 2019 movie Joker. But it works best in the context of A Little Night Music, sung in the middle of Act 2 by Desiree to Fredrik. And how long did it take Sondheim to compose this eternal masterpiece? One night. There's a reason why they labeled our beloved Sondheim "The Genius."

And the #1 song by Stephen Sondheim is...

1. BEING ALIVE [Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

It's Bobby's moment of truth at the end of Company, and it turns into perhaps Sondheim's most emotional wallop of a song. Sometimes people have issues with the character of Bobby--he's a cypher of sorts, reactive and always on the outside of the action--but that's the point. He's a single soul lost amid his married friends. (The current gender-bending version solves some of these issues.) This song puts him smack-dab in the center of the world, no longer on the emotional outskirts, where he discovers his purpose: To find another to share his life. "But alone is alone," he sings, "not alive." It's an epiphany, and the song jolts the character to life, to hopeful action, and we--the audience--can't help but feel that electricity. But this is the best of the best, Sondheim's top achievement. It's alive, Sondheim's claim for immortality, as all of the greatest artistic works are and as the title certainly suggests. Totally, thrillingly alive.

There are so many more songs that could be on this list. And I find myself still in shock over the news of Sondheim's passing. And his being 91 doesn't make it any easier, even though you would think it would. I can never give back the joy Mr. Sondheim's life and his works have given me, have given the world. But I will listen to them. Learn from them; teach them to my students ("children will listen"). I will share him and his works forever, so that the next generations will always know who this titan was.

Rest in Peace, dear man!


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From This Author Peter Nason