A few nights ago, I caught the last hour of an HBO documentary Six by Sondheim. Unfortunately since I was late, I only got to see half of the show—3 of the 6 by Sondheim if you will. As I watched this documentary about this very talented man, I was reminded of when I first saw one of his musicals.
Years ago, I was flipping channels in the television and happen to stumble upon A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I liked the title, it was unusually long. The opening song’s lyrics had such promise and grandeur as the star Zero Mostel sang in a baritone voice “Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!!” I watched the comical misadventures of Pseudolus, enjoying the clever songs, such as “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”
I was about to write off that this was a just a silly, bawdy musical comedy, with only interest in tickling my funny bone. Then, a duet with Michael Crawford (Hero) and Annette Andre (Philia) singing a beautiful song called “Lovely”. The melody sent chills up my spine and the lyrics were light and dreamy. Being a pre-teen, I was totally buying into the swooning quality of this love song! I thought: wouldn't it be great if a boy sang these heartfelt lyrics to me, *sigh*! Of course, the romantic mushiness didn't last, as soon as Pseudolus and Hysterium got a hold of the song.
Nevertheless, each song was an integral part of the story-- it didn't seem out of place that Miles Gloriosus breaks into song “Bring Me My Bride.” In fact, the songs were like characters onto themselves, whether they be humorous, highly theatrical or heartfelt. Each was distinct and evoked a different emotion.
At the end, I saw in the credits music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Now I had identified this artist who was able to meld complex yet jaunting lyrics with musical notes that seemed timeless. From then on, any time I had the opportunity to see a Stephen Sondheim musical, I jumped at it. Sweeney Todd, and Sunday in the Park with George became favorites as well. My husband even became a fan the same way I did—he stumbled upon Into The Woods on television and was lured into the enchantment, and he doesn't even like musicals!
In the documentary, Mr. Sondheim revealed one time he wrote a musical for profit only. He said he wouldn't do that again, and made a comment that he only writes out of love. I was really touched by that comment, since it’s so evident in my favorite musical of his. After watching it, I was amazed how good a mood I was in after watching this show. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will always hold a special place in my heart and I have Mr. Sondheim to thank for that.