Sondheim Successor

I don’t know how much you guys are into this kind of thing, but I’m pretty into musicals. Nothing beats a Sondheim musical, as far as I know, but he’s getting older and there might be a successor out there…Do you know of one?


Jonathan Larson.

Oh wait…

There is no clear successor to Sondheim. He’s just such a giant in musical theater that even his flops get revived. Webber is the obvious Titan in his wake, but he hasn’t been taken seriously as a composer since Evita.

My picks:

William Finn - composer/lyricist who won the Tony for Falsettoland in the early nineties and was nominated last year for the Putnam County Spelling Bee - by far his weakest work. He has had great success off Broadway with both the semi-autobiographical A New Brain and his show about death Elegies, which has the single best song ever written about 9/11. Finn tends to focus on smaller pictures than Sondheim - no real epic plots with him. In his 50s.

Jason Robert Brown - composer who won the Tony for Parade. He has spent most of his time since off Broadway, with the semi-autobiographical Last Five Years and song suite Songs for a New World. He really hasn’t followed up his success with Parade and has better skill as a songwriter than as someone who can do a show. Still in his 30s.

Stephen Schwartz - has been around since the late sixties and has a good record of popular if not brilliant shows (Pippin, Godspell, Fosse, Wicked. Very pop music-ish, almost a chameleon in how he writes for the era. Compare the early 70s light-pop Pippin to the female diva stylings in Wicked. More a lighter contemporary of Sondheim than a successor.


Me. I am writing a musical for Tom Chick and Kristin Chenoweth. It’s called Grimoire! and a Tim Curry has a recurring part as The Entity, wearing nothing but yellow greasepaint and an enigmatic smile. The entire cast is going to wear roller skates (except the Entity – he’ll be hovering above the stage like the chandelier in Phantom). Ooh, and there’s a phenomenal dance number where Tom and Kristin are dressed up as the lovable Harvest Moon cow. Ms. Chenoweth is the back half of the cow, as I find her voice rather annoying.

It’s gonna be better than Sweeney Todd. I’m already rearranging some of the Godzilla action figures on my desk to make room for the Tony.

And you say you aren’t funny enough to be the Narrator.

Suuuuure you aren’t, Sparky.

What, you couldn’t fit a beret in there somehow? It’ll be crap.

Well, Tom makes his first appearance when he’s lowered down onto the stage on a giant red beret. Kinda like that scene in Cats where the one cat rides down on the giant tire into the crowd of singing cats, except with less cats.

Alright, that’s better. It’ll be better than Cats.

Could there be some cats in it?
I’m sure you could fit some in between the dinosaurs, and no one will notice.

I was listening to sondheim interviews on NPR and he was talking about how the Broadway atmosphere has changed to the point where producers aren’t willing to really back a potentially risky show. A lot of the stuff that’s coming up now has already been produced in other formats (Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Producers), which doesn’t mean that it’ll be crap, but it just won’t be as personal and deep as Sondheim (although, to be fair, even in Sondheim’s day other composers weren’t as personal and deep).

I would love to see someone make a QT3 musical. I think it’d be really funny.

Broadway has never been much for risk taking. Sondheim had a great past behind him in some pretty conventional shows (West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum) before Company - the show that really set him apart from the rest of the crowd. Even at his creative peak, Sondheim found himself working off-Broadway as much as on. Assassins never got a Broadway debut until a couple of years ago even though he wrote the show in the early 80s.

Broadway musicals, like games I guess, have just gotten bigger. Spamalot and Wicked can be traced back to the Disney musicals and from there back to the Webber/McIntosh spectacle show idea.

The smaller musicals are where the real energy is. Avenue Q is a nice small show - quite good if overpraised. Caroline, Or Change is a lot like Sweeney Todd in how it nears opera at times.