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Sing Happy Birthday to Stephen Sondheim

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Last night I was looking for a little cream puff of entertainment to fill that last sweet weekend hour. I found it on Twitter (yes, tragic).

@clembastow tweeted about a podcast that The Independent has created to mark composer Stephen Sondheim’s recent 80th birthday, including snippets from some of his musicals and interviews with Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, Hal Prince and Cameron Mackintosh. And oh, hell, Angela Lansbury.

It was the first in a three-podcast series, with the second instalment due today. Why should you care? Because if you’re a Sondheim fan it’s like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and drinking hot chocolate. And if you’re a bit iffy about the man, it’s a great intro.

Sondheim, the man who was taught how to craft a musical by Oscar Hammerstein II (who apparently set him the homework of writing four different styles of musicals) paid homage to the musical, and then set about modernising it.

He writes musicals for adults, tackling concepts such as the fear of ageing and the ambiguity of marriage, with lyrics made for actors and music made for musicians. And he has been involved in three of the most perfect musicals ever created, well at least to my ears: West Side Story (as a lyricist). Company. A Little Night Music. Then there are the others. Sunday in the Park with George (a musical about artist Georges Seurat!), Into the Woods (twisted fairytales), Assassins (a musical about people who killed or tried to kill the President of the US). Not exactly singing nun territory.

For the non-musical fan, it might all sound a bit esoteric, but it’s not (well mostly not). From Being Alive to Send in the Clowns, listening to a Sondheim song is like recognising what you’ve been feeling and having it sung back to you. And then he can be ridiculously funny too.

So what to do tonight? Listen to the Independent podcast. Get out Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd (originally a Sondheim musical) on DVD. Or you could go back to where it all began, by booking a ticket to the West Side Story production touring Australia (Starts July 1 in Sydney and then heads to Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide).

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