I've enjoyed some of Sondheim's work - Passion especially - but you are correct, his music sounds very similar - has it's trademark dissonant sounds amidst some nice melodic motifs. For some, that's considered more "intelligent" or edgy, artistic. Because ALW has more mass-appeal and attempts to write for more commercial purposes, and people claim he's "borrowed" musical phrases from others like Puccini, his work is dismissed I've always found the arguments to be pretty snobbish and insulting. For ALW to find inspiration in different stories, try to come up with music to capture the story/moods/feelings etc even if it is derivative of something else, and make it accessible/enjoyable to theatregoers is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Ask Sondheim - who's Into the Woods is probably the most successful of his ventures which opened the same year Phantom did and has been revived in NY three times while Phantom's original production is entering it's 26th year
I think ALW gets a rough deal. Personally I think it comes down to their approaches to the musical genre: ALW arguably embraces the commercial aspect of composing and producing a new musical, whereas Sondheim is a bit more reserved in the ambitions he has for any new work.
ALW and his POTO are fundamentally the blueprint for most new musicals: everyone seems to be after the next long running musical. Sondheim doesn't. His work doesn't always start off on broadway, or play in large capacity theatres. He doesn't personally hype them up.
So to some this may mean they feel Sondheim and his work has some form of integrity ALW's don't.
Well, I hope to god you guys are wrong because if it's all about spectacle and getting what you pay for then what's the future of the theatre? I don't mean to get all apocalyptic but that is the tail wagging the dog.
Oh I hope I'm wrong too, and hugely anticipated big spectacles can still fail (I'm looking at you, Love Never Dies). But with prices constantly going up (Book of Mormon has pushed the top price to £69.50, before fees) and ever more premium seats being added, shows like A Chorus Line don't stand a chance. Not only are they on the back foot with the lack of names and lack of spectacle people want for the small fortune their night is costing them, but it's also squeezing out the very people it's aimed at.
Lester, you don't seem to get how this or any show works. You want a scene in the rehearsal hall downstairs where the cast are learning the lyrics to the song??? How exciting is that! Does that give you more bang for your buck ( or pound)? And would that be instead of or in addition to the Zack-Cassie scene and Paul's monologue which now occupy that spot onstage? Do you want all of it or just the cast stuff BECAUSE IT'S ANOTHER SET?
Do you really not get that the bare stage with the white line is the essence of the show? Do you really equate ticket prices with the opulence or otherwise of the set? Honestly, it's a very odd and rather disturbing consumerist esthetic you are proposing.