Entertainment

How did I know Stephen Sondheim

In 2014, I went out and sent my eight-time Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim letter. I, like many people, was (and still am) mesmerized by the 1971 musical Follies.

Having been a dancer in Las Vegas for many years, the story of a group of showgirls and Johnnies (men who are passionate about dancers) returns one afternoon. theater, obsessed with their younger selves, hit a terrifying personal chord. I felt a mixture of bittersweet nostalgia as songs like “Broadway Baby”, “I’m Still Here”, and “Loss My Mind” overwhelmed me, unshakable.

And so, during my studies at New York University, I decided to discover how memory and nostalgia have become our blood vessels and pulses. Follies. I wanted to know why, at the end of the show, I felt washed away from today and back to the zest of life as a showgirl and the pain of aging. My advisor suggested: “He lives in the same city as you, why not find him?”

A surprising correspondence

I started a campaign to find Sondheim’s contact information and sent him a handwritten letter requesting an interview. Three weeks later, I couldn’t believe it, a small ivory envelope arrived in my rusty mailbox. He suggested that I send him a question and he would get back to me when he could. For the next four months, we corresponded.

In the first letter, I asked him about the concept of nostalgia in the performance. He responded:

I don’t think the word ‘nostalgia’ ever happened to us. We merely told the story of four characters with regrets they couldn’t deal with.

In my second letter, curious about the dramatic reunion of the two main couples in the musical, I asked: “When you wrote Follies, you were in your forties – did you know much about regret at the time? that point?” He replied, “In terms of knowing a lot about regret, we are just average. Regret begins when you’re about two years old. ”



His entire work is covered with ripples of suffering, shame, regret, and discomfort. But there is also laughter, love, joy and the desire to continue

Perhaps, in Follies, and much of Sondheim’s work, is the ability to tap into the feelings of regret, heartache, or longing we all hold. Overall, the sometimes discordant, often cynical, resolutely beautiful, and painfully influenced tone of his voluminous series of works resonates profoundly.

His entire work is covered with ripples of suffering, shame, regret, and discomfort. But there is also laughter, love, joy, and the desire to continue despite all our flaws and imperfections. The jumble of emotions, anxiety, fear and – for me – nostalgia, encapsulated in so many of his lyrics, are sung by characters who suffer, who suffer, who sitting in the discomfort and chaos of life.

One need only think of the survival song “I’m Still Here” sung by former showgirl Carlotta:

The good times and the damn times, I’ve seen it all / And, honey, I’m still here / Sometimes plush velvet / Sometimes it’s just cookies and beer, but here I

I ran every gram, from A to Z / Three cheers and fuck, C’est la vie / I got through it all last year, and here I am / God knows, at least I was there, and I’m here / Look who’s here, I’m still here

When I re-read these lyrics, I think what makes Sondheim’s music so enduring is his unusual ability to dig into the work and emotions of “Being Alive” (one of the most iconic songs in the world). his dictionary). Even more mysterious, he can take you there, deep in “Into the Woods,” where you never realize the journey – that is, until you feel it surge, irresistible , From inside. In this way, chances are you haven’t heard of Stephen Sondheim, but chances are, you’ve heard of him. He has played in the background of our lives for almost three-quarters of a century.

Sondheim and I corresponded with each other through many letters. I asked him if there were any characters in Follies There was a sense of closure at the end of the musical, to which he replied, “Regarding the end of the performance, the word ‘closed’ has probably been used the most in the last 20 years.” I couldn’t agree more. .

After I heard of his passing on November 26, I withdrew the last letter he sent me – he was 84 years old when he wrote it. He concluded our conversation, from exploring the precarious and unfair nature of life to the small details of writing hit Broadway musicals, by humbly saying, “But that’s just my opinion. Best regards, Stephen Sondheim. ”

Phoebe Rumsey is a senior lecturer in musical theater at the University of Portsmouth. This article first appeared on Conversation.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/stephen-sondheim-letters-great-composer-b1971877.html How did I know Stephen Sondheim

Emma Bowman

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