Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


ON SONDHEIM: AN OPINIONATED GUIDE. Ethan Mordden. Oxford University Press; 2016.

Mordden, who has written several informative, engaging, and highly opinionated volumes on musical theater, herein devotes a full book to the work of Stephen Sondheim. In addition to his shows, Mordden also explores the lyricist-composer's film and television work, such as Evening Primrose, Dick Tracy, and Stavisky. Mordden is an unabashed Sondheim admirer, taking a stand against his critics, and explaining what he feels is Sondheim's unqualified genius. Mordden has chapters on Sweeney Todd, Company, Follies, Gypsy, Pacific Overtures, Passions, Anyone Can Whistle, and others, and even looks at the film versions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and Into the Woods. Mordden, as usual, writes with authority and flair, with an obvious passion for his subject. Admittedly, Mordden won't necessarily convince readers who would much prefer to listen to, say, Richard Rodgers' Younger Than Springtime than Sondheim's The Little Things We Do Together and who love The King and I much, much more than Follies or that closet queen show (as I call it), Company. Broadway was being more and more influenced by pop music -- as opposed to European style operetta and opera a la Rodgers and Lowe -- as Sondheim ascended, and nowadays most Broadway scores are pure pop and even rock. Writing strictly in an admiring mode, Mordden never acknowledges that the undeniably gifted Sondheim (Send in the Clowns; Joanna; Agony; Grateful/Sorry; Too Many Mornings; Losing My Mind; many others) can also be quite trite and tiresome at times. Arguably, Sweeney Todd is Sondheim's masterpiece. Sondheim also co-wrote the screenplay for The Last of Sheila and was a script writer for the old Topper TV show with Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper!

Verdict: Solid book on the work and career of Sondheim with a little bit on his personal life. ***.


angelman66 said...

This looks like it is worth a read. You are so right that Sondheim can be pedantic and boring as often as he is brilliant. I saw the original production of Into the Woods on Broadway and was enchanted, but ten years later was bored and disappointed with Passion...
But I look forward to learning more about this great talent and his personal life, of which I know next to nothing.
- Chris

William said...

There are bios that go more into his personal life, as this tome mostly looks at his work, but it's still a worthwhile read.

Yes, Passion was a disappointment for me at first as well, although later it grew on me a bit. No one hits a home run every time, ha!

As usual, Chris, thanks so much for your comments!