The theater world lost a massive icon this holiday weekend with the passing of the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim was a titanic figure in the world of Broadway and had a hand in producing some of the greatest musicals of the 20th century including West Side Story, Gypsy, Into The Woods, Sunday in the Park with George and Assassins.
For many New Yorkers, his name is synonymous with Broadway and one of his shows is almost always playing at a Great White Way theater. (If it wasn’t, then you could count on catching at least one of his songs at one of many cabaret stages found across the city at any given night.)
Not surprisingly, with an artist so tied to New York as a whole, the outpouring of grief at his passing was immense. If you’re one of the many New Yorkers who have been moved by his work in the past, or if you’re just looking to be introduced to Sondheim’s work now, here are five ways you can mark his passing while honoring the great artist’s legacy.
1. Buy a ticket for Company on Broadway
One of Sondheim’s most beloved works, Company, is now in previews on Broadway. The revival of the famous musical, which deals with a commitment-phobic New Yorker dealing with turning 35, was originally supposed to be open back in the spring of 2020 but was delayed thanks to the pandemic. This production features the unique distinction of being a gender-switched take on the show, casting a woman in the lead role rather than a man. (You can read our interview with the star of the new production, Katrina Lenk, here.)
2. Stream Putting It Together on Broadway HD
Starring Carol Burnett, George Hearn and others, the star-studded tribute Putting It Together is a 2001 film of the Broadway production of the musical revue. The recording captured the show at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2000 and features five performers interpreting Sondheim’s works through classics like “Merrily We Roll Along,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and “Marry Me A Little.” While you’re there, you can also catch a few other Sondheim musicals on the streaming channel including Gypsy and Into The Woods.
3. Watch film adaptations of Sondheim musicals
Beyond the stage, Sondheim also had a huge impact on the world of film, not only through full adaptations of his musicals but also through characters breaking out into his songs at key moments in other works of film and television. (Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show, Adam Driver in Marriage Story and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker all come to mind as recent examples.) But if you’d like to sit through a full Sondheim score rather than just a snippet of one, you have plenty of options. Here are some Time Out reviews of Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In a few weeks, you’ll also be able to see Steven Spielberg’s take on West Side Story.
4. Buy Finishing The Hat from a local New York bookstore
In 2010, Sondheim published a fascinating collection of his lyrics combined with thoughts on his creative process with the rather unwieldy title of Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. The comprehensive 444-page tome contains Sondheim’s lyrics from Saturday Night through Merrily We Roll Along. The next year, he followed up that work with another collection of his brilliant and incisive lyrics: Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes. Both fascinating books are available at many local New York booksellers, including Books Are Magic and Strand Bookstore, and make for great gifts!
5. Go see Assassins at Classic Stage Company
Not only did Sondheim have a remarkably impressive career as an artist, he also had one that was staggeringly long—from the 1950s, when he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy, through to the 1990s when he wrote the lyrics for the daring Assassins, a show that chronicles the lives of men and women who made attempts at killing American Presidents. You can catch that latter work right now at Classic Stage Company in the East Village. In his recent review, our theater critic Adam Feldman writes: “Sondheim’s score is dazzlingly witty and well-crafted, matching period musical styles (from 19th-century ballads and Sousa marches to tarantella and 1970s singer-songwriter pop) with lyrics that slash through them. The effect is ironic and disconcerting, but also often painfully emotional in its willingness to go inside these disturbed people’s heads: At its best, the show can make you laugh and then gasp back your breath.”