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A moment during an all night Company recording session. (L-R) Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Paley with camera. Company: Original Cast Album (1970). Screen capture by Martha Wade Steketee.

On the occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday a decade ago, I called upon a list of songs published on the occasion of his 70th that he said he wished he had written to assemble a set list of tunes as performed by Judy Garland and other performers I love.

A decade ago I crafted some text to share on a yahoo music sharing fan group (oh remember those) that celebrated the Garland legacy, assembled with this spine of what he wrote, what he wished he had written, and portions of the Sondheim songbook we wished Garland had been around to sing. I was a kind of guest programming. The text below was created for that 2010 program. I offer a version of that text today along with musical links this year on the glorious occasion of the master’s 90th birthday.

Stephen Sondheim turns 80 on March 22, and Broadway and all musical theatre has been feting him, and plans to continue to entertain him all this year. Special evenings of performance this past week at Lincoln Center, a new review show is about to open at Roundabout Theatre in New York, a revival of A Little Night Music entertains houses every night with non other that Angela Lansbury singing of liaisons and stubborn daughters.

Most of us who love the musical theater have been in love with Sondheim for decades. The original production of A Little Night Music was one of my first tastes of Broadway in 1973 when I was barely into my teens. And I still gasp with amusement and surprise and pain at the astute observations in the lyrics and the nuanced calibrations of the harmonics.

Judy Garland began to sing Sondheim almost as soon as any of his works appeared on the Broadway stage. He was the lyricist for Gypsy and for West Side Story, and she dipped into those scores on stage and on television. As part of today’s programming, to honor our favorite entertainer Judy and the man of the year Stephen Sondheim, we feature songs from his songbook that Garland performed, and songs she would have sung if she’d lived for him to write them.

Ten years ago Sondheim provided another set list from which we can draw in a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece published March 12, 2000 on the occasion of his 70th birthday. In this piece by Frank Rich, a sidebar provides Sondheim’s list “songs I wish I’d written, at least in part”, assembled for a concert in his honor at the Library of Congress. Garland performed many of these tunes, including version of  “Birth of the Blues” in an impromptu event at the Cal Neva with Sinatra and his pals in 1963 recently released in a rare audio group. That performance is here.

Sondheim and Garland and others. Two genius talents, harmonizing, riffing, collaborating. Let the discussion begin.

Judy Sings Sondheim. Garland performed and recorded tunes from West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959). Here are a few of those audio files.

Garland in performance in recording session at Manhattan Center, New York City, April 26, 1962.

Judy and Friends Sing from Sondheim’s List “Songs I Wish I’d Written.” Garland and others provide radio, movie, and live performances of many tunes on Sondheim’s 2000 list of tunes he admired by others.

Garland enters for the Act II concert portion of her 1962 CBS television special with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin — “The Judy Garland Show,” a season before her television series ran on CBS under the same name.

And Sondheim Tunes We Wish Garland Had Been Around to Sing. Garland passed away in June 1969, embracing new works until her final performances. We’d love to hear her takes on all of these Sondheim gems. We content ourselves with the many marvelous performers tackling these tunes and yet I always wonder: what would Judy have done.

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Glynis Johns as Desiree in A Little Night Music. Send in the damn clowns, indeed.

And may the celebrations continue, through Garland and her musical progeny and all who love great story telling in song. Happy birthday, Mr. Sondheim.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 22, 2020)

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