Women often want a father, She may want mine, It’s possible! / He’s a handsome lad of twenty, I’m thirty-nine… It’s possible! / Older men know so much more… / In a way I’m forty-four… / Next to him I’ll seem a bore… / All right, fifty!
“Impossible,” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
As a way of paying homage to Stephen Sondheim (and I do not feel as though I need a reason to do so), I have decided to publish over the next few weeks ten of his best songs and write a little bit about them too. I hope you will indulge me by listening to the tunes, reading my thoughts, and reblogging if you like what you hear or see.
In comparison with his work from Company onward, the score for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum certainly doesn’t push the envelope in terms of what’s possible from musical theatre. The tunes, while in my view brilliant, sit nicely on the ear instantaneously in an easy and pleasant fashion, in much the same way as some of the best tunes from Jule Styne too, say. In Forum, Sondheim doesn’t make you work to find comfort – he heaps it upon you with a giant, flat shovel.
Sondheim recognises this to an extent, when in Finishing the Hat he discussed how he had to cut the song “Pretty Little Picture” because it was ‘clever’ rather than ‘funny,’ and thus not right for the kind of show he was looking to produce. “Impossible” – the song I have chosen here – is one he described as ‘funny,’ because “Senex’s lying about his age is more theatrically satisfying than all the alliteration in the world.”
In a way, Sondheim does a disservice to himself not to call this song or show ‘clever’, though I understand what he’s driving at. Forum is a bawdy, physical show with bludgeoning lyrics to boot – it isn’t the place for intricate word play, glitter and decoration. Nonetheless, in spite of the deliberate simplicity, or perhaps because of it, I continue to find Forum, well, funny, and enjoyable too.