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Too Young for Sondheim? 
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Young Hoofer
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Post Too Young for Sondheim?
Hello Sondheim fanatics! I am reletively new to Sondheim though Sweeney Todd, once I heard the original cast album and saw the movie, quickly became my third favorite musical of all time (behind Phantom and Les Mis). Sweeney was my first experience with Sondheim and I was eager to hear more of that extraordinary sound from Sweeney. I purchased Into the Woods next and was dissapointed on how poorly the album convayed the story as compared to Sweeney. The same went for Assassins though I enjoyed both. By the time I got to Passion and Company I became tired of his mannerisms, less invested in the plots of the musicals. I then got Merrilly We Roll Along and and just gave up. I just couldn't get why Sondheim's style which worked so well in Sweeney was all of a sudden getting on my nerves in Company and Roll Along. The endless reprieses of the titles songs, the confusing plots...am I just too young to GET Sondheim? I'm sixteen years old and have been a musical fanatic for a few years now. I'm used to the fantastical plots of Lloyd Webber and Sweeney. I'm I not connecting with these other musicals because I don't understand the themes? I want to like Sondheim. I really do. But perhaps I am just listening to the wrong musicals? If anyone has any suggestions on which of his works to listen to, I'd gladly appreciate it!

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Fri Mar 08, 2013 12:55 am
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
Sweeney Todd notwithstanding, Sondheim's musicals tend to not come across well on cast albums. Company, Merrily We Roll Along and Passion are shows that need to be seen live. I don't know what you mean by "mannerisms". He never repeats music without good dramatic reason. But that's just the thing. His music is so tied to the arc of the plot that it can very confusing to listen to if you're not getting the big picture of the story -- something that can be impossible just from hearing a record. If you really want to know what a show is like, I strongly recommend getting a copy of the script and listening to the music at the same time.


That said, the latter two (Merrily We Roll Along and Passion) in particular are among his least accessible works to a casual listener. I would never describe Sondheim as esoteric, but both are shows that, despite beautiful musical moments, feature unlikable characters in very complex relationships. If you don't buy into their world, it doesn't work. Onstage, they require very tight direction and strong actors. Very much a hit-or-miss type of experience.


By the way, I don't understand how you can dislike "endless reprises" in Company when Phantom of the Opera has one of the most repetitive scores ever. The melodies are recycled constantly throughout the show -- to no dramatic effect whatsoever.

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Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:17 am
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
It might be your path of accessing his work- as Mama Rose pointed out, some of those shows aren't immediately accessible to a 'Sondheim newbie', and especially not on cast albums (Company for me being the exception as the album is truly amazing, but should be listened to in tandem with reading the script to be enjoyed properly).

If it helps- I too was introduced to Sondheim via Sweeney Todd (the Hearn/Lansbury production and then the cast album), and my journey through his work was like this- the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 2006 recording of Company (available on Netflix) followed by the original cast album, the opera house recording of A Little Night Music (available on YouTube), and then Follies in Concert, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall, and Passion (all available together in a DVD boxset).


In short, I would highly recommend checking out the filmed versions of his shows- in particular Into the Woods (which is one of his most accessible shows), Company (one of his best), and Sunday in the Park with George (one of his most personal). The albums can sometimes give good impressions of what the shows are like, but only impressions- the reason Sweeney Todd works so well as an album is because it's mostly sung-through (which, given your interest in Phantom and Les Miserables, seems to be something you like). The only other show he's done that's like that is Passion, and as mentioned above it's one of his least accessible works (and one of the most dividing in opinion- I myself don't care for it though it's been ages since I've seen it). To fully get his shows I think you really have to try and see them, so definitely check out the video recordings whenever possible.


Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:37 pm
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Young Hoofer
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
Mama Rose wrote:

I don't know what you mean by "mannerisms".
By the way, I don't understand how you can dislike "endless reprises" in Company when Phantom of the Opera has one of the most repetitive scores ever. The melodies are recycled constantly throughout the show -- to no dramatic effect whatsoever.


