Saturday, November 27, 2021

Only Cups of Tea and History and Someone in a Tree

 Thank you, Stephen Sondheim.

Stephen Sondheim. Photo by Fred R. Conrad.

On Friday morning, one of America's most important theater writers, not just of the 20th century, but of all time, passed away. Stephen Sondheim was 91. In a career spanning six decades he gave us so much work, work that has changed so many lives, including mine. I wrote my college essay about his Pulitzer Prize-winner, Sunday in the Park with George, and how it resonated with me as someone hoping to spend her life telling stories. And with the parents we had, my siblings and I grew up knowing Into the Woods and Assassins and Sunday and Sweeney by heart. A precocious child, I tried to explain the interconnected plot of Woods to anyone who would listen. By fifth grade I was doing the same with Sweeney, including a full recital of "Worst Pies in London." My dad and I discovered the TV recording of Pacific Overtures together at Paley. My mom took me to the six shows of the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. Sondheim appears in every chapter of my dad's musical theater books. My mom realized she was pregnant with me while crying through Sunday's act one finale. My sister and I attended (nearly) twelve hours of Sondheim at Symphony Space's Wall to Wall Sondheim event. I saw John Doyle's revival of Company ten times (possibly eleven; I lost count). Sondheim's words and music are woven through so much of my life and the thread has just snapped. Or--as he himself wrote--something just broke.

For a lyricist so often accused of austerity, of coldness, he consistently managed to write with a poignancy that spoke to our souls and spirits. He continued to honor the assignment given by Dot to George: "Anything you do, let it come from you. Then it will be new. Give us more to see." He gave us so much. Last year, in an April that saw my community in perpetual mourning, Raul Esparza organized an online concert to honor Sondheim's 90th birthday, and I cried through at least half of it. I'm so grateful for Mr. Sondheim. So grateful for the work he did, for the care he took. 

I can count on one hand the writers who changed my life, who changed the way I approach theater, writing, and storytelling. Sondheim's been one of them since I saw the VHS of Into the Woods, years before I knew I wanted to be a writer, wanted to be part of the theater. I'm not trying to be greedy. I know people age, they die. I just ... wasn't ready for him to go yet. His loss cannot be measured and my words are insufficient. 

Thanks for everything we did.
Everything that's past.
Everything that's over too fast.
None of it was wasted.
All of it will last.

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