Stephen Sondheim's Company
appeared in 1970, and the American musical theatre has never been the same. The adventures of a bachelor and his married friends, Company exploded the musical's traditional business model of romantic tales with a beginning, middle, and end (in that order) and neatly packaged songs. In Sondheim's shows, the music flows in and out of the stories, often completely taking over, and romance may be overshadowed by doubt.
(1971) skips the beginning, Sunday in the Park With George
(1984) lacks a middle, and Merrily We Roll Along (1981)
has an end, a middle, and a beginning in that order.
As Ethan Mordden explains it, Stephen Sondheim is a classical composer who happens to write musicals, which explains why the center of gravity in his scores is so elevated. But more: Sondheim has intellectualized the musical by tackling serious content usually reserved for the spoken stage: nonconformism (in Anyone Can Whistle, 1964), history (in Pacific Overtures, 1976), a serial killing spree and cannibalism (Sweeney Todd, 1979). Yet these are above all theatrical shows, produced with flair and brilliance, whether in the lush operetta of A Little Night Music (1973) or the quixotic fairy-tale magic of Into the Woods (1987).
Mordden has pitched his tone to address the newcomer and the aficionado alike, with fresh insights and analysis of every single Sondheim show, from his first hits (West Side Story, 1957; Gypsy, 1959) to his most recent titles (Passion, 1994; Road Show, 2008). Each musical gets its own chapter, with articles as well on Sondheim's life and his major influences. Comprehensive bibliographical and discographical essays place the Sondheim literature and recordings in perspective. Writing with his usual blend of the scholarly and the popular-with a wicked sense of humor-Ethan Mordden reveals why Stephen Sondheim has become Broadway's most significant voice in the last fifty years.