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    • Stephen Sondheim photographed for Vogue

    • HDA performance of Into the Woods

    • Orly Baum and Lauren Sklarz '22 with Hopkins alums Erin Ellbogen and Maddie Mulligan '19

Hopkins Celebrates Stephen Sondheim

Sophia Neilson '23 Arts Editor
On November 26, 2021, American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim passed away at the age of 91. Sondheim composed many well-known musicals such as Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Company. His death has impacted our community greatly.
Hopkins has put on several of Sondheim’s shows, most recently Into the Woods in 2019 and Gypsy in 2015. Sondheim’s death has been felt acutely within the Hopkins community, especially within the music and theater departments.

Director of Choral Music Erika Schroth stated that Sondheim “was responsible for some of the great musical theater masterpieces of our time.” Schroth “saw the new revival of Company the day after [Sondheim] died.” She commented on her experience in the theater that day, saying, “I’ve never experienced such energy in a theater. Thunderous applause, standing ovations in the middle of the show. Truly a celebration of his life and work.”

Schroth feels a deep connection to Sondheim and his work. She said, “Some of his works, in particular, have been very dear to me; Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Assassins.” She is drawn to the “complex characters, brilliant lyrics, and intense motivic development” that Sondheim created in the previously mentioned shows. Schroth said that one of the reasons she enjoys musicals created by Sondheim is because she “finds [herself] identifying so strongly with his characters because of how beautifully drawn they are.” Drama teacher Hope Hartup has had many experiences with Sondheim’s shows, stretching back to her childhood. Hartup said, “I grew up listening to West Side Story; I remember watching my mother, who was an actor, play the role of Joanne in Company (she blew it out of the park with her performance of ‘The Ladies Who Lunch!’); I saw the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd and eventually went on to direct a production of it here at Hopkins.” Sweeney isn’t the only Sondheim musical Hartup has directed at Hopkins. She has also directed A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy, and Into the Woods. “When I think of those productions, I think of the sophistication of the lyrics, the complexity of the characters, and how integral the music is to the forward momentum of the story. I found that my Hopkins performers felt the same way and were excited by the challenges presented by his work,” she said. Hartup called Sondheim “a champion of musical theater” who “encouraged growth
and evolution.” Hartup commented on Sondheim’s bravery in the world of musical theater, saying “he was unafraid of new interpretations of his work; no show of his became codified. I’ve seen Sweeney with all the bells and whistles, and I’ve seen Sweeney set in a pie shop with just seven singers and a three- person orchestra. Both were thrilling.”

Many students are feeling the loss of Sondheim as well. Margaux Selfors ’23 commented on her first experience with Sondheim, and how it shaped her love of musical theater: “I remember going to my sister’s high school’s production of Into the Woods when I was about nine, and it was such a beautifully written and performed show. It’s a core memory for me because it was the moment I first fell in love with musical theater.” Hannah Ceisler ’22 said, “Although I don’t know if I agree if he ‘reinvented the American musical,’ he was undoubtedly unique in his work. Sondheim’s legacy will certainly not be short-lived.”

Ceisler also was personally impacted by Hopkins productions of Sondheim shows, saying “his work will always have a special place in my heart, as the first Hopkins show I ever saw was Gypsy, and the first show I helped to stage-manage was Into the Woods.” Felipe Perez ’22, who played Prince’s Guard #3 in Hopkins’s production of Into the Woods, also felt the impact of Sondheim’s death, saying “It’s hard to see such an incredible influence in musical theater pass, but I’m happy to have performed his work before. His talent and soul still speak through his music even after he’s gone.”

Orly Baum ’22, who played one of the step sisters in Hopkins’ production of Into the Woods talked about her experience with the show, saying “Into the Woods was a transformative show for me- the music is challenging but both the lyrics and notes and rhythms stick with you for so long after you sing them. Sondheim’s composing is really beautiful and powerful. His death was especially hard because his music both changed how I viewed and listened to musical theater and how many others did, too. I cherish the time I got to perform his music so much.”

As Hartup said, “Sondheim’s genius is an extraordinary gift to us all.” His passing had a large impact on the Hopkins community as well as the world. As Selfors said, “Sondheim’s death was truly an American tragedy. We lost a great composer the day he died, and the musical theater world will not be the same without him. Sondheim’s legacy will continue in the lyrics and melodies he created.”
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