Stephen Sondheim and the Conundrums of Post-war Man

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim at the Fairchild Theater in East Lansing, Mich., in 1997. (Douglas Elbinger/Getty Images)
Sondheim advanced his art form by focusing on complicated, ambivalent characters.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE A t the inspiring/dispiriting conclusion/beginning of Merrily We Roll Along, the flop/classic 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical, three friends stand on a rooftop in upper Manhattan with awe and hope in their eyes as they watch the Sputnik rocket pass overhead. They sing a lilting paean to youth called “Our Time”:

It’s our time, breathe it in
Worlds to change and worlds to win
Our turn coming through
Me and you, man, me and you.

How rapturous to be young, clever, and talented in 1957. Doors will shortly begin to open. The future beckons with a warm smile. Except: This story is being told backwards, and so

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