Almost as cliché as touting Shakespeare's way with words is to say how clever Sondheim's lyrics are, or how complex (but moving) his music. But, being entrenched in his work this week, I can't avoid it: Sondheim really is genius. His songs are gifts: perfectly packaged, with taste and class, and with new surprises for the singer (and, one hopes, the listener) each time they are opened. As a text-lover, I relish working with his lyrics even before I go to the piano. Each bit of punctuation is carefully selected and has as specific a meaning as it does in Shakespeare, so that the thoughts are practically thought for you and by the time you've finished the song you're not quite sure how you arrived at this new place, but it was entirely logical and right. At least, that's how "On the Steps of the Palace" feels.
And then what if you are What a Prince would envision? Although how can you know Who you are til you know What you want, which you don't? So then which do you pick: Where you're safe, out of sight, And yourself, but where everything's wrong? Or where everything's right And you know that you'll never belong? ... There's a lot that's at stake, But you've stalled long enough 'Cause you're still standing stuck In the stuff on the steps...
I could (and do) analyze this the way I would a Shakespearean monologue: look at the line endings ("know" twice in a row, why the word "envision", wrong vs right); the alliteration (stake/stalled/still/standing/stuck/stuff/steps); the long run-on lines with no punctuation, and then what feels like a comma after every word. Tonight I've been pacing back and forth in my apartment, turning on each punctuation mark and clarifying the thought patterns for myself. The neighbors must think I'm crazy.
This week I am rehearsing for next week's benefit performance of Into the Woods, funded by a grant from the Sing for Hope Foundation. Though I've long wanted to work on Cinderella, and did the show in college (playing the old women: Cinderella's Mother, Little Red's Granny, and the Giant), my work is seriously cut out for me. (In fact, I really should be, you know, DOING it instead of writing about it.) I am facing the big monsters of Expectations (but it goes so perfectly in my head!) and learning to let loose while still underprepared - something perfectionists aren't known for being the best at. But I tote my trusty kaleidoscope to rehearsal with me, and remind myself that I sing songs and tell stories for a living, and babies aren't dying... and isn't all this process stuff FUN?