"Stop worrying where you're going—move on
If you can know where you're going, you've gone .
Just keep moving on."
Letters, years ago, used to be stream-of-consciousness celebrations of human life. Friends could speak of neighbors, lovers could sing their praises with stunning prose, and complete strangers could somehow connect in the most surreal, precious way possible. The collections of letters of politicians, musicians, and even a complete nobody can be as compelling as a perfectly-crafted novel.
I am addressing this letter to Judy Collins who, sadly, will probably never read this. That's not to dimish her, I'm just a pragmatic sort of person, y'know?
Dear Judy (or should I call you Ms. Collins? I've never been one to research manners) -
I have just come home from your show at Ravinia, A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim. I can hardly focus my thoughts because my mind is buzzing with a million points of light, creating a brilliant landscape of emotion.
Walking through the hallowed gates of The Ravinia Festival, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew I adored your voice but, let's be frank, I would never have bought the tickets when the season was announced if I didn't.
I sat in my seat, thoughts buzzing through my mind: "What will she sing?", "How will she sound?", "Is that a mosquito on my leg, or is the person behind me really tall?"
Stephen Sondheim is one of my favorite composers, period. I worship the ground he walks on and have sung hundreds of his songs.
I wasn't prepared in the slightest for what I was going to witness. As you stepped out on stage in your gossamer gown, white hair flowing like spun wool, I was taken aback. If I may be so bold, you betray your 77 years.
The mouth opened, the voice was released, and I was in rapture for two hours. Not only was Mr. Sondheim done justice, but so were the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and a myriad of colorful characters that lay like a tapestry on the quilt of your life.
The folk songs, including "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Amazing Grace", and a blistering, heartwrenching rendition of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War", were like a web woven of silk, outlining the musical history of a nation. The intensity of the emotion, the colors of the voice, the sheen of the musicality - all we intermingled with gusto, bravado, and demure perfection.
Comedy, happily, was on the menu as well. Your comedic timing is worthy of Neil Simon and you have the wit and verve of Dorothy Parker, whom you quoted, I might add: "I like to have a martini, Two at the most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under the host."
The narrative thread of your concept was like one beautiful melody, sometimes strident and raw, sometimes charming and slick, but always beautiful.
The Sondheim songs came as crests of waves, arriving at the perfect moment to dot the horizon. "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd and "No One is Alone" from Into the Woods were graceful, "The Road You Didn't Take" from Follies was bitter, yet strident in the face of immense adversity, while "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George were filled with faint nostalgia, with a simple melody that, in your hands, became like balm for the soul.
And then there was "Send in the Clowns." During the four-minute song, an eternity of emotion passed. The crowd was still, husbands held the hands of their wives, and the hearts of the thousands watching you beated wildly to the 12/8 beat of Sondheim's shockingly-simple melody. It was, in one word, perfection.
The Passenger String Quartet and your musical director were your anchors, proving the sails to your well-crafted ship. I tip my hat to them.
Before I become a rambling man, and risk pushing you away, I simply would like to say that your performance lifted my soul to new heights and pushed me forward into life with a song in my heart and a pep in my step.
So, I must say, thank you Judy for all the music you gave me tonight. It will take me a lifetime to pay back my debt, but oh what a fun life it will be.
Steven (Seat S19)