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Fresno-area theater folks ponder the question: What is your favorite Sondheim lyric and why?

By now we’ve heard from legions of theater writers and fans about the impact of Stephen Sondheim, whose death on Nov. 26 sent the Broadway world into a tailspin.

Instead of writing another tribute – there are dozens of wonderful ones out there – I decided instead to ask some local theater folks and fans one question:

What is your favorite Sondheim lyric and why?

Admittedly, that request caused a bit of consternation among some of those I consulted. Terry Lewis’ head nearly exploded. (The Fresno actor counts himself among the extremely devoted Sondheim groupies.)

“This is such a hard request!! How do you narrow down a lifetime of genius to a single quote?” Lewis wrote to me.

He continued: “Oy. I have sung, and played, and coached, and studied, and analyzed, and analyzed again, and over-analyzed ad nauseum, his profound and brilliant lyrics and music my entire adult life, and I never fail to find new insights and subtleties. We will never see his like again, methinks.”

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Here are the favorites:


SALAD BAR

Greens, greens, nothing but greens
Parsley, peppers, cabbages and celery
Asparagus, and watercress, and fiddleferns, and lettuce

He said, “All right”, but it wasn’t, quite
‘Cause I caught him in the autumn in my garden one night
He was robbing me, raping me
Rooting through my rutabaga
Raiding my arugula and ripping up the rampion
My champion! My favorite!
I should have laid a spell on him right there

Show and song: “Into the Woods.”

Who loves it: Julie Lucido (actor and director, Good Company Players, Children’s Musical Theaterworks, UR Here Theater, Selma Arts Center and more).

Why: “Musically (and the alliteration and, of course, produce references).”


STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Things will come out right now;
We can make it so.
Someone is on your side,
You are not alone.

Song and show: “Into the Woods.”

Who loves it: Laurie Pessano (creative director, Good Company Players).


Emily Adams writes: ‘The picture of me is running tech for a college production of Into the Woods. The set was covered in fabric and made to look like a quilt. There were several poles on the stage to represent tree trunks and we slid these large panels between the poles to change the setting throughout the show.’

PEACE

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us somewhere

Song and show: “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

Who loves it: Emily Adams (choir director, Kerman High School).

Why: “I don’t quite know how it came to be that I first saw ‘West Side Story’ as a teen, but it quickly became my favorite musical. The song ‘Somewhere’ became an anthem for my future life and the idea that that perfect place exists, somewhere.”


COMPLEXITY

You’re sorry, grateful, regretful, happy
Why look for answers where none occur
You always are what you always were
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.

Song and show: “Sorry-Grateful” from “Company.”

Who loves it: Brad Myers (theater professor, Fresno State).

Why: “Sondheim’s characters and situations are rarely black and white – there is a conflictedness and complexity. This became very apparent to me when I was singing “Sorry/Grateful” in the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of ‘Company’ (wish I had a pic, but I think it was before photography was invented).”


Mallory Parker, right, in ‘Into the Woods.’

GROWING UP

The world is dark and wild
Stay a child while you can be a child

Song and show: “Stay With Me” from “Into the Woods.”

Who loves it: Mallory Parker (Actor, Good Company Players).

Why: “This is one that has stuck out to me because in today’s generation I feel that kids are trying to be older than they are. I think I even tried to be older when I was younger and I wish that I had enjoyed my childhood more than I did. ‘Into the Woods’ is also the only show I’ve done of Sondheim’s so that show holds a special place in my heart as well.”


The 2014 Fresno State production of Sondheim’s ‘Assassins.’ Director Brad Myers writes: ‘That same conflictedness is captured as the gleeful media witness the electrocution of the empassioned assassin, Zangara.’

HOPE FOR DEMOCRACY

Every now and then
The country
Goes a little wrong.
Every now and then
A madman’s
Bound to come along.
Doesn’t stop the story —
Story’s pretty strong.
Doesn’t change the song …

Song and show: “The Ballad of Booth” from “Assassins.”

