Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stephen Sondheim: Finishing the Hat

Last night, I attended a talk by legendary musical theater lyricist and songwriter, Stephen Sondheim. It was fascinating to hear stories about how he started writing for musicals (and TV and film) and his encounters with Oscar Hammerstein, John Ford, and Leonard Bernstein (or, as Sondheim called him, "Lenny").

Sondheim has a new book out called Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes that tells the stories behind writing lyrics for great musicals like West Side Story, Gypsy, and A Little Night Music.

Last night, I loved the story he told about bringing the first musical he ever wrote to Oscar Hammerstein. Sondheim was 15 at the time, and the play was all about little events at his high school (it included songs like "I'll Meet You at the Donut"). He told us he could hardly sleep the night he handed off the play. He was convinced that Hammerstein was going to be so excited to produce it that they'd get started right away and of course it was going to be a Broadway sensation: Fifteen Year Old Writes Hit Play! Here's the rest of the story as told to Adam Guetell:

Stephen Sondheim: Legacy Project Interview
(You can also watch a longer PBS interview with Sondheim on News Hour.)

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