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         White. A-blank-page-or-canvas. So-many-possibilities. 

                             Sunday in the Park with George

I have long been fascinated with Sondheim’s lyrics, writings, and musicals. They help bring alive an inspiring sense of a deeply human relational, moving, and contingent world stuffed full of everyday precariousness and ambiguity. Here we can sense negotiated social structures formed through fragile human beings creating emergent shifting meanings. As far as I am aware Sondheim shows no direct interest in sociology and has no training in symbolic interactionist theory. But his work suggests a deep affinity with this position. His basic ideas keep repeating themselves. They can be summarised in four abiding images. 

First, as we go Into the Woods, Sondheim suggests a negotiated human world of complex and endlessly ambivalent persons engaged in words, language, symbols, communication, stories, and emergent emotions and meanings – complex conversations and stories that are perpetually capable of being told, retold and (most usually) misunderstood. All his work revels in this. The world is a perpetual search, struggle even, for meaning: a world of open-ended communicative narratives.

Second, Sondheim suggests, as Merrily We Roll Along, a precarious and ever-changing human relational world of ceaselessly changing, muddled and confusing human Company and interactions: of people engaging with others in all their troubles, behaviours, shifting selves and inchoate emotions and feelings. People dwell in the presence of others. This relational world harbours interactional, emotional webs of selves and others. His work is often criticised for being emotionless: yet students of Passion, A Little Night Music, Follies, Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd would have to disagree. ‘Love’, for example, gets a much more detailed and complex treatment than it does in most musicals. And relationships lie at the heart of his stories – nowhere more so than in Company.

Sondheim also suggests the importance of time: a ceaseless and continual flow of fateful – and not so ‘fateful ‘- human ‘moments. (Let it happen, Take the moment. Make the moment Many moments more. Make for us a thousand more.  Take the moment (Do I hear a waltz?). Moments have unpredictable outcomes in a vast flow of contingencies and time is usually locatable in both local and sweeping pasts, presents and futures to come. The world is processual: a precarious space-time order, emergent and negotiated. Follies, for instance, plays with past and present simultaneously – as ghostly shadows of the past haunt the current stage. Pacific Overtures plays the standpoints of three contrasting generations. Merrily tells its story backwards. Sweeney Todd’s past shapes his present, haunting every moment. There is no grasping of relationships without an understanding of the history of the collision of moments that constitute them. These moments are not determined but contingent. Life itself is shaped by this fragility. I think Sondheim echoes the ironic position of the poet Robert Frost in ‘The Road Not Taken’: In Follies, ‘The Road You Did Not Take’ directly suggests: ‘“You take one road, you try one door, there isn’t time for any more, one life consists of either/or.” 

Finally, Sondheim has much to say about art, creativity, and life – even a theory of truth and method. It is found everywhere. But centrally in his Sunday in the Park with George which suggests the struggle for truth over long periods of time; that consummation is not simply something for the here and now but also for the longer, lingering time of generations; that there may well be certain universals of order, of truths need to be struggled for within from within (‘let it come from you’). They are grounded in practical situations. 

With such rich, underling imagery, all his stories get told uniquely and differently: they feed richly into this cumulative imagination of what social life is like. I met both Symbolic Interactionism and Stephen Sondheim’s work in the early 1970s; and they have always walked together for me.

Take me to the world: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celberation

This 2 hour on line COVID concert was made on 27th April 2020. It conveys the enthusiasm of ‘Sondheimites’, and the variety of his songs and music. Take a breath and take a look at:
Take me to the world: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration

AND FINALLY: below are a few little extracts from a few of the multitude of Sondheim lyrics:

The Road You Didn’t Take

You take one road,

You try one door,

There isn’t time for any more. 

One’s life consists of either/or.

One has regrets,

Which one forgets,

And as the years go on,

The road you didn’t take

Hardly comes to mind,

Does it?

Where could it have led?

The choice you didn’t make

Never was defined,

Was it?           


Our Time

Something is stirring,

Shifting ground.
it’s just begun. 
Edges are blurring

All around 

And yesterday is done.

Feel the flow,

Hear what’s happening: 

We’re what’s happening. 
Don’t you know?…

It’s our time, breathe it in:

Wolds to change and worlds to win.
Our turn coming through, 
Me and you, many

Me and you. 

Merrily We Roll Along

Being Alive

Somebody, crowd me with love. 
Somebody, force me to care. 
Somebody, make me come through, 

I’ll always be there, 

As frightened as you, 

To help us survive,

Being alive, being alive,

Being alive! 


No One is Alone

Sometimes people leave you,
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you,
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone,
But no one is alone.

 Into the Woods

Marry Me a Little

Marry me a little, 
Love me just enough.

Cry, but not too often,

Play but not too tough. 
Keep a tender distance, 

So we’ll both be free.
that’s the way it ought to be. 
I’m ready!


Move on

Anything you do, let it come from you. 

Then it will be new. 

Give us more to see…   

Sunday in the Park with Geoorge

Moments in the Woods

Oh if life were made of moments
Even now and then a bad one–! 
But if life were only moments, 
Then you’d never know you had one. 

Into the Woods

Take the Moment

Let it happen,

Take the moment.

Make the moment

Many moments more.

Make for us a thousand more.  

Do I Hear a Waltz?

Like It Was

Trouble is, Charley,

That’s what everyone does:

Blames the way it is

On the way it was.

On the way it never ever was….     

Merrily We Roll Along

10 With so little to be sure of

With so little to be sure of,
If there’s anything at all, 

If there’s anything at all,

I’m sure of here and now and us together.

Anyone Can Whistle

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