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Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim dead at 91

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Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who helped American musical theater evolve beyond pure entertainment and reach new artistic heights with works such as “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd,” died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, at the age of 91, the New York Times reported.

Sondheim, whose eight lifetime Tony Awards surpassed the total of any other composer, started early, learning the art of musical theater when he was just a teenager from “The Sound of Music” lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

In a tweet Friday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Sondheim: “One of the brightest lights of Broadway is dark tonight. May he rest in peace.”

Actor and singer Anna Kendrick called Sondheim’s death “a devastating loss.”

“Performing his work has been among the greatest privileges of my career,” Kendrick added in a tweet.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was mentored by Sondheim, has called him musical theater’s greatest lyricist.

Sondheim’s most successful musicals included “Into the Woods,” which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used children’s fairy tales to untangle adult obsessions, the 1979 thriller “Sweeney Todd” about a murderous barber in London whose victims are served as meat pies, and 1962’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a vaudeville-style comedy set in ancient Rome.

“I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is paramount to me,” Sondheim said in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio.

Several of Sondheim’s hit musicals were turned into movies, including the 2014 film “Into the Woods,” starring Meryl Streep, and the 2007 “Sweeney Todd” with Johnny Depp. A new film version of “West Side Story,” for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s music, opens next month.

His songs were celebrated for their sharp wit and insight into modern life and for giving voice to complex characters, but few of them made the pop charts.

‘CLOWNS’ HIT

He had a hit, however, with the Grammy-winning “Send in the Clowns” from his 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” It was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Collins, among others.

One of Sondheim’s greatest triumphs was his Pulitzer Prize for the 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” about 19th-century French Neo-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat.

As Sondheim collected accolades, New York City’s Broadway theater industry underwent many changes. It had a key role in American culture through the 1950s, with many Broadway songs making the pop charts, but lost significance as rock music gained a hold on the public starting in the 1960s.

Increasingly, musicals borrowed material from television and movies, instead of the other way around, composer Mark N. Grant wrote in his book “The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical.”

Sondheim shared the view that Broadway had experienced decline, expressing it repeatedly in interviews.

“There are so many forms of entertainment, theater is becoming more marginalised,” he told British newspaper The Times in 2012.

But Broadway musicals also became more artistic and Sondheim played a key role in their evolution, critics said. He explored such weighty topics as political assassinations in “Assassins,” the human need for family and the pull of dysfunctional relationships in “Into the Woods,” social inequality in “Sweeney Todd,” and Western imperialism in “Pacific Overtures.”

He also developed new methods for presenting a play. Instead of telling a story from beginning to end, he would jump backward and forward in time to explore a single theme. It was called the “concept musical.”

Broadway audiences were introduced to Sondheim with “West Side Story” in 1957. The story about a love affair between a Puerto Rican girl, Maria, and a white boy, Tony, in working-class Manhattan was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 1961. The central characters expressed their infatuation in the songs “Maria,” “Somewhere” and “Tonight.”

CONFLICT WITH MOTHER

Sondheim was born March 22, 1930, in New York City to affluent Jewish parents who worked in fashion. He described his early childhood as a lonely one, with servants as his main company.

After his parents split up when he was 10 years old, Sondheim moved with his mother to rural Pennsylvania, where she bought a farm. He later said his mother took out her wrath over the divorce on him. He found a surrogate family in the nearby household of Hammerstein and his wife, Dorothy.

Hammerstein, who along with partner Richard Rodgers created the classic musicals “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music,” taught the teenage Sondheim how to write musical theater.

After Sondheim became famous, he mentored others on Broadway. When Miranda began work on a rap musical about American founding father Alexander Hamilton, Sondheim encouraged and critiqued him. The play became a smash hit on Broadway in 2015.

In box office success, Sondheim fell short of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer behind “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” with whom Sondheim shared a birthday.

Sondheim pushed audiences, which sometimes resulted in box office flops.

Some of his least commercially successful plays were lauded by critics. Those included the 1976 “Pacific Overtures,” which depicted Japan during an age of Western colonialism, and his 1990 off-Broadway production “Assassins” about real-life figures who each set out to kill an American president.

Sondheim had many fans in the academic world. In 1994, a quarterly magazine called the Sondheim Review was founded to examine his work, five years after Oxford University in England named him a visiting professor of drama.

His devotees celebrated the acerbic irony of his lyrics, which they described as commenting on everything from the limits of America’s melting pot to the downside of marriage.

These lines from “The Ladies Who Lunch” in his 1970 musical “Company” contained a typical slice of Sondheim’s wit: “Here’s to the girls who play wife/Aren’t they too much?/Keeping house but clutching a copy of ‘LIFE’/Just to keep in touch.”

