Maybe They’re Magic
Stephen Sondheim, in my opinion, is one of the most gifted lyricist and songwriters of all time. He uses many witty comparisons, beautiful allusions, and variations of tempo to give each song a uniqueness and identity of its own. This identity is also created for each individual character through the songs, and tactfully conveys their inner feelings. The song Maybe They’re Magic is one small example of these classic Sondheim characteristics. Sung by the baker and his wife, the song is about their struggle to achieve what they want: to have a child. Discretely, though, each character’s sense of self, and inner thoughts are communicated by the movement of the song; the way the characters bicker exhibits the gravity of the matter, and the audience can actually hear the thoughts in their minds. This matter of not being able to bear children is not a simply answered problem, and although this problem is very specific, the language used is very open-ended. This makes it easier for the audience to relate this story to obstacles in their own lives, and keeps them interested.
Throughout the song the wife’s dialogue is stressing that one must do whatever is needed to survive, and whatever it takes to get what one wants. She quotes, “Everyone tells tiny lies, what’s important, really, is the size.” This song shows the realistic attitude, and stubbornness of the wife’s character. She is also a character that is very persistent; her husband is pleading with her to go home, and trying to take her mind off the matter at hand, and she continues with her words. Finally, the baker’s wife wins at her strategy to get her husband to cheat just a little bit to reach their goal, and so they’re off to tackle the obstacle.
A lot is also revealed about the baker in the song Maybe They’re Magic; he does not say much during the song, but his few words show how he is struggling inside with the beliefs that his wife’s opinion is wrong, and that he doesn’t want to consider her opinion. This draws him out to demonstrate the era, as well, because he thinks that the woman’s place is in the home, struggles with listening to his wife’s opinion, and holds the position that he can do everything himself.
The end of the song is quite funny, because it’s final words are “If the end is right, it justifies the beans!” If taken at face value, this means that the action prior (tricking a boy into trading a cow away for some “magic” beans) will be justified. But it is also possible to read further into this comment and think “none of this is really going to be important later”, or “That our lives aren’t really important in the grand scheme of the world.” thus another reason why Sondheim is a wonderfully creative writer.