Songs are there to serve the story and the show, Stephen Sondheim insisted. That’s not to say that his poignant duets, skittery patter songs and ambivalent tributes to old Broadway can’t deliver thrills even out of context. Here are 10 videos that show why, in mourning his loss, performers and writers are expressing thanks for his genius.
‘Finishing the Hat’
Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn in the title role of “Sunday in the Park With George” was meant to last three concert performances, but the response was so glowing that what started as a 2016 Encores! fund-raiser was retooled for Broadway. This backstage rendition of “Finishing the Hat,” a lament for the artistic struggle, shows why.
Judy Kuhn starred as the lovesick Fosca in the Classic Stage Company’s 2013 revival of “Passion,” one of Sondheim’s most austere, yet romantic scores. Among those who have covered this aching ballad are Barbra Streisand and Barbara Cook; Kuhn is onstage now at the same theater, playing Sara Jane Moore in Sondheim’s “Assassins.”
‘The Ladies Who Lunch’
Sondheim’s 80th birthday was marked in an all-star tribute with the New York Philharmonic, in which Patti LuPone ripped into “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the boozy “Company” showstopper she is performing on Broadway in the revival now in previews. (Elaine Stritch, who introduced the song in the original production, was there, watchfully watching; she gave her all to “I’m Still Here” from “Follies.”)
‘The Ladies Who Lunch’
While the composer’s 90th birthday fell in the middle of the pandemic, a Zoom tribute still managed to hit the heights, no higher than when Audra McDonald, Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski knocked back the vodka stingers to “drink to that.”
‘Giants in the Sky’
A spate of stripped-down revivals have brought new life and young fans to the Sondheim songbook. Here Patrick Mulryan, playing Jack (of Beanstalk fame) in the Fiasco Theater’s 2014 “Into the Woods,” sings the plaintive “Giants in the Sky.”
‘I’m Still Here’
Yvonne DeCarlo originated this showbiz survivor’s anthem in “Follies” on Broadway 50 years ago, and Ann Miller, Polly Bergen and Shirley MacLaine (onscreen in “Postcards From the Edge”) have done it, too. Tracie Bennett got the plum assignment in the National Theater’s lush 2017 revival; its director, Dominic Cooke, is on tap to make the very-long-awaited movie.
‘Losing My Mind’
The middle-aged former showgirl Sally Durant sings this “Follies” classic, but Jeremy Jordan proves this ballad of obsessive love and lifelong regret is truly universal.
‘Send in the Clowns’
Sondheim’s one true pop hit, thanks to Judy Collins, has become a full-fledged American songbook standard, thanks to Judi Dench and other performers who’ve gotten under the skin of the rueful actress Desiree Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music.”
‘Not While I’m Around’
This duet between the murderous Mrs. Lovett and her young charge Tobias offers the rare glimpse of unadulterated affection in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” though it turns out to be short-lived. Melissa Errico keeps things uplifting in this lilting track from her much-praised “Sondheim Sublime” album.
Singing from home, earbuds and all, can’t dampen the emotion of this unforgettable “Sunday in the Park With George” duet between the artist Georges Seurat and his mistress (and model) Dot, played on Broadway by Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford.