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MY FAVORITE SONDHEIM—ILLUSTRATED BY HIRSCHFELD

I THANK BEN BRANTLEY for “These Hirschfeld Drawings Capture Sondheim’s Shows Better Than Any Photo.” The New York Times, December 9, 2021. Brantley writes, “Ever since Stephen Sondheim died last month, certain images have been flaring in my head, so insistently that I have to catch my breath. They come with sound, of course—they’re inseparable from the music that feeds them. And they possess those heightened but elusive qualities that only firsthand memory confers.”

Stephen Joshua Sondheim, 1930–2021, American composer and lyricist extraordinaire. Among the most important figures in 20th-century musical theater. This and following images from The Hirschfeld Foundation.

Brantley’s article and its illustrations from The Hirschfeld Foundation prompt my own Sondheim memories. I’ve also selected several favorite YouTube presentations of his works. Perhaps you have favorites as well?

Pacific Overture, 1976. Though not illustrated in Brantley’s article, Pacific Overture is a personal favorite. It focuses on a special interest of mine: Japan’s transition from Tokugawa isolation to the Meiji Era’s assimilation of Western ways. 

Pacific Overture by Hirschfeld.

Here’s a complete production of Pacific Overture. One of my favorite bits from the musical is Commodore Perry’s traditional Kabuki Lion Dance evolving into a strutting all-American cakewalk; it begins at 1:22:35 in the cited production.

A Little Night Music, 1973. Virtually all the music of A Little Night Music is in three-quarter time. Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, it’s a sophisticated comedy of manners.

A Little Night Music by Hirschfeld.

I especially like Madame Armfeldt’s “Liaisons” and the quintet “Remember?” 

Company, 1970. One favorite from Company is Joanne’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” sung by Elaine Stritch.. It has already appeared here at SimanaitisSays..

Company by Hirschfeld.

Another favorite is “The Little Things You Do Together,” so superbly exemplary of Sondheim’s mastery of music and lyrics. Much of Company leaves me in tears of recollection and joy. 

Into the Woods, 1987. This musical intertwines Brothers Grimm fairy tales, occasionally satirical, occasionally grim. In Act 1, the Wolf and Ridinghood’s “Hello, Little Girl” is good fun. In Act II, one way or another, characters get what they wished for. Rapunzel’s prince and Cinderella’s prince complaining in “Agony” is another hoot.

Into the Woods by Hirschfeld.

R&T arty friend Bill Motta, rest his soul, and I were in New York City for the QE2/Concorde comparison test when we also got to see the original Broadway production of Into the Woods. I especially like Cinderella’s slipper-stuck syncopation “On the Steps of the Palace.”

Brantley on Hirschfeld’s Sondheim: “These seemingly simple pen strokes—and the ellipsis of the white space, which your own, happily collaborative mind fills in—are anything but static…. They tremble with energy, tension and, above all, character, as it is conjured in real time on a stage.”

And in joyful memories. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

One comment on “MY FAVORITE SONDHEIM—ILLUSTRATED BY HIRSCHFELD

  1. simanaitissays
    December 11, 2021

    Don’t forget searching for Hirschfeld’s hidden “Nina” tributes.

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