There are a million lights that shine on Broadway and a million-billion more that have glistened over the last century.
In this million-billion man-made constellation of lights, there are just a handful of lights that have shone as brightly for the likes that include a legendary Cohan, Kander, Ebb, Rogers, Hart, Hammerstein, Schwartz or Webber (with due deference to anyone omitted).
Yet, even among these, there are no lights that have shone brighter than that of just one Stephen Sondheim.
Many of his shows shouldn’t have become iconic, yet they did.
He shouldn't have a massive cult following, yet he does.
He didn’t offer us wicked day by day shows or songs of singular sensations. His scores had very few of those hummable, catchy tunes that tend to stay with you just after you leave the theatre.
No. His scores stay with you long after you leave the live theatrical experience - evolving in your brain, making you consider long and at great length about what it was you just experienced - making you want...no, need...to listen to the score again and again and again and again.
Listening - not just for the text but the subtext. Not just for the lyric but for the message. Not just for the story but the story within the story.
He did not have many gimmicks or devices such as multi-colored coats or a demented man with half a pie plate covering his face.
For many of his characters the sun never came out tomorrow.
With his writing collaborators, he gave us complex musicals about the flawed and, if the characters were already flawed, he exposed those flaws, embraced those flaws and took them to their extreme.
He took self-assured heroes and brought them into an abyss of uncertainty.
He took fairy tale characters and brought them into a hell of what comes after “Happily Ever After."
He celebrated assassins, murderers and maniacal cutthroats by making musicals about them.
Because they interested him and because nobody else had done it yet.
For every self-proclaimed Sondheim "expert" there will always be someone who makes them feel as if they do not "get" him at all.
While there are those who shall succeed him, we shall never see his like again.
He was the one and only light that was Stephen Sondheim, and we acknowledge his life, his music and legacy.
Stephen Sondheim. Born March 22, 1930. Died November 26, 2021.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)