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Ch. 33: Sondheim in the 1960's

Flash in the Pan?

Brandon Pecina

on 31 October 2012

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Transcript of Ch. 33: Sondheim in the 1960's

Chapter 33
Sondheim in the 1960's: Flash in the Pan? Stephen Sondheim The One Time Lyricist
West Side Story
"...finest new composer (1960's)
"A Sondheim show is rarely comfortable or comforting" ~Gerald Bordman Sondheim & Hammerstein Good Fortune, Early On
Moved near Hammerstein's country home (1942)
Hammerstein was accessible and "fatherly" even after his great success called "Oklahoma!"
Early Struggles
Hammerstein read a musical by Sondheim in 146
Sondheim was still a teenager
"...read it as if it was a musical that just crossed your desk as a producer?" ~Sondheim (to Hammerstein)
"It's the worst thing I've ever read in my life." ~Hammerstein (in response)
Good Advice
Hammerstein suggested that Sondheim write 4 musicals entirely himself Sondheim's Four Lessons All That Glitters
Based on "Beggar on Horseback"
Hammerstein missed the performance
BMI published five of the songs
Sondheim became a published composer while still a teenager
High Tor
Was unperformed because Sondheim couldn't get permission from the playwright.
Mary Poppins
Sondheim was never able to complete the libretto "to his satisfaction"
Climb High
An original work
Its first act was 99 pages long After Williams College Won the Williams's Hutchinson Prize
$3,000 stipend
Chose to study under Princeton professor Milton Babbitt
A leader in non-tonal music
Working on a musical, himself
Shared Sondheim's fascination with mathematical relationships
Later wrote, "Who Cares If You Listen?"
Sondheim studied with Babbitt for two years Sondheim worked as an apprentice at the Westport Playhouse
He collaborated with Mary Rodgers on some projects
Topper Introduction to Professional Work Chance Meeting Lemuel Ayers
Held the rights to Saturday Night
Died before he could bring it to the stage.
Saturday Night wasn't produced until 1997 West Side Story Arthur Laurents
Sondheim and Laurents met at a party
Laurents was about to begin work on West Side Story
"I never thought of you, and I liked your lyrics very much...I didn't like your music very much." ~Arthur Laurents
Leonard Bernstein
Wanted to write the lyrics himself
Offered Sondheim the position of co-lyricist
Mixed Feelings
Sondheim did not want to be a lyricist
"...a very limited art..."
With Hammerstein's encouragement, Sondheim accepted the job
His Contribution
Bernstein and Sondheim clashed on lyrical styles
Sondheim contributed most of the lyrics
Bernstein offered him full credit as lyricist Gypsy Sondheim was asked to write the words and music
Ethel Merman would only authorize him as lyricist
Sondheim almost resigned
Hammerstein encouraged him to stay on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Drama in the Theatre
Tensions grew between producer, David Merrick and Robbins to the point that Robbins pulled out of Forum.
Merrick sold the rights to Hal Prince
Prince turned to Abbott to direct
Jack Cole hired as coreographer
Further Complications
12 "complete" rewrites
Hammerstein died (1960) before Forum's debut Plot Summary More on Forum
An original work
Drew from Plautus's comedies
Spoofed modern styles
One-set Musical
Most songs are integrated
Illustrated Sondheim's belief that songs should "develop a character or contribute to the drama." A Rocky Start Matinee in Washington
50 people attended Call the Doctor "I dunno. Maybe you had better call in George Abbott." ~George Abbott

Robbins Returns
Was able to identify the flaw
Claimed the problem was the opening number
Sondheim wrote Comedy Tonight to replace it Hard Fought Success Forum ran 967 performances after 1962
It won multiple Tonys
Including Best Musical Anyone Can Whistle Ran for 9 performances
Investors lost $350,000
Did have a hit recording Do I Hear a Waltz? A strained collaboration with Rodgers
The shortest run for Rodgers in 20 years
The score was nominated for a Tony House on the right: Erronius, who is away

House in the center: Senex & Domina who leave their son, Hero with the Pseudolus under the care of Hysterium

House on the left: Lycus, who sells female slaves, one of whom is Philia who is promised to Miles Gloriosus Key Terms Hal Prince
George Abbott Burt Shevelove
Larry Gelbart
Full transcript