He to be the theater’s most revered and also influential composer-lyricist the the last half of the 20th century and the driving force behind some of Broadway’s many beloved and celebrated shows.

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The critical Word: Stephen Sondheim

In a never-before-seen interview, Stephen Sondheim sat down v The new York times in June 2008 come talk around his life, career and accomplishments.

“One the the an initial things you have to decide on through a musical is, why have to there be songs? You deserve to put song in any story, yet what ns think you have to look for is, why are songs essential to this story? If that unnecessary, then the present generally transforms out to it is in not really good.” Composer and also lyricist Stephen Sondheim to be the most essential figure in American musical theater of the last half-century. “Will the be? Yes, it will.” In shows like “West next Story,” “Gypsy,” “A Funny Thing taken place on the means to the Forum,” “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park v George,” which won the Pulitzer compensation in 1985, he produced songs essential to the stories and adjusted the nature the the Broadway musical. “I favor to change styles. That’s one of the points that appeals to me about stories, is if I’ve never done anything favor it before. It has to be part unknown territory. It’s obtained to make you nervous. If it doesn’t make you nervous, climate you’re walking to write the same thing you wrote before.” we sat down v him in June 2008 to talk around his very own story and his accomplishments. “What is it around the theater that attracted girlfriend so, that made you desire to spend your career, your life working in it?” “It was an extremely simple. That was once I to be 11 years old, ns met Oscar Hammerstein, and also he became a surrogate father, and I simply wanted to carry out what that did. And also he to be a songwriter because that the theater, so I ended up being a songwriter for the theater. If he was a geologist, I would certainly have come to be a geologist. Which is, ns sure, an exaggeration, but not much.” Sondheim wasn’t known for top 40 hits, yet one the his songs, “Send in the Clowns,” from “A tiny Night Music,” increased to the optimal of the charts. “But where space the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns.” He created it specifically for Glynis Johns, among the show’s stars, and it remains without a doubt his most popular and financially effective work. “Wrote it throughout rehearsals, carried it basically overnight. Glynis Johns might not sustain notes, so i thought, I got to compose a tune with brief phrases. And also if lock going come be short phrases, what are better short phrases 보다 questions? so the entirety idea of, ‘Isn’t the rich? space we a pair?’ Question, i m sorry ordinarily would not occur to me, came into my head. And also once I’ve acquired that, once you obtain the idea of questions, then it’s fairly easy to write.” “Isn’t the bliss? don’t you approve?” “Once you get the concept of, ‘Isn’t it rich? Aren’t us schmucks not to it is in together?’ ns mean, you get that tone, the takes a an extremely short duration of time.” “Send in the clowns.” Stephen Sondheim to be born on in march 22, 1930, come upper-middle-class parents on the top West next of Manhattan. His father manufactured dresses, and also his mom designed them. But his childhood wasn’t every privilege. His family members life to be difficult, v a distant and remote mother and also parents who didn’t obtain along. “When ns was 10 year old, my parents divorced. My mother obtained custody that me, and she to buy a location in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, together a type of summer residence. And also I was an only child. And also because she to be a functioning woman and likewise a celebrity hunter, she knew the Hammersteins slightly, and also they had actually a kid my age, a year younger, Jimmy. And also so we came to be friends and also companions. And Oscar obviously realized that I had actually some gift because that songwriting, therefore he urged me throughout my teen years, and also in fact, taught me. And also I brought him a present when i was 15 years old that I thought he would want to produce. It was a show around the institution I go to, George School. And I was very disappointed to find out that he wouldn’t produce it. Yet I wanted to be the very first 15-year-old top top Broadway v a show. Yet he said, if you want to know what’s wrong v the show, I’ll phone call you. And he reviewed it web page by page, beginning from the first sentence. He treated me choose an adult rather of favor a kid. By the moment the afternoon to be over, i really knew more about the nuts and also bolts of creating a musical than most civilization learn in a lifetime.” Hammerstein and his partner Richard Rodgers to be fresh native the success of ‘Oklahoma!’ and also ‘Carousel’ once they rental the teenage Sondheim to work on their next musical, ‘Allegro,’ in 1947. “His hair is fuzzy, his eyes are blue.” inexplicable for the day, it adhered to the life of one everyman from bear to age 35. It to be their very first failure, yet it would affect Sondheim tremendously. “It to be experimental, and so that occurs in me the totality notion that doing speculative stuff, which i’ve done, one method or another, many of the mirrors I’ve done.” Hammerstein laid the end a course of education and learning for his teenage protégé, arguing he write 4 musicals, every in a various style. “The first one being an adaptation that a play that I assumed was good. The 2nd being one adaptation the a play that ns liked yet was flawed, that possibly I could feel I could improve. The third, something the was a non-theatrical story, yet adapt it and also make it theatrical. And also then the 4th was to write an original. And also that’s specifically what ns did over a duration of years.” In the mid-1950s, once Sondheim was in his at an early stage 20s, he created his first professional show, ‘Saturday Night.’ “The moon’s favor a million-watt electric light. The shines top top the city —” It to be headed to Broadway when its lead producer all of sudden died, forcing the show to close out of town. The ambitious young composer to be still there is no a credit, however then came an possibility to occupational on Broadway, albeit as a lyricist only and also not together a composer as well. The all started when that bumped into renowned playwright and librettist Arthur Laurents in ~ a party. “And we fell to talking, and I said, ‘What space you doing?’ he said, ‘I’m about to start on a musical version of “Romeo and Juliet.”’ and I said, ‘And who’s doing the score?’ the said, ‘Leonard Bernstein.’ i said, ‘Who’s law the lyrics?’ and he said, ‘Oh, mine god. Well, I never thought that you.’ and he precise smote his forehead. And he said, in his common Arthur Laurents fashion, he said, ‘I didn’t much like your music, but I believed your lyrics were sort of good.’ ns said, ‘All right.’ he said, ‘Would you favor to come and also play for Lenny?’ Now, I had no on purpose of simply writing lyrics. I want to create music. However I thought, opportunity to play for Leonard Bernstein? Why not? so the following morning, ns played because that Lenny. And also Lenny said, ‘I will recognize within a week, and also I’ll let you know.’ and also I said, ‘Thank friend so much, Mr. Bernstein.’ certain enough, a mainly later, the phone rang, and also he said, ‘Would you like to perform it?’ and I said, ‘Let me contact you back.’ because I didn’t desire to do simply lyrics. And also I called Oscar, who’s my adviser on everything. And also I said, ‘You know, ns don’t desire to perform this.’ however Oscar said, ‘Look, you have a possibility to occupational with very gifted experts on a show that sounds interesting, and also you could always write your own music eventually.’ that said, ‘My advice would be to take it the job.’ that’s why ns took it. And also I learned a good deal.” “Maria. I simply met a girl named Maria.” Sondheim didn’t always agree v Bernstein on how the lyrics should be written. “I knew that there were great dangers of pretension with this whole show, and the only method to compose the text was come underwrite them and make them very simple.” “You’ve said over the years the you’re not really happy v the lyrics you wrote, also though they’re for this reason popular. Friend are?” “No, no, no, they’re really self-conscious. Lenny wanted everything, the lyrics to be really poetic. However his idea of poetry and also my idea of city are simply not the same. I mean, friend know, i was 25 year old, and he was a big, big force, and Lenny preserved pushing me to be very fruity. ‘Today, the people was simply an address.’ it is a perfectly fine line on paper, however the boy from the roads is singing that?” “Today, the people was simply an address, a location for me come live in.” “And I’ve frequently quoted, girlfriend know, ‘I feeling Pretty’: ‘It’s alarming just how charming ns feel,’ states this girl from the streets, and also she sounds choose Noel Coward.” “It’s alarming exactly how charming i feel.” “I execute like ‘Something’s Coming.’ it is my idea of a poetic lyric, in the sense that it provides imagery.” “Something’s coming. I don’t know what it is, yet it is walking to be great.” “And I prefer the ‘Jet Song,’ too.” “When she a Jet, you’re a Jet every the way, from your first cigarette to your last dice day.” “But girlfriend know, songs favor ‘Somewhere,’ i mean, that’s deeply embarrassing. So —” “West next Story” got mixed reviews when it opened in 1957, and also didn’t win the Tony award as finest Musical, but it was revolutionary in its mix of music and also dance, and in the searing plot. Sondheim had made his very first mark. He still longed to compose both music and also lyrics top top Broadway, and it looked as if he was going to obtain the possibility with a new musical based on the early on life that the stripper Gypsy rose Lee. “You’ll it is in great! walk to have the whole human being on a plate!” however the show’s star objected. “Ethel Merman was already signed to play Rose, the mother, so that was every set. And also then Ethel Merman stated she would certainly not have me as a composer, because she had just excellent a display called ‘Happy Hunting,’ through two young writers, and it to be a flop. And she didn’t desire to take it a possibility on an unknown composer. And she’s perfectly happy to have me do the lyrics. Therefore I stated no, and Arthur do the efforts to sway me, and I said, ‘No, i really want to create music, this is nonsense.’ Again, Oscar stepped into the breach, and he said, ‘Do it.’ that said, ‘There are two advantages. An initial of all,’ that said, ‘you have the experience of composing for a star, which is different than simply writing a show. Ns mean, you’re tailoring material not only for the character, because that the character as played by that specific actor or actress.’ it is one thing. The said, ‘Secondly, it’s 6 months the end of her life. Execute it.’ and that’s exactly what happened. We composed that show in around four months. Us wrote really quickly. That’s most likely the quickest I’ve ever heard that a major Broadway musical being written. But it wrote, as Barbra Streisand would certainly say, choose butter.” “Honey, everything’s coming up roses and daffodils!” “It’s considered one that the best, if not the best, Broadway musicals of every time.” “Yeah, absolutely, it is. Ns think it’s probably it’s the culmination of the era, that told musicals in chronological order, in a direct style. I’d definitely say it was the best.” In 1970, Sondheim teamed up v director Harold Prince to write his breakthrough musical, ‘Company.’ just as ‘Gypsy’ had actually been the culmination that the era the the rigid musical, ‘Company’ broke brand-new ground. It fractured the narrative, told the story in a nonlinear manner, and opened the method for comparable musicals, favor ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘Chicago.’ Sondheim and Prince followed company with more breakthroughs: ‘Follies,’ ‘A small Night Music,’ ‘Pacific Overtures.’ They to be revolutionary, however mostly, they weren’t financial hits. “It take away an audience a while to acquire used to new ways of storytelling. There are impressive plays that break through the tradition, favor ‘Death the a Salesman,’ and are access time at the same time. However usually, if you bring a new method of storytelling come the stage — ‘Oklahoma!’ is the perfect example of taking a chance and is a gigantic hit, yet that is not the normal case.” “These are more than likely the worst pies in London!” ‘Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber the Fleet Street’ is thought about by numerous to be Sondheim’s best and most an effective work. A gruesome story of death and revenge, it reflects the composer in ~ the optimal of his talent. “Is that simply disgusting —” “It was full of blood and also gore and also controversy. And also though it, too, didn’t do money in its initial run, that has regularly been revived, has been carry out by opera companies, and also in 2007 was turned into a movie certification Johnny Depp.” “I will have actually vengeance!” “You want to talk about dark?” “Well, it’s not so dark. The really sort of funny, the show, girlfriend know? i mean, nobody takes it seriously. It’s not dark the method — it’s a melodrama. I don’t think melodramas room dark. Anyway, yet I obtain it. The point is, yes, there’s a many blood.” “And there’s a many comic relief, there’s no doubt around it.” “It’s not about comic relief. That the truth the perspective is not a genuine attitude. They’re all cartoon figures. Ns mean, it’s an operetta. These room not actual people, and also they’re not supposed to be. They’re claimed to it is in big, bigger than life.” “But isn’t there a real sense in it around injustice and evil?” “If there is because that you, climate there is for you. I understand Hal constantly thinks, always thought that was about the industrial Revolution. I thought it was around scaring people.” “You all understand Steve is a good dramatist and also our biggest living composer and lyricist.” In 2010, Sondheim obtained an ultimate phase accolade. “I cry easy.” A Broadway theater was renamed in his honor. “This is so much much more moving, to christen a theatre the Stephen Sondheim as opposed to the brother Petroleum Playhouse or —” “What carry out you think — if girlfriend think about this, what would certainly you prefer your heritage to be?” “Oh, goodness. Oh, I just would prefer the shows to keep getting done. Even if it is on Broadway, or in regional theaters, or institutions or communities, i would just like the ingredient to it is in done.

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Simply done and done and done and done and done. Friend know, that would certainly be the fun.”