‘Manhattan’s greatest mourning since John Lennon died’

‘Manhattan’s greatest mourning since John Lennon died’


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2021

Tim Page remarked last night: ‘I don’t remember such public grief for a musician in New York since Leonard Bernstein — maybe not since John Lennon.’

The New York Times has a feature on people singing and crying all night for Stephen Sondheim in piano bars.

…“Here” was the Greenwich Village piano bar Marie’s Crisis Cafe, where a line formed in the late afternoon and never let up for hours as fans gathered to commune, aware that they would be surrounded by people who not only perfectly understood their feelings, but who also knew Sondheim deep cuts and could nail tongue-twisters like the “Bobby baby, Bobby bubi, Bobby” line from “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

“I had other plans tonight,” said Mark Valdez, 28. “My family’s busy for the Thanksgiving holiday, but then we found out that Mr. Sondheim died.” Asked if he had ditched them to go to Marie’s, he laughed and then choked up a little: “Oh no, I just brought them. It’s a family here and I want to be with family.”…

Damn, it hurts.

Broadway performers gathered on Times Square on Sunday for a massed sing-in.


  • PS says:

    I thought the “90th birthday Zoom call” was a little thing. Looks like it was a big thing.


  • Montblanc says:

    I REALLY don’t want to be provocative or controversial but I just don’t get Sondheim’s music. It always seems meandering, somewhat aimless, and not very interesting musically. So poor harmonically and formally compared to Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bernstein etc. Again, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially in this time of mourning, just curious what everybody loves about his compositions so much. My wife is a big fan and has tried to convert me many times, unsuccessfully.
    I’m not judging him as a lyricist or dramatist, just purely as a song writer (except Send In the Clowns – great song, I admit). Maybe it’s me who just doesn’t get it? I’m curious if anyone feels the same way – and again, not trying to provoke anyone here.

    • Kenny says:

      Trust me, it’s you. (And a whole lot of other people who famously avoid his shows.) I have the same problem with Bruckner, and I’m pretty sure it must be me. So I avoid his work. Different strokes, courses for horses, etc. Makes the world go round.

    • R. Brite says:

      I can’t explain it, any more than I can explain my love of Wagner, of whom some make similar complaints. Take Passion. I’ve seen it three times: the first West End production, a Donmar Warehouse revival and the Théâtre du Châtelet’s sumptuous staging, with Natalie Dessay singing in chest voice and showing off her acting chops. The show is mostly epistolary, vignettes about an unhealthy, obsessive love, which, objectively, I’m rather repelled by. Yet it has swept me away every time. The closest it comes to a tune you might leave the theater humming is “Loving You” – barely a song, more a snippet, but a key turning point in the story. https://youtu.be/E3DEjxuoBaQ

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, I’ve always felt it was somewhat over-rated. There are stand-outs, of course, but otherwise his lyrics are too dense, too tightly packed into small units of music so as to be incomprehensible, too precious by half.

      It’s strange that you express concern that you are being ‘provocative’ expressing your opinions, but once you consider the extent to which Sondheim belonged to the in-crowd that’s not at all surprising.

      I don’t like Andre Rieu or much that passes for the modern Broadway musical, but I don’t feel that’s provocative; merely a subjective form of free speech. Having studied music extensively at university I’m not making assessments in an arbitrary manner but from a musical standpoint. Even then, it’s still my opinion.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Is that Saint Subber in that picture with Sondheim?

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    It’s also a nice picture of Hal Prince, a lovely man. Never met SS, though.

  • For those who would like a thoroughly enjoyable Sondheim evening, I highly recommend this brilliant production of “Company” with Broadway royalty and the New York Philharmonic. A beautiful done PBS Masterpiece Theater broadcast. You’ll be happy you watched it.


  • MWnyc says:

    tongue-twisters like the “Bobby baby, Bobby bubi, Bobby” line from “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

    Oh dear …

    That line isn’t from “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”; it’s from the opening number, titled “Company”.

    I’m surprised the Times hasn’t posted a correction yet: no doubt Sondheim superfans all over the place have been writing angry emails about that.

    • G T says:

      Actually, it does also appear in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”, right before the recapitulation.

      I’m surprised you didn’t watch a quick recording to check. Better watch your inbox!

  • John Porter says:

    Page must have missed the response to the deaths of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen…

    • V.Lind says:

      And whoever wrote that overall headline must have missed 9/11/2001. Page’s comment is at least in defined context.