Send in the Clowns
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Send in the Clowns" is a song by Stephen Sondheim from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night. It is a ballad from Act II in which the character Desirée reflects on the ironies and disappointments of her life. Among other things, she looks back on an affair years earlier with the lawyer Fredrik. Meeting him after so long, she finds that he is now in an unconsummated marriage with a much younger woman. Desirée proposes marriage to rescue him from this situation, but he declines, citing his dedication to his bride. Reacting to his rejection, Desirée sings this song. The song is later reprised as a coda after Fredrik's young wife runs away with his son, and Fredrik is finally free to accept Desirée's offer.
Sondheim wrote the song specifically for the actress Glynis Johns, who created the role of Desirée on Broadway. The song is structured with four verses and a bridge, and uses a complex compound meter. It became Sondheim's most popular song after Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1973 and Judy Collins's version charted in 1975 and 1977. Subsequently, Sarah Vaughan, Judi Dench, Grace Jones, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Zarah Leander, Tiger Lillies, Ray Conniff, Glenn Close, Cher and many other famous artists have recorded the song, and it became a jazz standard.
The song occurs on over 900 records by hundreds of performers in a wide variety of arrangements. Among these are:
- 1973: Frank Sinatra recorded it on his album Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back
- 1975: Shirley Bassey recorded Arthur Greenslade's arrangement of the song on the album Good, Bad, but Beautiful.
- 1975: Judy Collins recorded the song on her album Judith (arrangement by Jonathan Tunick)
- 1975: Bing Crosby, at the age of 71, recorded it for his album That's What Life Is All About.
- 1975: Zarah Leander, who played Madame Armfeldt (Desirée's mother) in the German production of A Little Night Music recorded a German version titled "Wo sind die Clowns?".
- 1975: Frida (Anni-Frid Lyngstad) of ABBA recorded a Swedish-language version called "Var är min clown?" (with Swedish lyrics by Mats Paulson) on her solo album "Frida ensam".
- 1976: Lani Hall (wife of Herb Alpert) on her album Sweet Bird
- 1976: Stan Kenton on his album Kenton '76
- 1976: Jazz guitarist Pat Martino recorded an instrumental version of the song for We'll be Together Again
- 1977: Jazz vocalist Lorez Alexandria recorded an uptempo version for her album From Broadway To Hollywood which subsequently became popular on the UK jazz dance and soul scenes, eventually being rereleased as a 7 inch single on Jazzman Records in 2000.
- 1977: Guitarist and educator Ted Greene arranged the song for his Solo Guitar.
- 1977: Grace Jones recorded a disco version of the song for her debut album, Portfolio.
- 1977: Spanish singer Raphael recorded the song in Castilian on the album El Cantor ("The Singer")
- 1977: Elizabeth Taylor, although hitherto not a singer, recorded the song for the film adaptation of A Little Night Music, in which she played Desirée.
- 1977: Mel Tormé recorded an uptempo version for his album The London Sessions, arranged by Christopher Gunning. Taken at a sprightly pace, with a bright, slowly building big band arrangement and a joyous saxophone solo by Phil Woods, it would seem at cross purposes with the material, but Tormé gives a suitably wry reading which highlights the absurdity happening around him.
- 1978: The pop group Brotherhood of Man recorded a largely a cappella version for their album Twenty Greatest.
- 1978: Frankie Laine recorded the song for his British album Life is Beautiful. It was issued on a single in England.
- 1981: Jazz vocalist Carmen McRae recorded this song on her album "Live at Bubba's".
- 1983: Angela Lansbury sings the song live on the CD A Stephen Sondheim Evening, with Sondheim accompanying her on the piano.
- 1983: Elaine Paige recorded a version for her album Stages.
- 1985: Barbra Streisand recorded Jeremy Lubbock's arrangement on The Broadway Album.<ref>Template:Allmusic</ref>
- 1989: Roger Whittaker performed the song live at the Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark on March 27. This live performance was later released as an album Live and is also available on video.
- 1991: A version was recorded by Bryan Ferry during sessions for his abandoned album Horoscope, but has not been legitimately released. Some bootleg editions of the album contain the song as the final vocal track.
- 1992: Glenn Close performed the song live at Carnegie Hall in the concert Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. Her performance was seen on the subsequent televised version of this concert, and can be seen on the CD and DVD releases.
- 1993: Krusty the Clown of The Simpsons covered the song on the soundtrack Songs in the Key of Springfield
- 1994: Renato Russo, a Brazilian singer, recorded it on his solo album called The Stonewall Celebration Concert
- 1995: Roger Whittaker recorded the song for his album On Broadway
- 1995: Howard Keel recorded the song and it is available on the album The Best of Howard Keel.
