9 Ways Television Showcased Stephen Sondheim Over the Years (VIDEO)
We’re rolling along not-so-merrily now that Stephen Sondheim has passed away. The composer and lyricist died November 26 at age 91, leaving behind a six-decade Broadway legacy during which he wrote the music and lyrics for Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, and other enduring musicals.
Steven Spielberg, who will deliver Sondheim’s words to a new generation in the upcoming film adaptation of West Side Story, is one of the stars who paid tribute to the eight-time Tony winner in recent days.
“When [Sondheim] spoke, I couldn’t wait to listen, awestruck by the originality of his perceptions of art, politics, and people—all delivered brilliantly by his mischievous wit and dazzling words,” the filmmaker said in a statement. “I will miss him very much, but he left a body of work that has taught us, and will keep teaching us, how hard and how absolutely necessary it is to love.”
Sondheim left his mark not just on the stage but on the screen. His work is all over television, for example, even in shows not known for their song and dance. See some examples in the video clips below.
Krusty’s “Send in the Clowns” cover on The Simpsons
For The Simpsons’ fourth-season finale, “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” Springfield’s chain-smoking jester—voiced by Dan Castellaneta—puts his own spin on “Send in the Clowns,” the best-known song from the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music.
CBS’s Gypsy TV-movie
Bette Midler won a Golden Globe for playing the overbearing stage mother at the heart of CBS’s 1993 adaptation of Sondheim’s musical Gypsy. The production also featured Ed Asner, Andrea Martin, and Tony Shalhoub in supporting roles.
Desperate Housewives’ episode titles
Almost every episode from the ABC primetime soap was named after a Sondheim lyric or song title—e.g., “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “Finishing the Hat.” The Desperate Housewives cast also named their favorite Sondheim songs for a 2005 tribute video honoring the composer’s 75th birthday.
PBS’s airing of Sondheim! The Birthday Concert
As part of its Great Performances series, PBS aired Sondheim! The Birthday Concert, a 2010 concert honoring the composer’s 80th birthday. Frasier star David Hyde Pierce emceed the event and introduced the main performers, Broadway stars Patti LuPone, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, and Elaine Stritch.
Alisan Porter’s performance of “Somewhere” on The Voice
In the NBC singing competition’s 10th season finale, former child star Alisan Porter (of Curly Sue fame) helped clinch her victory with a performance of “Somewhere” from West Side Story.
Dominique Jackson’s “Sooner or Later” performance on Pose
During a hospital cabaret for AIDS patients in this FX drama’s second-season episode “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Elektra sings “Sooner or Later,” a song Sondheim wrote for Madonna’s part in the 1990 film Dick Tracy. (And in the audience is LuPone, in character as landlord Frederica Norman, who sang “I’m Still Here” from Sondheim’s Follies in the same episode.)
Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup’s duet on The Morning Show
In the Apple TV+ drama’s first season, network exec Cory Ellison sings a rendition of “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at star anchor Alex Levy’s Broadway-themed party…and, of course, he ropes the party host in for a duet.
Christine Baranski and Stephen Colbert’s duet on The Late Show
When Baranski appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in person this June—to promote the latest season of The Good Fight—she and Colbert celebrated the end of Zoom interviews with “a little Sondheim in D.” With accompaniment by bandleader Jon Batiste, the duo performed “Side by Side” from Company, a musical in which they’ve both performed.
Sondheim’s Late Show interview
One Stephen met another as Sondheim sat down with the host of The Late Show this September. Sondheim revealed at the time that he was working a new musical, called Square One, that he hoped to open next season.
The interview gave a chance for Colbert to read a book blurb he wrote about his idol to his idol. “When I was 19, I read the lyrics of ‘Putting It Together’ to my mother to say that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” the late-night host said. “Even though I had no idea of what this might be. I couldn’t sing like Mandy Patinkin, I couldn’t compose like Sondheim, I couldn’t write or direct like James Lapine. But like Seurat’s hat, that play was a window from this world to that.”
And to Sondheim, Colbert said, “I will always be grateful to you for laying out the desire and the beauty of the act of creation itself, regardless of where that might take you.”