Another satisfied customer
Another satisfied customer

Happy birthday to the man who is both almost certainly the greatest living, and maybe even greatest ever, writer of lyrics for musical theater, and who is responsible for writing my least favorite song of all time.

From Lin-Manuel Miranda's profile of Sondheim for the NY Times Style Magazine last year:

"It’s hard to overemphasize Sondheim’s influence on American musical theater. As a young man, he was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the songwriting duo who revolutionized musicals with Oklahoma! in 1943. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote fully integrated songs that advanced the plot and revealed hidden depths in their characters; in their hands, musical theater matured into a storytelling art form.

"Sondheim built on Hammerstein’s innovations by experimenting relentlessly with subject matter and form: from his early lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s music in the seminal West Side Story (1957) and for Jule Styne’s music in Gypsy (1959) to more than 50 years’ worth of scores that have pushed the boundaries and subject matter of musical theater in every conceivable direction.

"He is musical theater’s greatest lyricist, full stop. The days of competition with other musical theater songwriters are done: We now talk about his work the way we talk about Shakespeare or Dickens or Picasso — a master of his form, both invisible within his work and everywhere at once."

I'm not an omnivorous fan of the form (because I don't like it when singers act), but because I'm a great lover of great lyrics and a very small toad of a songwriter myself, I can't but pause and doff the proverbial hat to someone who has spent 60 years at the very top of his game.

Also, there has been some heady debate in the small office I share with Christopher Frizzelle, and I'm sure that many, if not most, people who bother to read even this far will have greater knowledge and experience than I, but my three fave Sondheim numbers are below. You could tell me how wrong I am and add your own choices in the comments if I allowed comments on my posts.