- 1998: Judi Dench performed the song during "Hey! Mr. Producer", an evening celebrating British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh.
- 1998: This song was covered by Jazz pianist Eric Reed for his album Pure Imagination.
- 1998: Tom Jones recorded the song several times between 1998 and 2005.
- 1998: Megadeth recorded the song live at the Hammersmith Odeon.
- 2000: The song was covered by the Tiger Lillies on their album Circus Songs.
- 2002: Mandy Patinkin performs the song on his album Mandy Patinkin Sings Sondheim.
- 2003: Jean Shy performs a unique version of the song with the JBBO on their album The Other Side Of Blue.
- 2004: Olivia Newton-John's version appears on the album Women of Song
- 2005: Bobo Stenson & Anders Jormin & Paul Motian Jazz Trio version appears on album Goodbye
- 2006: Opera Babes performed a classical version of the song on their album Renaissance.
- 2007: Peter Criss on his album One for All
- 2008: Mark Kozelek recorded this song and released it on his album The Finally LP
- 2008: Patricia Kaas recorded this song in German ("Wo sind die Clowns?") and French ("Faites entrer les clowns") and released it on her album Kabaret. French lyrics by Stephane Laporte.
- 2009: All Angels recorded a four-part version of the song for their third album.
- 2009: Catherine Zeta-Jones performed the song in the role of Desirée in the 2009/2010 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music directed by Trevor Nunn
- 2010: Judi Dench Sang the song on BBC Proms for Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations.
- 2011: Mathilde Santing recorded this song version for her live album Luck be a lady.
- 2011 Sandi Patty recorded this song on her album, Broadway Stories
On September 7, 2010, the song was the subject-matter of the BBC Radio Four series, "Soul Music".
Other versions and parodies
- Van Morrison frequently performed the song in his live set. A live version from Ronny Scott's in London with Chet Baker was released on the album Nightbird.
- Stars of the Lid recorded a version called "Don't Bother They're Here" for their 2007 album And Their Refinement of the Decline.
- The Santa Clara Vanguard uses an instrumental version as its official corps song, which is played at the anniversary dinner, as well as in encore performances.
- The song was performed as a snippet during the song "The Electric Co." on the U2 release, Under A Blood Red Sky. However, the band did not have the appropriate licensing and did not pay the required royalties and were fined $50,000 (US) and had to make sure any further pressings of the release had an edited version of the song.<ref>http://u2faqs.com/history/a.html#5</ref>
- In the twenty-second and final episode of The Simpsons' fourth season, entitled Krusty Gets Cancelled, Krusty the Clown sings the altered lyrics: "Send in those soulful and doleful, schmaltz-by-the-bowlful clowns" in a musical number of his comeback special.
- The song figures prominently in a plotline on the daytime soap opera Ryan's Hope in October 1988 when villain Max Dubujax plants a bomb in a music box that plays the tune. Before he dies from a gunshot wound, he tells his ex-wife Siobhan Ryan, the intended victim, about "losing my timing so late in my career". The bomb detonates in November 1988, killing Siobhan's husband Joe Novak. Tichina Arnold sings a version of the song that is used throughout the storyline.
- On July 30, 2009, a Broadway-style dance version of "Send in the Clowns", choreographed by Tyce Diorio, was shown to open So You Think You Can Dance (Season 5 Episode 21) Top 6 Results.
- 'Over the Rainbow' contestant Jenny Douglas performed her version of 'Send in the Clowns' during the 2010 talent contest to find a leading lady for the Wizard of Oz, in musical theatre week.
- Voice actress Brina Palencia performed a version of "Send in the Clowns" at the convention Anime Central in May 2010.
- 'Send in the Clowns' is an important piece to the character of Switters in the Tom Robbins novel Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.
- Comedian Will Ferrell performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on 2 August 2010
- German Moreno (Kuya Germs) had used this as his main birthday song since his movie Payaso (1986) up to present.
- The song is performed on an episode of the US sitcom Newhart, leading the dim-witted character of George Utley (Tom Poston) to say, "I never realized what that song was really about! It's about clowns, and when to send them in."
- In December 2010, Stephen Colbert wrote and performed an "extended ending" to 'Send in the Clowns' to composer Stephen Sondheim when he appeared on Colbert's program, The Colbert Report.
- In 2011, Paul Harper adapted the lyrics as a parody of bad English usage for Glam Jam, A West End Show, entitled "Send in the Nouns"
- In 1997 at the opening of the Sydney parliament the NSW Police Band performed a Hollywood theme medley with a solo oboe rendition of 'Send in the Clowns.'
- Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine reference the song on 'Billy's Smart Circus' from their 30 Something album, released in 1991.