Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Oh God I have something to share. It's time to come out of the closet and admit that I am a Stephen Sondheim fan. I think that makes you about as gay as you can get. Even if you play football at the weekend, like to spend as much time as possible under the bonnet of your car, and make the sign of the cross every time you see a man with blonde highlights, liking Stephen Sondheim instantly cancels all of these butch points out.

I blame it on the recent film Camp, which is a kind of Sondheim 101. The film is a nice enough little tale of misfit teens who go to summer camp to put on musicals. There's the acne-riddled gay wannabe drag queen, his slightly dowdy fag-hag, a needy hunk with OCD, and the teenage versions of Eve Harrington and Margo Channing and a fat girl with her jaw wired shut. However, amid all of this character development and life-changing experience ("nothing was the same after that summer"), are the actual musical numbers that the kids put on, taken, totally out of context, from a range of Sondheim shows. And they are 100%-approved trashtastic, hardcore wig-out groovy. Coming from shows like Promises, Promises, Follies and Company, these now-forgotten numbers need an instant revival. Here's my guide:

The Ladies Who Lunch (Company). A bitter little number, sung by a woman wearing black and clutching a cocktail glass (that she'll eventually shatter). An ode to female alcoholism, consumerism and the vapid pointless "Hello Magazine" existence that threatens to overwhelm us all, it could have been written as an accompaniment to Karen Walker. With lines like "Everybody dies" and a rousing ending where the audience are compelled to Rise! Rise! Rise! from their seats, this is pure Sondheim. Key line: "When they get depressed it's a bottle of Scotch, plus a little jest."

I'm Still Here (Follies). The plot of Follies is all about ageing stars returning to a theatre that's going to be knocked down to make a parking lot - the beautiful ghosts of their younger selves shadow and mock them. It's all very allegorical and addresses the gay man/diva's fear of ageing so very well. Anyway, "I'm Still Here" is one of those autobiographical songs which sums up a lifetime of strife, laughing in the face of adversity and "seen it all bought the t-shirt" which characterises Sondheim's plucky older actress types. Key line: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp."

Another tune from Camp, which isn't Sondheim, but is almost as good, is Turkey-Lurkey Time (Promises, Promises). A late-60s ensemble hoe-down involving the entire cast, and ending with absolutely everyone freaking out, with the requisite girls dancing very quickly on raised plinthes. It's a kind of weird homage to Christmas and the lyrics are so silly that they will stuck in your head forever. It has some of the most complicated, campy, rinky-dink dance movements that you'll ever see. Everything that you ever wanted to know about 1968 is summed up in this song. Key line: "A snowy, blowy christmas, a mistletoey christmas, a turkey lurkey christmas to you!"

Excerpts from most of these can be downloaded from here.

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