It can’t help but be.

It’s personal.

If you are a musical theater lover, you no doubt have your stories of your encounters with Stephen Sondheim’s work.

Here are some of mine, in no order.

–One of the first musicals I ever saw was a high school production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” I didn’t realize until much later that the director didn’t think “Dirty Old Man” was an appropriate song for high schoolers so replaced it with “Send in the Clowns.” For real. Productions I’d see later included ones headed by the delightful Claire Wilcher and the distracting Mickey Rooney.

–On a school field trip to NYC, I saw the original company of “Sweeney Todd.” I remember nearly hanging off the mezzanine during “Epiphany.” I was hooked. Later, I made sure to go on another school field trip to Philly to see the “Sweeney Todd” tour. I don’t know how Wildwood High School educators managed to swing two Sweeney field trips, but I am eternally grateful that they did. I’ve seen subsequent productions on tour and via the Arden Theatre Company and Actors Theatre of Indiana, including their performance with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra. Plus a stack of video versions.

–I saw the original cast of ‘Into the Woods” on Broadway and, knowing my wife, Cindy, would love it, went back again with her on our next trip to NYC. I later took my daughter, Emily, to see “Into the Woods” at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philly when she was about six years old. About 20 years later, she asked if we could see the Hypocrites production of it in Chicago, where she was living. Just being asked to do that with her made me feel like a good dad. I’ve seen other productions of “Into the Woods” at Purdue University and Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre. Plus the wonderful Regent’s Park production on video.

The Hypocrites production of “Into the Woods”

–Cindy and I caught one of the last preview of “Passion” on Broadway before it opened (Yes, there were walkouts but not by us). I later saw an intimate production by Theo Obique in Chicago.

–“Assassins.” Holy shit. “Assassins.” Saw a good production from the Philadelphia Area Repertory Company and two others in Central Indiana from Lowbrow Productions and Buck Creek Players.

— I’m still kicking myself for not seeing “Sunday in the Park with George” on Broadway, but I did see it on video and at the Arden Theatre Company. Later, once I was able to appreciate that the show wasn’t just about art, I was thrilled to host a bus trip to visit the Seurat painting at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and then see the wonderful production at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

–On another Chicago trip, I saw “Bounce” and attended an after party that included Sondheim himself. I kept my distance, figuring I’d let him enjoy the evening without hearing yet another appreciator blubber how much his work has meant to them.

–My experience with “A Little Night Music” is limited to a video I saw way back when of the New York City Opera production, plus live productions from the Arden Theatre Company and Indiana Repertory Theatre.

–When I was honored with a Creative Renewal Grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, part of my renewal was picking up a single ticket to see “Follies” in Washington, D.C., with Bernadette Peters, Danny Burstein, Elaine Page, Linda Lavin et. al. I knew I’d never get a chance to see a company like that again.

–Speaking of “Company,” I’ve seen a few of them, including the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis and Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL.

–My only encounters with “Merrily We Roll Along, “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Pacific Overtures” have been via video. I don’t expect to ever see “Frogs” or “Do I Hear a Waltz?”

–And there were all those “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” productions and videos. The fact that, in Wildwood High School’s production of the former, I was not only a shark but also the offstage voices of both Maria’s father AND mother should keep me from every being able to run for public office.

Okay, so maybe at that “Bounce” party, maybe I should have just thanked him.