"Mannerisms" might be the wrong word. I guess what I mean is every composer has thier own "style" including Sondheim. He seems to have a very complicated style from what I've heard. It's very interesting to listen to (every time I listen to Sweeney I find something new in the orchestrations or lyrics).

Company's reprises didn't bother me as much as Roll Along's. I have seen the Actor/Musician version of Company and it was ok. I love Being Alive to death and the rest of the songs were ok. Roll Along's reprises made me groan every time, I just didn't like the song (It sort of reminded me of "Everybody's Got the Right" from Assassins). Haha, true, Phantom is a bit repetitive but I love the melodies from it so much.

Out of all the Sondheims I own I've found something to latch on to, something I really enjoy, Being Alive from Company and Franklin Shepard Inc. from Roll Along. But overall Passion (even with Michael Ball) and Roll Along left me pretty cold. I will definately check out his other musicals on film though. That seems like the best way to go with him. Thanks Flynn!

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Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:31 pm
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
Completely agree with the users above! You need to see the shows to fully understand and appreciate them. Both the OBC of Into the Woods (with Bernadette Peters no less) as well as the 2006 revival of Company should be on Netflix. Check them out! I promise you will find them much less annoying:-)

As for Merrily, know that it is one of the least successful endeavors of Sondheim's, hundreds of people walked OUT of the original Broadway production... so don't feel bad. I happened to see the revival at City Centre last year and LOVED it. All of the reprises as time shifts are completely justified and not in the least bit annoying, at least when I saw it.

But my point is, don't feel bad if you don't like it, many don't. I WILL say, however, that I didn't fully appreciate Sondheim's shows until about four years ago, when I was 18 and had my heart broken for the first time. Take that however you want.

But now, I can't watch Sunday in the Park With George without getting choked up at numerous points.

Maybe there IS a certain age of appreciation? :-P

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Fri Mar 08, 2013 8:38 pm
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
Madison-Todd wrote:
Roll Along's reprises made me groan every time, I just didn't like the song (It sort of reminded me of "Everybody's Got the Right" from Assassins).


Well, those are supposed to indicate a change in time, which is why it's reprised so often. Of course, it's interesting you bring up reprises for Merrily We Roll Along, since part of the insane cleverness of the score is how, since the chronology of the show is backwards, the score itself is built backwards as well- usually a score introduces it song and reprises it later, while Merrily has the reprise first and the whole song later. In addition he's very clever about hiding melodies in songs, with "Like it Was" pulled from a bit in "Old Friends", and a section of "Our Time" hidden in "Rich and Happy" (Into the Woods is full of this as well, with the 'bean notes' hidden in various places throughout the score, most notably in the Witch's songs).

If you're interested, check out the book Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions- it's a fascinating set of interviews in which he discusses the music and creative process behind his composing. Also "Anatomy of a Song", which is available on YouTube.


Fri Mar 08, 2013 8:59 pm
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
I don't think you're ever to young for Sondheim. I'm still a kid and I love his shows, particularly Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, West Side Story, and Sweeny Todd. I plan on seeing a lot more. The music's rich, the lyrics are witty, the plots are fantastic, and most of all, he makes you think. It's light stuff. If you like that kind of thing, it's great. If you don't: Oh well. It's not everyone's cup of tea. I don't think it's age, I think it's taste. But you should still try it again later just in case. :)


Sat Jan 03, 2015 10:08 am
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Post Re: Too Young for Sondheim?
Books-And-Broadway wrote:
I don't think you're ever to young for Sondheim. I'm still a kid and I love his shows, particularly Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, West Side Story, and Sweeny Todd. I plan on seeing a lot more. The music's rich, the lyrics are witty, the plots are fantastic, and most of all, he makes you think. It's light stuff. If you like that kind of thing, it's great. If you don't: Oh well. It's not everyone's cup of tea. I don't think it's age, I think it's taste. But you should still try it again later just in case. :)

YOU.ARE.AWESOME. West Side Story is AMAZING!!! :D

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