The Orchestrating of Broadway: How Much of Stephen Sondheim’s Greatness is tied to His Canadianism?

The life of composer and director Stephen Sondheim has been celebrated and remembered in an article in this weekend’s Toronto Star, headlined: “And another person has left us,” with the well-known composer and lyricist and the noted Canadian theatre group Theatre Passe Muraille listed among the many people who have passed.

The article, written by Leslie Fiedler, has been well-received. Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein opines about “The Indignities” and “Company,” while Alice Ripley remembers the “magic” of “Follies.” And a serious question is posed: “How much of Sondheim’s greatness is tied to his Canadianism?”

Barbara Barr and Joel Van Erpehrer quote Mark Diamond, an analyst who produced the forthcoming documentary “American composer” that discusses where Sondheim’s ideas and talents came from, including the country where his mother fled from in 1943. The couple also show how he idolized Canadian composers.

Canada gave birth to an internationally acclaimed and world-renowned author like Margaret Atwood, though the globe-trotting poet has suffered from her English background. Broadway star Kelsey Grammer says Sondheim “set the bar very high for us in the United States” in light of his Midwestern upbringing. British theatre director Nicholas Hytner says Sondheim has “committed his life to a singular cause, which is the creation of unforgettable musical theater, and that of course is what has made him very much a Canadian.” And no one would fault him for that; work has been a constant for an American composer.

A culture writer noted how the “creative hub,” known for its art, poetry, and songwriting culture, is thriving, although many of its skilled people are leaving for America.

The article also focuses on artistic director Francesca Zambello, whom Fiedler describes as a “flutist-cum-observant ballet dancer with a taste for gauzy costumes” who quickly rose from the oboe to directing her dream show, “The Tempest,” with the help of composer James Goldman.

The article ends with a tribute to Zambello from theatre icon David Mamet, who was honored for his 25 years directing in Toronto. “She was a very big part of my career,” Mamet says, as Fiedler explains why the Canadian calling has “made for a very strong sense of belonging for both of us.”

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