Sondheim on Sondheim is the Roundabout Theatre’s new musical revue that aims to give the audience “an intimate portrait of the famed composer in his own words… and music”, using exclusive interview footage to gain an inside look at Sondheim’s personal life and artistic process. Here are the first official production photographs, taken by Richard Termine.



Conceived and directed by James Lapine, the production features Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Euan Morton, Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott.

As followers of this blog might know, I haven’t been a punter of this show, despite being a fan of Sondheim’s work. I’m still not enamored by the idea of it all. Roundabout’s marketing of the show, first as an original musical – it’s not, it’s a revue and as such doesn’t deserve a nod in the “Best Musical” category or in any of the acting categories, for that matter – and now as an evening that is unique in its intent when it’s basically an updated Side by Side by Sondheim from a slightly different perspective with a bigger technical budget, hasn’t help to win me over either. The most intriguing part of the whole thing is the video material featuring the Sondheim interviews. I wouldn’t mind seeing those interviews ported onto DVD, but let’s lose the revue performances and replace them with archival performances from the actual shows or, when that kind of material isn’t available, with filmed reproductions of the songs as they were originally seen in their original productions. As they were meant to be seen.

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3 Responses to SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM Photographs

  1. Enrique Sanchez says:

    I’m not a fan of the video gimmick but it just might work in this revue. Sondheim is deserving of such a production but I agree it’s odd the way they’re marketing this and the new arrangements thing… well, you know how I feel about that. I hope Sondheim himself takes part in composing them, at least.

    Love your blog, btw.

    • Aleksander says:

      I have always understood Sondheim to only compose the melodies, making him a songwriter more than a composer. I have also heard that he only plays the piano and leaves arrangements completely to the orchestrators, and therefore he often creates dissonance melodies, because he is “unlearned”.

      I have no oficial source for this information, but it is the word on the web.

  2. Dave says:

    You’ve understood incorrectly.

    It’s possible that by some classical-music definitions, SJS would be labelled a “songwriter” rather than a “composer”. ALW reportedly micromanages every detail of his shows’ orchestrations, though I believe he’s more the exception than the rule. Sondheim, by contrast, may grant his trusted orchestrators (Tunick, Starobin etc.) some latitude as to instrumentation.

    But to suggest that he “only compose[s] the melodies” while “leav[ing] arrangements completely to the orchestrator” is flatly incorrect. His own words on the subject, from the Zadan book:

    “I’ve never used lead sheets [vocal lines only, with chord indications] and neither has any self-respecting composer with any training. Give me a melodic line and I’ll harmonize it one way, you may harmonize it another way … If you leave it up to the orchestrator to fill in the textural details in the orchestra, it becomes essentially the arranger’s score. … For my money, that’s the composer’s job, otherwise he’s not composing. A lot of people aren’t trained to do that and need arrangers, but not any of the composers whose work I respect.”

    And the idea that Sondheim’s angular melodies and unpredictable rhythms somehow result from “unlearned” naiveté is sheer nonsense. (While demonstrably untrue, it does suggests a rather severe musical ignorance on the part of whoever came up with this notion — starting with the preposterous supposition that dissonance is some kind of musical “mistake” attributable to insufficient schooling).

    For the record, SJS’s degree from Williams is in music; he graduated magna cum laude with a grant — the Hutchinson Prize for Music Composition — which he used to study for two years with the prolific avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt in New York in the early 1950s. (And there needn’t be any mystery about “official sources” or web rumors — none of the above info could be called a closely-guarded secret).

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