Who loves it: James Ward (entertainment critic, Visalia Times-Delta).

Why: “The lyric struck me as particularly relevant after the past Administration.”


DECIDE ALONE

Sometimes people leave you
halfway through the wood
Others may deceive you
You decide what’s good
You decide alone
But no one is alone

Song and show: “No One is Alone” from “Into the Woods.”

Who loves it: Ruth Griffin (dancer, theater director and professor, Fresno State, Selma Arts Center).

Why: “I choose this one for now after so much quarantine and uncertainty. Also, I am thinking about how alone Sondheim might have felt throughout his life.”

Who loves it: Darren Tharp (artistic director, CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre)

Why: “I think we can all relate to it in some fashion. Be it losing a loved one, the end of a relationship with someone, losing a pet – everyone experiences loss, and this perfectly encapsulates that.”


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ALL TOGETHER

…. And now, the entire company!

Song and show: “Comedy Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Who loves it: Roger Christensen (actor and Santa, Good Company Players).

Why: “Dan Pessano has often commented on how this was so meaningful to him. Sondheim’s first musical of both music and lyrics was also GCP’s first performance June 26, 1973.”


COMPROMISE

Every time I start to feel defensive
I remember lasers are expensive

Song and show: “Putting It Together” from “Sunday in the Park With George.”

Who loves it: Sara Price (Actor, Good Company Players).

Why: “Anyone who’s ever had to be in charge behind the scenes of any piece of art knows the frustration of this compromise.”


WORLDS WITH WORDS

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
and it’s filled with people who are filled with shit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it.

Song and show: “No Place Like London” from “Sweeney Todd.”

Who loves it: Joel Abels (Former artistic director, StageWorks Fresno, Clovis North High School theater teacher).

Why: “He was a wordsmith … he created puzzles with words. The man is peerless!”


Marc Gonzalez in GCP’s ‘West Side Story.’

HOLD MY HAND

There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow, someday, somewhere

Song and show: “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

Who loves it: Marc Gonzalez (actor, blogger and theater teacher at Bullard High School).

Why: “These are my favorite lyrics because it was my favorite song to sing, as a company, with the West Side Story cast. The closing day, the majority of us could not make it through without crying, and it only solidified the bonding nature of those lyrics and that show. Sondheim lyrics are magic, and I felt the magic in that song.”


Terry Lewis in ‘Into the Woods,’ top, and ‘Company.’

BEING ALIVE

Somebody need me too much
Somebody know me too well
Somebody pull me up short and put me through hell and give me support
For being alive, Make me alive

Song and show: “Being Alive” from “Company.”

Who loves it: Terry Lewis (Actor, Good Company Players, Selma Arts Center).

Why: “Because of the incredible emotional longing for love and validation, that primal human need to connect with another person even when it’s flawed.”


 

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (4)

  • Amelia Ryan

    As a lifelong Sondheim fan, I agree with Terry that it’s really hard to narrow it down. But there’s a couplet that sticks with me is from the first show of his that I saw on Broadway, in 1972 — Follies. Every song is brilliant, but teenage me was blown away by the quartet sung by the young Buddy, Sally, Ben, and Phyllis, “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs.” The words tumble out the way their emotions do, and it captures being young and in love and full of hope perfectly: “Life was fun, but oh, so intense/Everything was possible and nothing made sense.”

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  • Joanne Allen

    Thank you Donald…..what a privilege it is to love the theater and experience mind blowing happenings in a Sondheim production. His talent will never stale because he speaks fo every age, experience and emotion. Love the theater, yes…live in awe of Sondheim, yes, gratefully.

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  • Gerald Palladino

    I too agree with Terry. No one in my estimation is a Sondheim equal. Yes, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerry Herman have all left their legacy, but Stephen Sondheim has no equal. He was original, innovative and every one of his creations was new, exciting, personal and enduring.

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  • Marcy Masumoto

    Love this piece, Donald. I can just hear the music along wtih the lyrics. Sondheim was brilliant, and has influenced our cultural lives forever!

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