Stephen Sondheim Musical Analysis

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Musical theatre performance, which presents fictional plots and impresses audiences with show-stopping dance and song, unites dramatic works across the globe. American musical theatre, specifically, draws inspiration from European straight plays, burlesques, and operas, while dramatizing American topics. Nineteenth-century musical comedies use entertaining situations, rather than plot, to frame performances involving song, dance, and humor. For example, George M. Cohan’s works, although inspired by European musical theatre, fail to please audiences as its unified music and book neglect the plot. By the twentieth century, however, pioneers such as Oscar Hammerstein II create musical theatre shows, such as Show Boat, where the plot holds the…show more content…
One such Broadway pioneer, Stephen Sondheim, develops a style that relies on wit and shock factor to make statements about American society. Unlike the musical comedies that initially set a precedent for their gaudy numbers that highlight the performers, Sondheim’s musicals contain strong plots and characters that highlight the plot. The songs contribute to the setting and situation of the musical instead of distracting from the story. Audiences initially meet his musicals with mixed opinions: some love them for their intellectuality, but the musicals shock others with their bold themes. Presently, audiences increasingly respect Sondheim’s musicals for their innovative themes and formats. Through his musicals, Sondheim reveals the changing the landscape of musical theatre by using nontraditional styles, content, and…show more content…
In contrast to previous musical comedies whose songs separated the characters from the action, Sondheim’s carefully crafts his songs, with every word serving both the actor and the audience. This style of carefully crafted lyrics separates Sondheim’s works from other works of musical theatre. When writing a musical, he thinks as the character, attempting and usually succeeding at portraying his situation. As Arthur Laurents, one of his collaborators, said, “ the only lyricist who almost always writes songs for the characters they are written for” (Michener 384). Since he writes the songs for the characters, each word has a specific purpose. Musical theatre often contains rhyme, but Sondheim’s rhymes serve as emphasis in the play. According to Sondheim, every rhyme, perfect or not, draws “attention to the rhymed word” (Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, xxvii). Since the songs’ words signify a profound amount of meaning, Sondheim makes sure that the lyrics and rhythms work for the character and the actor. “Getting Married Today” in Company demonstrates this particularity. On Amy’s wedding day, she experiences doubt in marrying Paul, expressed through a fast-paced frenzy of thoughts and emotions. However, Sondheim’s word choice allows the actress playing Amy to capitalize on every word, as he calculates the song “ to alternate vowel
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