The song of the day for Friday, March 22. 2019, is “Being Alive.”
About This Song
“Being Alive,” written in 1970, is the closing song in the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, which ran on Broadway for 705 performances. Company was nominated for fourteen Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Hal Prince), Best Book of a Musical (George Furth), Best Original Music and Best Original Lyrics as well as Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson). D.A. Pennebaker made a documentary of the recording of the original cast album, recorded by Columbia Records at the 30th Street Studio, that was released in 2006.
About This Version
Tony Bennett recorded “Being Alive” in 2004 for his album The Art of Romance. Lee Musiker wrote the arrangement.
The release of the The Art of Romance coincided with your author’s purchase of her first iPod and was the first album she loaded onto that iPod. I listened to the album obsessively for several months … in the first month or so of this obsession, I listened to The Art of Romance literally two or three times a day and I still absolutely love it. It’s the album I give to friends to introduce them to Tony Bennett and it works pretty well for turning them into fans.
Being Alive, a song by Tony Bennett on Spotify
“Being Alive,” as well as The Art of Romance, is available from iTunes.
Today we are honoring Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who was born on March 22, 1930, in Manhattan. His parents divorced when Stephen was ten and he and his mother moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. One of the first friends he made was James Hammerstein, son of noted Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Hammerstein first became a father figure to Stephen. That relationship soon turned to mentorship and Stephen was welcomed to the Hammerstein household. Sondheim has said that if Oscar Hammerstein had been in another profession, such as mathematician, Sondheim would have followed him into that career.
After graduating from college with a major in music, Sondheim moved to Manhattan for post-graduate study with composer Milton Babbitt and writing songs. He wrote his first professional musical, Saturday Night, in 1955. The show had found a producer, but that individual died before the show opened. Saturday Night was finally produced in London in 1997 and New York in 2000.
Oscar encouraged Sondheim to join up with Leonard Bernstein for the 1957 musical West Side Story as lyricist, as it would be a great experience to work with Bernstein on a Broadway musical. He followed that with another lyric writing partnership with Jule Styne for the 1960 musical Gypsy.
Following these experiences, Sondheim began writing shows for Broadway in earnest. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened in 1962, followed quickly by Anyone Can Whistle. His breakout show opened in 1970: Company, which was the first Broadway musical your author saw (being a young theatre major), followed by the 1971 Follies. Both of these musicals were produced and directed by Hal Prince. Other productions in the 1970s and 1980s include A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and Merrily We Roll Along. Merrily was his first flop; it only ran for 16 performances and marked the end of the partnership with Hal Prince.
After a hiatus, Sondheim came back with Sunday in the Park with George in 1984, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. Following that were Into the Woods, Assassins, and Passion.
Stephen Sondheim has won a breathtaking number of awards for his work. They include a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award for Best Song, eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards, eight Drama Desk Awards, an Obie, five Laurence Olivier Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded in 2015 by President Barack Obama.
He still works on projects, including mentoring young composers.
Oscar would be proud.
Happy birthday, Stephen Sondheim.