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Stephen Sondheim and Musical Theatre

            "ART, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos" (Look I Made a Hat). These words were spoken by a truly innovative composer and lyricist of the modern age, Stephen Sondheim. The emotional truthfulness and sheer complexity of his works have practically made Stephen Sondheim a genre in and of himself, with a talent for connecting an audience to a song using catchy music and memorable lyrics. Sondheim understands the importance of lyrics as well as the visceral impact that it can make on the actor's connection to the material. In his book, "Finishing The Hat: Collected Lyrics" he states, "When you know your cast well and their strengths and weaknesses, you can start writing for them, just the way Shakespeare wrote for his actors." On closer inspection of Stephen Sondheim, we now see that he and his works have been greatly influenced by wonderful past playwrights such as Shakespeare and Plautus.
             If one were to take a look at Stephen Sondheim's works, he or she would notice these similarities quite easily. When glancing at Stephen Sondheim's musical: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, one would eventually notice that the story is actually Plautus's Pseudolus set to music. Both productions center around the controversy and grievance that two different "houses" have with each other. Both productions also have a scandal that takes place with a servant actually being the brains behind the entire plot. Also, if one were to look at the opening song of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, one would notice that the song "A Comedy Tonight" is actually telling the exact story of Plautus's Pseudolus (considering that it is also a comedy) in just under eight minutes. In fact, the lead character's name in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum is also Pseudolus. This is wonderful for modern audiences because it allows the possibility of them being introduced to a Roman comedy in which they otherwise would have never heard of or taken the time to read.

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