Stephen Sondheim: Send in the Clowns

Written by Colton Pometta

Stage Director

In category: Song of the Day

Published August 7, 2018

One magic trick performed by great musical theater lyricists I find particularly impressive is when a repeating lyrical hook, often found in the title, evolves throughout a song and takes on new meanings. Rather than just the usual redundant repetition, the same phrase progresses based off the goings-on of the verse, and it continues to shed light on a situation. I am always awestruck when a musical theater writer reaches this level of lyrical complexity. Usually an actor is left to come up with his or her own intention for each repeated lyric; in this case, the lyricist has made his intents obvious and draws a clear arch for the actor.

“Send in the Clowns” from Act Two of A Little Night Music is a perfect example. In this song, Desirée looks back at an affair she had many years prior with the lawyer Fredrik. He had asked for her hand in marriage all those years ago, but she rejected him. She has finally returned to tell Fredrik she is ready for the commitment, but he informs her he is now dedicated to a new, younger bride.

Desiree is an actress, so Sondheim uses theatrical vocabulary and imagery throughout the song. “Send in the Clowns” starts as a show business reference, which is to say, “This show isn’t going well, so let’s start giving them our best jokes!” As Desiree rummages through her life’s disappointments in this ballad, she realizes what fools she and Fredrik both are. The lyric “send in the clowns” takes on an entirely new meaning at this point- these two tired old people with a long list of regrets are the clowns.


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Colton Pometta is a stage director based in Manhattan. He is currently directing the first Spanish adaptation of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Other international directing credits include premieres of musicals in Paris and Edinburgh. In NYC, he has directed/choreographed productions, concerts and workshops at Cherry Lane, Second Stage Uptown, Primary Stages ESPA, 54 Below, Joe’s Pub and The Triad. Also a member of Actors’ Equity, SAG and The Dramatists Guild, he has performed as an opening solo act for Carol Channing, acted in regional productions, written librettos for musicals, self-produced national tours of musicals for young audiences, and adapts musicals from French to English. Regionally, his work has been seen at Rep Theater Saint Louis, Sierra Rep, Maples Rep, Townsend Opera, and Surflight Theater.  Colton has studied at RADA and is an alumnus of Circle in the Square, Interlochen, and Directors Lab West.


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