Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Dot and the Whine

I know nobody wants to hear my opinions on Sondheim because I'm not a musical theater lover and you kind of have to be a musical theater lover to like Sondheim, but with friends like Sondheim musical theater's not gonna make many new lovers, if you ask me. But like I said - you didn't. Ask me. So anyway after a mix-up on opening night I got around to see Sunday in the Park with George last night and yeah...
... but that's okay, we can't all love everybody or everything. This show plus an ongoing conversation in my post about Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes in his underwear has this seemingly lost concept situated at the front of my brain -- the internet doesn't seem to get that everywhere and everything doesn't have to be for everybody. The immediate democratization of this vehicle, the World Wide Web, seems to have made people forget that. 

I don't have to appeal to you, or your neighbor. Stephen Sondheim does not have to appeal to me. It's nice to like things, but I don't have to like everything, and I don't have to like everybody. If my sense of humor offends you, or if Stephen Sondheim's musical sense is like nails on a chalkboard to my ears, that doesn't really say anything about me and it doesn't really say anything about you, except we're just folks in a big nutty imperfect world, yo. Life's too short. Find something you do like. And if someone you love like Jake Gyllenhaal forces you to sit through an insufferable musical that's nothing but three hours of privileged whining about success and not-very-deep thoughts about art, so be it. You'll survive.

Anyway I didn't mean to go off on this here - I was also spurred on my my friend Nathaniel's smart words about the Casey Affleck at the Oscars situation in the comments of a recent post he did at The Film Experience -- you should go read that too.

A post shared by Jason Adams (@jasonaadams) on


Roark said...

Ha! I am a confirmed musical lover, and I can't stand Sondheim. Can't. Stand. Him.

NealB said...

Fortunately, Sondheim doesn't need an endorsement here (or anywhere else I don't think anymore), anymore than Jake Gyllenhaal does come to think of it (like the author says). Sondheim's genius is a long ago settled fact. I'm a Sondheim fan myself, and enjoy everything he's written since before Company. His stuff is too complex for general audiences, I think; even Into the Woods is "hard" for a lot of people, though a little easier since it's based on familiar fairy tales. Actors playing characters in a story just bursting into song live on stage is hard to take for those unwilling or unable to suspend disbelief and revel in the outlandishness, the glory, of it. And on top of that, art about art, like Sunday, is even more esoteric. Not for many. Too bad I think, but their loss.

But come didn't find the finale of the first act at least a little bit spectacular?

JA said...


And listen, I like plenty of art about art. And I have been perfectly capable of suspending my disbelief for people bursting into song in the past. And I can suspend my disbelief plenty for lots of things - I love horror movies! They are nothing but suspensions of disbelief!

I just really don't think what Sondheim has to say is very interesting, or as interesting as he seems to think it is, and I especially don't like the way he says his uninteresting things. :)

Like it's clear he vibes on Seurat as a painter and sees his own work in him and that's what George is all about - people don't get me, they think I'm mechanical, that I'm too focused on the little pieces forsaking the whole, but you just have to step back and take it all in blah blah blah. But I don't especially like Seurat as a painter - I think he was useful as a bridge to more interesting Modernist painters that used what he gave to the art-form, and likewise maybe somebody will use the way that Sondheim has dissembled musical theater narratives and actually make work that will be, to my ears, worth listening to. But Sondheim ain't the one.

Anonymous said...

I like a lot of Sondheim's stuff but I can see why he doesn't appeal to everyone.

NealB said...

Hope you're right, JA, that Sondheim might be a bridge to even better work in musical theatre in the future. I don't think it's happened, yet; not even close, unfortunately. Musical theatre is a tough nut to crack. What's your favorite musical of the past ten years or so? (I'll guess I'm a little older than you are and that back when Sondheim was "starting out" in the 70s and 80s with shows like Company, and Follies, and Sweeney Todd, musical theatre was long overdue for some deconstruction and renovation. Still, at a time when articles about the demise of musical theatre were prolific, Sondheim was there attempting to revive and revitalize it. )

Paul Outlaw said...

Not a fan of Gypsy or West SIde Story, Jason? (Yeah, I cheated.)

barryearle said...

"Insufferable musical" Harumph! Not everyone has to love or even like Sondheim. But his impact on musical theater is without question. Not one of his shows repeats another show. His subject matter is as varied as can be. Company, Sweeney Todd, Passion, A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, Pacific Overtures! A musical about the opening of Japan for God's sake. And then my favorite, Assassins. A musical about people assassinating presidents. How different can one get?

And I truly don't understand how anyone can believe Sondheim hasn't had a direct impact on current composer/lyricists and their choice of subject matter to musicalize. Try Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Or Jason Robert Brown. Or the new boys of Broadway, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Let's see, they wrote a musical about boys going to war, their last night on the town, and the devastating impact Viet Nam had on one of them (the others died). Compare it to Bernstein's On The Town to see how different pre- and post-Sondheim these shows are. Then they write a straight forward show from the movie A Christmas Story. And then there is their current show, Dear Evan Hansen, about a shy boy who finds himself in circumstances that make him popular and out of control until he has to admit what he has done. Does any of this sound like the so-called Golden Age of Musicals that were greatly influenced by Rodgers and Hammerstein?

And how about Brown. He writes a two person, sung-through musical about a romance and marriage with one story going forward and another going backward. Then he writes Parade about the lynching of a Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a young girl. Then there's The Bridges of Madison County followed by Honeymoon in Las Vegas.

As for Flaherty and Ahrens, they start with an old-fashioned musical like Lucky Stiff. Then there's Ragtime, an amazing, vast show that captures America during a particular period. Then there's Dessa Rose, the story of slavery and freedom. And now they will be opening another old fashioned show, Anastasia.

And don't forget Jeanine Tesori and Fun Home. Does anyone think Fun Home or Violet, about a badly scared woman on a journey to see a preacher who she believes can cure her, or David Malloy's The Great Comet would have come to life if not for Sondheim? Please. He shattered the two couple structure of musicals created by R and H and musical theater has never been the same since...thankfully.

So he might write insufferable musicals (an opinion to which I clearly don't subscribe), but his impact has ripples that are still continuing to impact how we view musical theater.

Anonymous said...

Well, apply this fictional Seurat's choices, his gains and losses to an Oscar pundit's blogging. Has someone at The Film Experience thrown away a great muse and love, for the conceit of critical blogging that colors their worldview through movies in a specific way? To keep apace or against the rigors of always reading new and fresh amidst all the major movie blogs? To have written their parents, children, loves, neighbors above, around and below them into a musing, not to record them as is but how they made your eyes feel in the flicker of their existence in Time? Not every blog ends up a juncture for greater writing movements (The Dissolved? Gawker?) How do the writers keep on keeping on, if they're not eating too well, getting much love other than the love of their lives (already discarded!) What keeps them writing?