How to Interview Sondheim

Do list all of Sondheim’s shows as classics. Include Passion, even though hardly anyone likes it.

Do say that he has won more Tony awards than anyone else alive. This is wrong, but no-one will check.

Do ask about Oscar Hammerstein, and that musical Sondheim wrote when he was 15, which Hammerstein so courteously tore to shreds.

Do allow Sondheim to say that he learned more about songwriting in that afternoon than most people learn in a lifetime.

Don’t ask precisely what he learned. This will get all technical, and Ethel Merman will not be mentioned.

Do ask about Sondheim’s father, who left, and his mother, who was pretty nasty.

Don’t suggest that his shows feature absent fathers and nasty mothers. This is Freudian bunk, and you can speculate about it in the text either side of the interview.

Do ask about why he is so admired as a lyricist, but audiences are cooler about his tunes. Allow him to say that he likes his own music.

Don’t ask him why he thinks audiences are cooler about his tunes. Don’t bring up chord extensions, and melodies that don’t resolve to the tonic, and how this relates to emotional responses, and the ease of writing schmaltz. You don’t have time for this technical stuff, and you haven’t asked about Bernadette Peters yet.

Do ask about Bernadette Peters. Like, seriously, how old is she anyway?

Do mention Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd. Allow Sondheim to say that film adaptations of stage musicals don’t work, except for Sweeney Todd.

Don’t mention Helena Bonham Carter’s woeful singing.

Do try to draw Sondheim out on living rivals, such as Lloyd Webber. He simply will not be drawn on this, but give it a go anyway.

Do suggest that the main characters in his shows are cryptic versions of him. You know, how Bobby in Company is really gay, and George Seurrat is all cold and distant, and Ben from Follies has tremendous success, but no-one to love – that’s all Sondheim, right? Let him deny it, while mentioning collaboration with playwrights, and writing for specific characters.

Don’t believe a word of it.

Do ask him what he’s working on. He won’t tell you, but ask.

Do refer to him, in future, as Steve.


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