By Adriane Berg
Stephen Sondheim, true American Idol and lyricist for the ages, turned 80 on March 22. Many of us celebrate our birthdays with a party, a trip or a well-deserved tribute of some kind. But the amazing Sondheim celebrated with a Broadway “live review” called Sondheim on Sondheim at the Roundabout’s Studio 54 Theater.
I was privileged to see the show with its seminal cast, including the legendary Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, and Tom Wopat, after an awards ceremony during which Sondheim was honored by SAGE (Service & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders). I have been a long time admirer and supporter of SAGE, a breakthrough organization devoted to its older constituency. I have been inspired to see how one organization could both identify a wrong, work tirelessly to make it right, and also be a really fun place to hang out.
The pr-theater event took place at the trendy Brasserie Cognac. The champagne and hors d’oeuvres flowed. The meeting was a reminder of how we often live better when we have a burden, a cause, passion and compassion. In other networking events I talk about career, family, and business to strangers. At SAGE, I talked to perfect strangers about the people they help, their volunteer efforts, the fast friends they are making in older life. I told of John, the 91-year-old man to whom I am a “friendly visitor” to help his depression after losing his wife of 61 years. I was advised not to give up, even though I feel I am not making a difference.
Now, back to Stephen Sondheim at 80. Here is a guy who has received great recognition and achievement in the music world, including the Kennedy Center Honors, the Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, 8 Grammys, 7 ‘regular’ Tonys, and the Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. He certainly did not have to reveal to the world that right before her double bypass surgery his mother wrote him a note saying that her biggest regret in life was giving him birth (and underlining it twice!). He certainly did not have to tell us that he never fell in love until he was 60 or that Oscar Hammerstein was really like a father to him after his mom dumped him at the Hammerstein’s door after she divorced his real father. Yet, he did.
Why? Sondheim could have structured his musical retrospective in any way–with a fresh story, or in a concert, or in chronological order. So why an autobiography review? Only Sondheim can answer that, but here is my take: He did it because he could. Because he wanted us to know him, to understand him, not through his music (which he claims has little of his story in it) but through his own words about himself. He has used hundreds of other peoples’ stories as his springboard to his lyrics. At 80 it was time to tell his story.
So how about you? What can you say about your story? Do you need help in doing so? Consider lifebio.com. LifeBio is a fun, economical, and easy way to capture memories and life stories.
Whether you prefer to write with a pencil or keyboard, the LifeBio questions will prompt you to create.
There is sometimes a stigma or resistance to going through a life review. The resistance comes from thinking that you are engaged in your “last stand” so you had better talk fast. No, no, no. Your story is an interesting one. Tell it. As a spokesperson for CogniFit Personal Coach, I know that two of their trainings are about short and long term memory. Great. But why bother if you do not cherish your memories, beautiful and painful alike? We cannot shout our stories on Broadway, but we can leave it as a legacy to our families.
SAGE tells us that we are all family, all an audience for each other. I invite you to tell your story in words, in song, in pictures and send it to us at AdrianeBerg@msn.com.