The 2018 Saint Louis Literary Award was presented to Stephen Sondheim October 4th to a packed Sheldon Concert Hall in Midtown St. Louis, MO. Though the 50th Literary Award given, it was the first to go to a composer and lyricist, with Mr. Sondheim being one of the most celebrated in modern history. In over half a century of work, Sondheim’s accolades include a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Now, too, will the dark blue glass award, granted by the Saint Louis University Library Associates, rest on his mantle of achievement.
Preforming a sample of Sondheim’s work were students from local high schools, Webster University, and Saint Louis University. Performances were as follows: “Our Time”-Merrily We Roll Along Michael Lee (Westminster Christian Academy), “On the Steps of the Palace”-Into the Woods Fionna Scott (Nerinx Hall High School), “Another Hundred People”-Company Trenay LaBelle (Grand Center Arts Academy), “Buddy’s Blues”-Follies Caleb Miofsky (Webster Groves High School), “There Won’t Be Trumpets”-Anyone Can Whistle Eleanor Schartz (Visitation Academy), “Not a Day Goes By”-Merrily We Roll Along Elizabeth Teeter(Webster Groves High School), “Finishing the Hat”-Sunday in the Park with George Blake Howard (Saint Louis University), “Take Me to the World”-Evening Primrose Caitlin Witty (Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Webster University), “Move on”-Sunday in the Park with George Ben Love and Caitlin Witty (Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Webster University), and “Sunday”-Sunday in the Park with George was performed by the entire student company. Ron McGowan served as pianist and musical director. Lara Teeter and Stephanie Tennill were co-directors of the student performances.
Following a warm welcome from Saint Louis University President, Dr. Pestello, an award was presented to Christina Hildebrandt, an English major at SLU. Dr. Toby Benis, English Departmental Chair awarded Hildebrandt with the Von Kaenel Memorial Walter J. Ong, S.J. Award as the English Department’s most outstanding student. After an exchange of smiles and a hug between student and professor, it was time to introduce the guest of honor, Stephen Sondheim. Ted Ibur, President of Saint Louis University Library Associates, had the honor of introducing Sondheim to the full house present at the Sheldon. As Ibur finished his review of Sondheim’s career and character, the audience stood in applause. With hundreds of hands clapping, the door at the back of the stage opened to a smiling Sondheim. Sondheim took hold of Ibur’s hand and of the dark blue glass award, humbly thanked the audience, and took his seat.
Mike Isaacson, an artistic director and executive producer at the Muny, led Mr. Sondheim in a Q & A session. Isaacson first touched on topics concerning Sondheim’s childhood in New York and Pennsylvania, after his parent’s divorce. The audience learned how the move to rural Pennsylvania led to Sondheim meeting his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, from whom he learned more about songwriting and theater in one afternoon than most do in a lifetime. Sondheim was guided to his college years at Williams College in Massachusetts, informing the audience that teachers were the most influential people in his life. With his outstanding career being such a large topic of conversation, Sondheim spoke of his successes and failures while also touching on how collaboration influenced his career. Isaacson did a wonderful job leading Sondheim through a very revealing conversation that brought fans of Sondheim closer to one of the most outstanding composers and lyricists in history.