It's his 80th, so the toasts and tributes keep on coming, and we fans are happy to merrily roll along. Here, pop-music legend Paul Simon takes an admiring look at Sondheim's celebrated lyrics and lyric-making. Here, Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty catches the Broadway god at his wistful, self-deprecating best (“There's an up- and downside to being venerated. You start to believe your own notices, and that's very dangerous. At the same time, it does feel like it's gold-watch time. It's 'thanks so much for coming to the party.' They're nails in the coffin, is what they are.”) And here, NYTimes business writer Joe Nocera writes of his own “midlife obsession” with the man Leonard Bernstein once called “the most important force in American musical theater.”
So what's your favorite Sondheim song? Mine has always been Losing My Mind, from Follies. Searing loneliness, aching ambiguity, all-out love--in lyrics rinsed of the slightest sentimental bunkum.
I dim the lights and think about you
Spend sleepless nights to think about you
You said you loved me
Or were you just being kind?
Or am I losing my mind?
Michael Ball's version of it, from the Hey Mr. Producer concert:
And Broadway titan Barbara Cook's take, from a stupendous concert production of Follies in 1985. In the final line, Cook pours all her character's anguish into one long, lonely note--Or am I looooo-sing my mind?--and rends the audience to bits. Still kills me now.
There's also Old Friends from Merrily We Roll Along. In his Broadway-tribute album Showstoppers, Barry Manilow--of all people--slowed the piece down from its more upbeat pace and made it more ruminative, autumnal, a version that gets me looking at my friends with greater affection each time. And why not, with lyrics like these?
Most friends fade,
Or they don't make the grade
New ones are quickly made
And in a pinch--sure, they'll do
But us, old friends
What's to discuss, old friends?
Here's to us!
Who's like us?
Enough of my choices. What's yours?