On stage, more than 3,000 mourn the loss of Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine became as intertwined as students and teachers through the Writer’s Workshop at the New Group. Lapine was considered Sondheim’s heir apparent at some point.

“They started as students together; they went on to work together,” said Carl Goodman, an actor who appeared in “Into the Woods,” “Company” and more.

The two could not have been more different. Lapine was an avant-garde artist whose play “West Side Story” remains a massive hit. But the ever-present Sondheim seems to reach across any divide, forever seeking to discover the drama in any word.

At her memorial service at St. Peters Church on Friday, actress and director Natasha Van Jamme remembered a singular sense of truth and honesty in Sondheim’s work, one that hung around her on Broadway the way music does in our lives.

For writer Jay O. Sanders, who wrote one of Lapine’s novels that Sondheim saw and later endorsed, Sondheim was a fierce teacher, eager to tell anyone who’d listen about what makes him tick.

“He was a little crazy, but he was brilliant,” said Sanders, recalling a professor from the Williamstown (Mass.) Theatre Festival with a brilliant mind and a huge empathy for human folly.

Almost 2,500 people filed into the church for the memorial, which featured remarks from Sondheim’s brother, Allan, and Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman.

Sondheim was often misremembered as a writer with little of substance; his reputation as an actor sprang from his memorable roles as a self-loathing Andrew Lloyd Webber or philandering Leonard Bernstein in the 2006 stage version of “Sweeney Todd.”

But a look at his recent work — as in the new movie “Ordinary World,” with Emily Blunt — shows that Sondheim is still discovering deeper truths in the human heart.

The memorial ended with some lovely classical music sung by Ryan Bernard and Edward Gresser.

For more on the celebration of Sondheim’s life click here.

Leave a Comment