Send in the stars: Sondheim's popular hit

8 May 2019

What do Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Krusty the Clown have in common? They have all performed popular versions of Stephen Sondheim’s lament ‘Send in the Clowns’.

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A rueful middle-aged woman sits on the edge of her bed having just learnt that the man she covets does not return her affections. “Isn’t it rich?” she sings, “Are we a pair?” 

This phrase begins the iconic ‘Send in the Clowns’, performed by Desirée Armfeldt in Act 2 of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Reflecting on her mistimed or perhaps misjudged advance to her former love, married lawyer Fredrik Egerman, she embraces the painful folly of the situation and muses at her foolishness. 

‘Send in the Clowns’ was a late addition to A Little Night Music. The song was famously written in two days during rehearsals for the original production, specifically composed for the vocal capabilities of Glynis Johns, who created the role of Desirée. Sondheim noted: “Glynis had a lovely, crystal voice, but sustaining notes was not her thing. I wanted to write short phrases, so I wrote a song full of questions."

The ode to unrequited love quickly became the composer’s first popular hit, with covers by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, and Bing Crosby. Folk singer Judy Collins’ cover version won Song of the Year at the 1976 Grammy Awards, and Sondheim even wrote additional lyrics to the song for Barbra Streisand’s 1985 recording for The Broadway Album.

The role of Desirée has starred a rich line-up of the world’s best singing actresses and was performed by much-loved songbird Ali McGregor in Victorian Opera’s production.

Enjoy watching these notable interpretations.

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Which is your favourite version of ‘Send in the Clowns’? Comment to let us know. 

Victorian Opera performed A Little Night Music as part of Season 2019.