21 January 2009

Stephen Sondheim is Kinda a Dick

I mean, he's brilliant and probably justified, but still, home-boy is a player-hater. (Not nearly as bad as Arthur Laurents, who is a terror to work with, and STILL--even after his acclaimed revival of GYPSY won 3 Tonys and unanimous raves--won't shut-up about Sam Mendes. Maybe when I'm old and legendary I'll be an ornary prick. If that happens, I will be more then happy to have this thrown in my face. (I would also be more than happy to be in the same room with either above mentioned cantakerous foagies.)

In any case, here's a brief article about a live interview SJS (the "J" stands for "Joshua", FYI) gave. Wish I was there.

Sondheim Calls Critics ‘Ignoramuses,’ Disses ‘South

By Philip Boroff

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Since Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”
opened at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater
in April, it’s been a favorite of critics and audiences and has won seven Tony Awards, the most of any Broadway musical

On Sunday, Stephen Sondheim tore
it apart.

Interviewed at Avery Fisher Hall by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, the
78-year-old composer-lyricist explained why he’s no fan of the 1949
classic. “I think it’s personal taste,” he said. “I find it, um, obvious.”

“South Pacific” was adapted from the James Michener book “Tales of the
South Pacific.” It’s set on two islands during World War II and tells
intertwining stories of two romances obstructed by prejudice and a secret
mission to gain intelligence about Japanese troop movements.
Hammerstein II, who wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book, was weak with
contemporary language, Sondheim said. And his characters are unrealistic,
particularly a cheery battalion of U.S. Navy Seabees who build aviation
bases. “I don’t believe for two seconds that those are Seabees,” Sondheim
said. “It’s the happiest war I’ve ever seen.”

Rare Dig
Seldom does Sondheim, the most revered living
composer- lyricist in musical theater, publicly criticize a contemporary. But
he’s free with opinions when the artist is dead, even when it’s Hammerstein, a
mentor and father figure. (The musical was key in Sondheim’s life: At the
opening, on April 7, 1949, 19-year-old Sondheim was introduced to 20-year-old Hal Prince, who would
go on to produce and direct on Broadway. The two would collaborate on some of
Sondheim’s biggest successes, including “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “A Little
Night Music.”)

On Sunday, Sondheim singled out the last line of “There is Nothing Like
a Dame” from “South Pacific” for ridicule: “There ain’t a thing that’s wrong
with any man here/That can’t be cured by puttin’ him near/A girly, womanly,
female feminine dame.”
“The whole lyric of ‘There’s Nothing Like a Dame’
drives me crazy,” he said. “It doesn’t sound to me like what the character is
trying to convey. Where he (Hammerstein) is at his best is in the romantic

Sondheim rarely gives extended interviews and Avery Fisher Hall, with
some 2,700 seats, was packed. The audience included fans, producers, critics,
collaborators such as John Weidman and
performers such as Bernadette Peters --
the original Dot in “Sunday in the Park With George.”

‘Reviewed By Ignoramuses’
Other nuggets from the 90
minutes: Sondheim showed his contempt for critics, many of whom were slow to
embrace his shows.

“Musicals are the only public art form reviewed by ignoramuses,” he
said. “There are very few of them, I can guarantee it, who know anything about
music at all.” (“I know what I like,” Rich, a former Times chief drama
critic, said in his defense.)

The composer-lyricist was asked about the public’s increased appetite
for his work the second time around. Last season, the Roundabout Theatre Co.
staged a lauded revival of “Sunday in the Park.” Next season, it’s planning to
revive his 1981 flop “Merrily We Roll Along.”
“Tastes get more sophisticated
as time goes on,” he said. “Sometimes a show grows into its own clothes.”

Sondheim disclosed that a CD of “Road Show,” which wrapped up a run at
the Public Theater last month, is likely. “It looks like we will be
recording it in February,” he said.

As previously reported, he’s compiling a collection of his lyrics for a
book, with essays by him about writing. And he’s “nibbling” with “Road Show”
collaborator Weidman about another piece.
“I should be getting back to the
piano,” he said. “I’ve got to start writing music again.”
“There isn’t
anything in particular. There will be.”

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