Sondheim, who was gay, did not live with a romantic partner until age 61, according to a 2000 profile in The New York Times Magazine, in which he said his romantic relationships were rarely intense or long-lasting.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los AngelesEditing by Donna Bryson, Bill Trott and Leslie Adler)

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Amid Omicron, 700,000 Canadians flew abroad in December – CTV News

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TORONTO —
For many Canadians, the Omicron variant wasn’t going to stop their holiday travel plans.

Despite the federal government’s advisory against travelling outside of Canada amid surging COVID-19 cases taking effect midway through December, last month saw more international travel to and from Canada than any other period since the start of the pandemic.

Data collected by the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that 742,400 Canadians flew back into the country through Canadian airports in December. That’s a nearly eight-fold increase from December 2020, which only saw 93,800 Canadian travellers.

The week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, right after Christmas, saw the highest volume of travel into Canada. There were 215,665 Canadian citizens who returned to Canada by air that week.

For foreign nationals flying into Canada, Dec. 20 to 26 was the busiest week for travel. The data says 125,526 foreign nationals flew into the country that week and 352,900 for the entire month of December.

Although air travel appears to have rebounded significantly, these numbers are still a far cry from December 2019, which saw over 1.1 million Canadians and 577,800 foreign nationals travel by air.

At the land border, there were 608,900 Canadians returning from the U.S. in December, which is up four times from the previous year. Americans also took 291,600 trips to Canada that month.

In response to rising COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron, the federal government on Dec. 15 issued an advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the country. The feds also tightened testing requirements at the border on Dec. 21, once again mandating that all travellers entering Canada present a negative molecular test result, regardless of trip length or vaccination status.

Cross-border trips also plummeted after the testing requirement went into effect. In the first 20 days of December, 24,600 Canadians on average returned from the U.S. After Dec. 21, the average fell to 10,600, less than half of what it was earlier in the month.

Travellers returning to Canada by air from any country other than the U.S. may also be randomly selected to undergo a PCR test on arrival. But as provinces struggle with their own PCR testing capacity, airports and airlines say testing arrival testing is not the best use of resources and have called on the federal government to drop the requirement.

On the U.S. side, the Department of Homeland Security now requires Canadians and other foreign travellers entering through its land borders to be fully vaccinated as of Saturday. Foreign travellers flying into the U.S. had already been required to present proof of vaccination.

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Pope confers lay ministries on women, formalising recognition of roles

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Pope Francis on Sunday for the first time conferred the lay Roman Catholic ministries of lector and catechist on women, roles that previously many had carried out without institutional recognition.

He conferred the ministries at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, where, in an apparent reference to resistance to change by some conservative, he criticised those who need to have rigid regulations and “more rules” in order to find God.

Last year, Francis changed Church law on the ministries of lector and acolyte, which mainly had been reserved to seminarians preparing for priesthood, saying he wanted to bring stability and public recognition to women already serving in the roles.

Lectors read from scripture, acolytes serve at Mass, and catechists teach the faith to children and adult converts.

The ministries of lector and acolyte existed before but were officially reserved to men. Francis instituted the ministry of the catechist last year.

At Sunday’s Mass the pope installed six women and two men as lectors and three women and five men as catechists. Francis gave a bible to each lector and a crucifix to each catechist.

The formalisation, including a conferral ceremony, will make it more difficult for conservative bishops to block women in their dioceses from taking on those roles.

The change will be particularly important as a recognition for women in places such as the Amazon, where some are the de facto religious leaders of remote communities hit by a severe shortage of priests.

The Vatican stressed that the roles are not a precursor to women one day being allowed to become priests. The Catholic Church teaches that only men can be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.

Supporters of a female priesthood say Jesus was conforming to the customs of his times and that women played a greater role in the early Church than is commonly recognised.

Francis has appointed a number of women to senior jobs in Vatican departments previously held by men.

 

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Pope calls for world day of “prayer for peace” over Ukraine crisis

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Pope Francis on Sunday called for an international day of “prayer for peace” on January 26 to stop the Ukraine crisis from worsening, saying the tensions were threatening the security of Europe and risking vast repercussions.

Francis announced the prayer day and made the appeal for dialogue to defuse the crisis during his weekly address and blessing to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square.

Top U.S. and Russian diplomats failed https://www.reuters.com/world/top-diplomats-us-russia-meet-geneva-soaring-ukraine-tensions-2022-01-21 on Friday to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, although they agreed to keep talking. On Sunday, Britain accused Russia of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.

“I am following with concern the rising tensions that threaten to deliver a new blow to peace in Ukraine and put the security of Europe in doubt, with even more vast repercussions,” he said.

He appealed to “all people of good will” to pray next Wednesday so that all political initiatives “be for the service of human fraternity” rather than partisan interests. The Vatican gave no immediate details on how the pope would mark the day.

“Those who pursue their interests by damaging others are in contempt of his vocation as a man, because we were all created as brothers,” he said, without elaborating.

On Friday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and warned of a “swift, severe” response if Russia invades Ukraine after massing troops near its border.

(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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