Whether it’s “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music or “Color and Light” from Sunday in the Park with George or “Losing My Mind” from Follies, nailing lyricist-composer Stephen Sondheim’s songs is notoriously difficult. This isn’t just because his work is unfathomably ambitious, its chords seemingly in conflict with its melodies, its influence all-over-the-the-musical map; it’s because he writes about adults who are broken and broken down. Critic Richard Corliss once said that Sondheim makes “popular art for grownups with sutured hearts.”
There are best sondheim songs, however, that, if done right, can prove your mettle on any stage. It’s called “Getting Married Today” from the 1970 show Company—though it’s better known as (Not) Getting Married Today, since that is the refrain of the terrified young bride-to-be who sings it, Amy. It’s the ultimate audition test, and widely considered to be one of the hardest songs you could sing in musical theater. (Until “Guns and Ships” came along in Hamilton, it was probably the fastest song, as well.) The person who first nailed it on Broadway was Beth Howland, an actress who became better known as another nervous character, the clumsy waitress Vera, on the television show Alice. Howland died on December 31, 2015 in Santa Monica but her husband, actor Charles Kimbrough, didn’t announce it until last week.
In this song, she rattles off the litany of reasons she has no business getting married today, scarcely pausing to take a breath. For a kid on the precipice of adulthood, it taps into so many fears about the next step, about being tied down too early, about not knowing what comes tomorrow.