On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide

April 8, 2021
On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide

In On Sondheim, renowned author Ethan Mordden takes thereader on a tour of Stephen Sondheim's work, arguing for theimportance and appeal of the composer-lyricist in American theaterand, even more, in American culture. Over the course of eighteenshows, Mordden demonstrates that Sondheim is a classical composerwho happens to write musicals. Sondheim has intellectualized themusical by tackling serious content usually reserved for the spokenstage: nonconformism (in Anyone Can Whistle, 1964), history (inPacific Overtures, 1976), and cannibalism as a metaphor for classwarfare (Sweeney Todd, 1979).Yet his work combines complex music and intellectual plots witha masterly skill for the fabric of theatre. His shows are allintensely theatrical, produced with flair and brilliance, whetherin the lush operetta of A Little Night Music (1973) or the quixoticfairy-tale magic of Into the Woods (1987). Mordden provides freshinsights and analyses of every Sondheim show, from his first hit(West Side Story, 1957) to his most recent title (Road Show, 2008).Each musical has a dedicated chapter, including articles onSondheim's life and his major influences, and comprehensivebibliographical and discographical essays place the Sondheimliterature and recordings in perspective.Writing with his usual blend of the scholarly and the popular -with a wicked sense of humor - Ethan Mordden reveals why StephenSondheim has become Broadway's most significant voice in the lastfifty years.