Honorable mentions: “The Miller’s Son,” “Remember?”
I love three hour movies (and twelve-episode miniseries), I love eight hundred page novels and histories, and I am a huge sucker for any showtune that lasts more than seven minutes. “Now/Later/Soon” is, depending on what recording you own, either one track or three; in my opinion, seeing as “Soon” brings back the other two voices and the lyrics, this is a single song in three parts. It is probably the Sondheimest song in the history of Sondheim; referential, character-building, punny, clever as heck, and technically masterful.
Fredrik Egerman is a middle-aged lawyer with a fairly new wife, a woman named Anne who is about the same age as his son, Henrik. Fredrik and Anne, months into the marriage, have not had sex; Anne is either too childish or too scared to go through with it, and Fredrik too gentlemanly to force the issue. Henrik, who is trying to become a minister, isn’t having sex either. For Fredrik, his focus is now. He goes through an impromptu outline of how to convince Anne into having sex with him this afternoon: should he do something risque? should he try to read fiction to her into a frenzy? should he just give up and take a nap? He chooses the last one, in the end; he knows he’s not in the best shape, and what if he trips over something and looks the fool, and why doesn’t Anne like anything less wholesome than Hans Christian Andersen? Now becomes later.
Henrik Egerman feels invisible, and wishes anyone would pay attention. “Doesn’t anything begin?” he draws out. Later becomes soon.
Anne Egerman is complex; she knows that her reticence about sex is driving a wedge in her marriage. And her answer is surprisingly charming.
And think of how I adore you,
Think of how much you love me.
If I were perfect for you,
Wouldn’t you tire of me
It’s not convincing; Anne is a little too far on the flighty end, a fin-de-siecle sorority girl, to ever be a serious figure. She is romantic and attractive, but she lacks gravitas, certainly in comparison with the other women in the play. But one can see how she’s managed to hold off her husband’s advances for months. She’s delightfully coy in “Soon,” which, amusingly enough, never does become now…at least”, not with her husband. Late in Act Two, she and her son-in-law run off with each other. (Fredrik winds up with the beautiful, more age-appropriate and mind-appropriate actress who’s been keeping a torch for him for years. Happy endings!)
“Now/Later/Soon” comes together at the end; all three sing simultaneously, neatly placing their lyrics in between the others like books on a shelf, or on top of them like t-shirts in drawers. The words “endearing,” “peering,” and “hearing” are all sung at the same time, as are “domineering,” “cheering,” and “interfering.” There’s remarkable craftsmanship in the timing and the lyrics, real command of the medium.