Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sondheim Tribute at Tonys a Travesty

OK. I'm right now watching Hugh Jackman and Aretha Franklin slaughter "Somewhere" at the Tony Awards, but that in itself, is not a travesty. It wouldn't be the Tonys without a few schmaltzy, miscast renditions of Broadway classics.
What makes this a travesty is it was dedicated to Stephen Sondheim on his 75th birthday.

The first level of travesty concerns the fact that Sondheim, the most original and daring MUSICAL voice on Broadway only wrote lyrics to "West Side Story," (music was, of course, by Leonard Bernstein). Nevermind that West Side Story did more business than any of 10 or so shows Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics; the best musicals from 1970-1990 (with the possible exception of Chorus Line) were all written by Sondheim. So why not honor him with "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music." It's at least as popular as "Somewhere" and it's much more indicative of Sondheim's talents.

The second level of travesty concerns the fact that there were two Sondheim shows on Broadway this year: "Assassins" (written more than a decade ago, but finally seeing the light of the Great White Way) and a revival of his most musically adventurous "Pacific Overtures." I'd still have gone with "Send in the Clowns," but "Assassins" wasn't even acknowledged tonight.

The final and most egregious level of travesty will only be recognized by theatre geeks like me who thrive on behind the scenes anecdotes. As legend and at least two legitimate biographies tell it, Bernstein actually wrote the lyrics to "Somewhere." It was one of those songs he'd written before they brought Sondheim on board, and Bernstein, in his sometimes princely fashion was fine with giving Sondheim lyrics credit for the whole show. (Hammerstein sure wouldn't have done that, but that's a story for another day).

So we have a tribute to the demigod of American musical theatre that is a Schmaltzy, miscast rendition of a song he didn't even write that came out 15 years before he really made his splash. Happy Birthday Steve, at least Mary Rodgers still lovesya. (Her son Adam didn't do so well either tonight, which is also a travesty)


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