My Favorite Sondheim: Broadway Songwriters Choose Their Most Cherished Sondheim Songs

By Kenneth Jones
22 Mar 2010

Greg Kotis
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Greg Kotis, lyricist of Urinetown and Yeast Nation, chooses "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" from Sweeney Todd. "No other show-opener prepares us so well for what we're about to see. Thrilling and terrifying."

 

William Finn
photo by Aubrey Reuben

William Finn, composer-lyricist of A New Brain, ...Spelling Bee and Falsettos, chooses "A Bowler Hat" from Pacific Overtures. "I'm not sure I'll feel this way when it gets light out, but now, at two in the morning: 'A Bowler Hat,' from Pacific Overtures. (And everything from Sweeney Todd.)"



 

Brian Yorkey
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Brian Yorkey, lyricist of Next to Normal, chooses "Beautiful" from Sunday in the Park With George. "I don't know how to pick one from my dozens of favorites — songs that truly changed my life — so I'll go with the first that came to mind when I was asked the question: 'Beautiful' from Sunday. 'Pretty isn't beautiful, Mother/Pretty is what changes/What the eye arranges is what is beautiful.' That exquisite song, like that whole show, blew my mind and broke my heart. And made me want to make beautiful things myself."

 

Scott Wittman
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Scott Wittman, Tony-winning lyricist of Hairspray, chooses "Company" from Company. "I was 15 and saw the original cast on Broadway. It's what I imagined went on behind closed doors in Manhattan and I wanted to move in to the Seagram's Building and drink Vodka Stingers. I've never been the same."

 

Frank Wildhorn
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Frank Wildhorn, composer of Jekyll & Hyde, The Civil War and The Scarlet Pimpernel, chooses "Losing My Mind" from Follies. "It's one among my many favorite Sondheim songs. Great songwriting that works so beautifully in the show, yet has transcended the show as well to have a great life...great melody, great lyric, and a soulfulness that lets singers play. Linda Eder's version of 'Losing My Mind' is sublime!"

 

Michael John LaChiusa
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Michael John LaChiusa, composer-lyricist of Hello Again, The Wild Party, Marie Christine and First Lady Suite, chooses the Overture (complete with "liebeslieder singers") from A Little Night Music. "I have too many favorites of Sondheim, but my favorite of the moment is the A Little Night Music Overture."

 

Marc Shaiman
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Marc Shaiman, composer-lyricist of Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can, chooses "A Weekend in the Country" from A Little Night Music (among others). "My favorite Sondheim song? That's easy, 'A Weekend in the Country.' Or 'In Buddy's Eyes.' No, wait, it's 'Sorry/Grateful.' Or 'Sunday.' Scratch that, it's definitely 'A Bowler Hat.' Well, maybe 'Everybody Ought To Have a Maid.' Good God, this is impossible. OK, final answer — 'Anyone Can Whistle.' That is, besides..."

 

Mark Hollmann
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Mark Hollmann, composer-lyricist of Urinetown and Yeast Nation, chooses "Losing My Mind" from Follies. "I find the melody haunting, and the lyric expresses in deceptively simple, everyday terms the depth of a woman's heartbreak. I love how Mr. Sondheim uses those commonplace images, like 'the coffee cup,' to eloquently convey that character's pain."

 

Tom Kitt
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Tom Kitt, composer of Next to Normal and High Fidelity, chooses "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park With George. "The first time I heard that piece of music I was completely floored. The beautiful piano chords, the steady building pulse, the wonderfully artful and poetic lyrics, and that gorgeous vocal arrangement and orchestration make, to put it simply, a perfect song."

 

Joe DiPietro
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Joe DiPietro, lyricist of Memphis, The Thing About Men and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, chooses "Loving You" from Passion. "Besides being hauntingly beautiful, it's the perfect expression of subjugation in a love affair. And, like many love affairs, just as you begin to bask in it, it's over. A perfect, breathtaking two minutes of music."

 

Stephen Schwartz
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Stephen Schwartz, composer-lyricist of Pippin, The Magic Show, Wicked and Godspell, chooses "Move On" from Sunday in the Park With George. "The first time I saw the show and heard the song, I was at a very low point in my life and career and feeling extremely discouraged. When I heard it, I felt as if it had been written for me to tell me what I needed to hear, and it helped to bolster my will to continue writing. So thank you, Steve, and happy birthday."

 

David Zippel
photo by Aubrey Reuben

David Zippel, lyricist of City of Angels, Princesses, The Woman in White and "Hercules," chooses "Impossible" from …Forum (among others). "Choose my favorite Sondheim song? Impossible. Well maybe, 'Impossible' from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Well, that may not be my very favorite but may I change the assignment? Most moving: 'Sunday' (from Sunday in the Park); favorite lyric with other composer: 'Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick' tied with 'If Mama Was Married' (from Gypsy); favorite comedy song: 'I Never Do Anything Twice' (from 'The Seven-Percent Solution'); favorite book song: 'A Weekend in the Country' (from A Little Night Music). I will stop now. Even this is too hard, but, thanks, Steve!!"

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. His favorite Sondheim song is the one yet to be written. Share your choice of a favorite Sondheim number by e-mailing kjones@playbill.com. We may put your thoughts in our PlayBlog.)