As accounted in the new edition of the RPS Magazine, we were pleased to present Honorary Membership of the RPS to the much-loved composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim onstage at the National Theatre in London.
As a result, we’ve been enjoying lots of Sondheim songs, and enclose a playlist of some of our favourites for you to enjoy, with some insights from James Murphy, our Chief Executive. If you’re only familiar with ‘Send in the Clowns’, set aside an hour to discover some fresh gems.
Good Thing Going from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’
For me, Sondheim’s finest song, elegantly distilling years of emotional journey into just sixteen simple lines. Given we’ve all surely experienced the sentiments it accounts, it’s amazing this fairly unsung gem isn’t better known.
We Do Not Belong Together from ‘Sunday in the Park with George’
Sondheim’s musical about the Impressionist painter George Seurat returns to London this summer. It may be one of the finest stage works about being an artist. Here, George and his lover Dot reflect on the shortfalls that often come hand-in-hand with greatness.
A Little Priest from ‘Sweeney Todd’
It’s been performed at the Royal Opera, ENO and countless other opera houses, so is Sondheim’s musical about the demon barber a musical or an opera? In any case, its showstopper – in which Sweeney and neighbouring baker Mrs Lovett decide how to ingeniously deal with a few corpses – is a comic tour de force.
Marry Me A Little from ‘Company’
Though brimming with contemporary sentiments and jazz tinges, Sondheim’s songs often capture the tentative uncertainties of classical lieder: wanting something dearly but consumed with doubt at the same time.
Country House from ‘Follies’
If you saw the recent London production of ‘Follies’, you won’t have heard this song, written specially for Diana Rigg in the 1980s version to spare her a daunting dance routine. Its bone dry wit is matched by its sparse accompaniment as it cycles through all the things that may – or may not – enliven a lovelorn marriage.
Not A Day Goes By from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’
All composers have their torch singers whose style and tone seem a perfect match for the music. One of Sondheim’s is surely Bernadette Peters who here wrings every last atom of ardour from a song about sensing you may just be losing the thing that you love.
Agony from ‘Into The Woods’
More comedy as Sondheim collides a cluster of childhood fairy tales, and two Prince Charmings find themselves trading views on Cinderella and Rapunzel.
I’m Still Here from ‘Follies’
Likely Sondheim’s best known song beyond ‘Send in the Clowns’, all great stage singers eventually get round to recording this belter. Tracie Bennett raised the roof of the National Theatre with her blazing rendition last year.
Everybody Says Don’t from ‘Anyone Can Whistle’
Amid the more reflective numbers, some of Sondheim’s songs set off at a clattering gallop, with pattering wordplay to rival Gilbert & Sullivan. This, from one of his earliest musicals, is a tongue-twister-on-tip-toes, redolent of the brilliant lyrics he wrote for ‘Gypsy’ and ‘West Side Story’.
The Miller’s Son from ‘A Little Night Music’
While the title of the show seemingly derives from Mozart, the title of this song tantalising echoes Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller’s Daughter). Have a listen yourself and see if you detect any musical links.
Something Broke from ‘Assassins’
Another Sondheim hallmark is a song in which multiple, dislocate characters share their perspective: overlapping phrases and sentiments uniting those who seem worlds apart. Here a host of voices recall where they were when a US President was shot.
Sooner or Later from ‘Dick Tracy’
The song that won Sondheim his Oscar. Yes, it was created for a cartoonish mobster movie, and yes Madonna sings it, but what class, what sass, what sophistication.
A Weekend in the Country from ‘A Little Night Music’
Like an opera climax where all the principals lunge in simultaneously, this big First Act finish of this show sees everyone set their sights on a big change of scene in the Second Act. It’s an intricate, virtuosic and delicious feat of weaving.
Sunday from ‘Sunday in the Park with George’
We finish with something close to a hymn in which painter George Seurat assembles all the cast, scenery and musical motifs of the musical into something truly serene.