Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: When I Was In The Fifth Grade…

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

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Letter to Sondheim 1991

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When I was in the fifth grade, I found Stephen Sondheim’s home address in a reference book at the public library. This armed me with all I needed to begin a years-long correspondence with my hero. While I have kept most of his letters to me, I believe this is the only letter to him that survives. It was written when I was 13, several years into this project of mine.

Looking back, I am so embarrassed but also a little bit charmed by my 13-year-old self. And of course, Steve’s response is perfect, treating me with consideration and taking me seriously on my own terms. (Of course, I don’t remember writing songs, definitely never started the theater company, and very quickly purchased the albums in question. And 20+ years later I finally got my hands on the songs from A Pray by Blecht.)

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Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: The Bluest Ink

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

The first thing you notice about Max Friedman and Charlie Rosen is how young they are. Okay, if you’re reading this on Tumblr, you might be younger than they are, but from my perspective at the ancient-by-gay-New-York-standards age of 35, it’s shocking how accomplished these two guys are before either has hit the age of 24. But it’s their Mickey and Judy “Let’s put on a show” enthusiasm combined with serious chops honed on Broadway, in cabarets, and beyond, that give us the first inkling (get it?) of what to expect from their new multimedia Sondheim revue, The Bluest Ink, debuting tomorrow night at Le Poisson Rouge.

“When I was in high school,” said Friedman, “I was obsessed with Sondheim, and I was obsessed with revues like Putting It Together and Side By Side By Sondheim and this more obscure one they did in London called Moving On. I thought there were a lot of stories you could tell using Sondheim songs.” Friedman envisioned putting these songs into a new context to tell a story they hadn’t yet been employed to tell — that of his generation of New Yorkers in their early 20s in today’s hyper-connected world.

Friedman and Rosen had already teamed up on are project, Charlie Rosen’s Broadway Big Band (in residency at 54 Below), and when Rosen put together a swing arrangement of “What More Do I Need” (from Saturday Night), Friedman knew he found the right collaborator for his Sondheim show.

Rosen approaches Sondheim’s material with a careful balance of reverence and creativity. “It requires a bit of care,” Rosen said. “Sondheim’s chords and harmonies and melodies are so beautiful and work so well together that you have to use very careful taste and judgment to not destroy what already works so well, while being fresh and imaginative with a little bit of risk-taking with some new harmony that comes out of my jazz education and they movement of modern jazz.” While the team isn’t revealing the song list before the show, they’ve hinted at a mix of favorites and lesser-known gems, with some interesting medleys and juxtapositions to bring new perspective to some of the more familiar tunes.

They’re joined by six musicians and a cast of four young performers “having their Beth/Mary/Frank/Charley moment of opening all the right doors,” according to Friedman, who hopes this show will help expose them to a broader audience as well.

Besides the youthful aspect of this production, the other element tying it to this moment in history is the extensive use of multimedia, by animator Ilana Schwartz. “The multimedia is something I was always hoping to bring to the show,” said Friedman. “The whole idea of ‘The Bluest Ink’ is the difference between writing and living — ‘the bluest ink isn’t really sky.’ A lot of the show takes place with the cast scrawling into notepads as they sing, and what you’ll see in the projections is their doodles — their thoughts really coming to life.”

Although The Bluest Ink’s stand at Le Poisson Rouge is a one night only production, the team hopes the show will have further life in a theatrical setting. But for now, tomorrow night is your only chance to see this jazzy, youthful new take on some of your favorite Sondheim songs — and some you may not know so well — so if you’re in New York, there’s only one place to be tomorrow night at 10.

Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: Don’t fucking download this album.

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

Asker ms872 Asks:
So I was just wondering if you had a download link for Follies. I can’t seem to find one. Thanks for making this awesome page, btw!! I love it!
fuckyeahstephensondheim fuckyeahstephensondheim Said:

This post might make me sound like a dick, but well, sometimes I am a dick. So let me start by saying thanks, I’m really glad you enjoy this page.

Now.

Don’t fucking download this album. Buy this album. There is no reason this album should exist. There are already too many other versions of Follies on the market. With a cast and orchestra this size, it had to have cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to produce, which means it is highly unlikely to recoup its costs in any reasonable amount of time, particularly given that the show is closing soon so there won’t be lobby sales.

If you want to illegally download an album that was produced twenty years ago, I’m not going to judge you so harshly. That’s already made its money. But this one isn’t even in stores yet.

The bottom line is that if you want albums like this to exist, you need to support them financially. That’s why I bought Follies directly from the label, so they’d get my full $16 (as opposed to the $6 or so they’d end up with after the store and distributor took a cut had I bought it through Amazon or a brick-and-mortar store). My $16 is a pledge to Tommy Krasker and the rest of PS Classics that I support the work they’re doing and want to see more of it. They are not a huge multinational corporation like Sony-BMG or Universal. Your $16 actually matters to them and will help determine whether they record more albums like this and, really, whether they continue to exist or not.

If you don’t have $16 to put towards the album right now — save up for it. We don’t all have to own everything the minute it becomes available.

If saving $16 for a leisure purchase still feels unobtainable to you — and it might, for perfectly good reasons — buddy up with your local librarian. If they don’t have the album, and you can’t get it through interlibrary loan? Most libraries have at least a small collection development budget. Tell them you’d like them to add this album to their collection.

Okay, I think that’s the end of this rant. It’s not really aimed at you, ms872. (Or may I call you Mark?) I don’t know you or anything about you. But the way cast albums — new cast albums, recorded by tiny companies on the verge of bankruptcy in tight economic times — are traded on Tumblr concerns me.