Stephen Sondheim: So Many People

Written by Meredith Lustig


In category: Song of the Day

Published March 27, 2017

Dear Reader,

So it looks like you’re stuck with me for the next five days. I for one can’t wait to share some tunes with you and offer a bit of insight into my musical mind…or at the very least my spotify library. Let’s jump right in together!

My song for you today is So Many People from Sondheim’s Saturday Night. I love Sondheim. His prowess as a composer and lyricist makes him, in my mind, one of the most influential and important artists of the last century. His words are a masterclass in storytelling and his music, while simple sounding to the ear, is often incredibly complex.

Completed when he was just 23 years old, Saturday Night tells the tale of a group of friends in Brooklyn getting together on the weekends and weighing their dreams of Manhattan with the comfort of home. The piece is considered Sondheim’s first musical and was scheduled to open in 1954 on Broadway, but was cancelled due to the death of its producer, Lemuel Ayers. Saturday Night would remain unproduced until 1997, and had to wait until 2000 for its New York City premiere Off Broadway. Sondheim’s remarks after seeing the piece on it’s feet makes him all the more endearing to me. He said, “I don’t have any emotional reaction to Saturday Night at all —except fondness…There are some things that embarrass me so much in the lyrics—the missed accents, the obvious jokes. But I decided, leave it. It’s my baby pictures. You don’t touch up a baby picture—you’re a baby!”

Why this song then? Well, my love for this piece is two fold. So Many People was among the first of many incredible songs Steve Blier would introduce to me in our decade of collaboration and friendship. We were doing a program of Rodgers, Sondheim, and Guettel and my knowledge of Sondheim at the time was slim. Steve sent me home to learn So Many People and my heart just melted. I found it to be one of the most romantic sentiments ever written.

I thought the man for me must have a castle.
A man of means he’d be, a man of fame.
And then I met a man who hadn’t any.
Without a penny to his name.
I had to go and fall for so much less than
what I’d planned from all the magazines.
I should be good and sore.
What am I happy for?
I guess the man means more than the means.

I grew up hearing conventional New England wisdom like, “Remember, it is just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one!”…so these lyrics prioritizing happiness held special appeal. Fast forward a few years to a date with my now-husband rather early in our relationship. A beautiful singer, actor, and pianist in his own right much of our early courtship was spent sharing songs with one another at the piano (a common music nerd mating ritual). “I have to show you my favorite Sondheim song!” I squealed. And so I sang So Many People for him—to him really, and I poured my whole heart into it— laying the charm on thick because, duh this guy was for keeps! We finished. He was silent. I thought I’d rendered him speechless with my romantic gesture when he sweetly said, “I’m not sure how to feel about that song… should I be offended?” Oops. For me the song said, “Your love outweighs all material things”…but what he heard was “Damnit, why did I fall for this schmuck!?” Thankfully, I still got the guy…but here’s hoping you’ll see it from my perspective and fall for the song as I did.  XO—M

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Praised for her “radiant soprano” and “outstanding dramatic presence,” soprano Meredith Lustig is an artist of great versatility and sophistication. An alumna of multiple NYFOS Emerging Artists programs, Meredith will return in the upcoming spring gala Honoring Stephen Sondheim on April 19.


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