Jean had a wonderful post on the AAR blog this week about Stephen Sondheim. I’ve been playing Sondheim CDs ever since (though I often play Sondheim). The post also reminded me of how much Sondheim has influenced me as a writer.
My first exposure to Sondheim (in addition to the lyrics to West Side Story) was when the national tour of the original Broadway production of A Little Night Music came to San Francisco when I was eight. loved it–an historical setting, pretty clothes, and lots of love stories with happy endings (and a whole lot of irony I slowly began to appreciate as I got older). And music I adored even then. We had the record, and I learned all the songs. To this day, I remember the words (probably because I still play the score all the time, now on CD). Not too long ago, a friend commented that he couldn’t catch all the words to “A Weekend in the Country” at a concert. I remember being vaguely surprised that anyone didn’t simply know the word to a “A Weekend in the Country.”
I saw Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George (both of which I later saw on stage) and a concert version of Follies on PBS, saw the national tour of Into the Woods, listened to the score of Company (which I still haven’t seen, though I know most of the songs). Then I was in New York for the RWA (Romance Writers of America) National Conference the season Passion opened on Broadway. I was organizing the theater tickets for my friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson and me. I got tickets to Passion, but I was a little nervous about what she’d think of it because it’s so *not* a typical Broadway musical (imo, a lot of Sondheim borders on opera for musical complexity). We both loved it.
I love listening to Sondheim when I write. His lyrics are so witty and his music is so rich and complex. Both music and lyrics delineate character so brilliantly. As I’ve mentioned before, my starting place for Beneath a Silent Moon was the final scene between Charles and Mélanie. I had that in mind before I plotted the rest of the book. Part of my inspiration was the final scene between Peter and Harriet in Busman’s Honeyroom. My other inspiration was Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company, a wonderful ode to the wonder and terror of sharing one’s life with another person. I had that song running through my head when I wrote the scene. I also think, though I didn’t realize it until I saw the recent movie, that the song “No Place Like London” from Sweeney Todd helped inspire the prologue to Beneath. And just a few days ago, listening to Passion, I realized what was missing from a scene that had been giving me trouble.
Who else is a Sondheim fan? What are your favorites of his songs and musicals? Writers, are there particular songs (by any composer) that have inspired scenes or characters? Readers, do you find yourself reading a book and thinking that a particular song fits a particular scene?
This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Raoul to Mélanie with some advice about how to handle Talleyrand and Tsar Alexander.