I'm very excited for tonight's HBO documentary about the great Stephen Sondheim. He's responsible for some of my favorite shows thanks to his wondrous speed and witty lyrics. I haven't seen all of his shows--Gypsy and Follies are two big omissions--but the ones I have seen are filled with such incredible ambition. So as I continue to have all of these tunes stuck in my head, here are my Top 20 favorite songs written by Mr. Stephen Sondheim.
20. "Everybody's Got the Right" -- Assassins
Creepy, unsettling and it prepares you for the uncomfortable darkness to come.
19. "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" -- The Frogs
Hilarious commentary on how audiences ought to behave during a live show. Comedy podcast fans should recognize the opening notes...
18. "Old Friends" -- Merrily We Roll Along
We see their friendship dissolve in reverse thanks to the show's strange structure, but this song demonstrates how well they work together and how easily they don't.
17. "Free" -- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
This is on the list if only for the line "Why, I'll be so conscientious that I may vote twice!"
16. "Getting Married Today" -- Company
I love fast dialog and lyrics and I don't know if it can get humanely faster than this.
15. "Send in the Clowns" -- A Little Night Music
Such a sad and beautiful song. Probably the best thing clowns have ever been involved with.
14. "It Takes Two" -- Into the Woods
I love it when two characters can communicate in sync. It shows something really special and this is these two at their best.
13. "Tonight (Quartet)" -- West Side Story
The drama is at its highest when all the parties are about to converge. With the same song, you get all scopes of emotions. Still the gold standard of a marathon song.
12. "Poor Thing" -- Sweeney Todd
Brilliant way to tell backstory with such an eerie damning beat. Hard to tell if there's true concern in her voice or is she just as startled as everyone else after all this time.
11. "Marry Me a Little" -- Company
I love the idea of a false epiphany where a character thinks he/she is at the end of their emotional journey. Here Bobby think he's solved how to be in a relationship but his plan is full of holes.
10. "Johanna (Quartet)" -- Sweeney Todd
The obsession of Johanna is perfectly seen here where just them singing her name becomes creepier and creepier as it goes along to the point where you even start to doubt the more traditional romance. Beauty is so grimly ironic here.
9. "When" -- Evening Primrose
A dialog song done during a game of bridge between two lovers who have to hide the fact they care about each other to the other members of the game. So brilliant.
8. "Giants in the Sky" -- Into the Woods
Such a beautiful song full of hope, purity and adventure.
7. "Sorry-Grateful" -- Company
"You'll always be what you always were, which has nothing to do with--all to do with her."
6. "Maria" -- West Side Story
Perhaps, the most romantic show tune I've heard.
5. "No More" -- Into the Woods
Just heartbreaking. A character wants to give up and you almost want to let him.
4. "Epiphany" -- Sweeney Todd
A Shakespearian-esque decent into madness where every pronoun change becomes more chilling.
3. "If You Can Find Me I'm Here" -- Evening Primrose
Sondheim's best false epiphany where a pretentious poet decides the world is too good for him and he should just live in a shopping mall.
2. "Being Alive" -- Company
When I first saw this revival of Company, I was sold early on that this will be my favorite musical. I was not expecting this powerhouse of a finale that punches you right in the gut and then ends the show. Raúl Esparza is beyond incredible.
1. "Comedy Tonight" -- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Every lyric is a treat to all of those who love comedies and see it as an equal genre amongst all of those "serious show".