Stephen Sondheim, Titan of the American Musical, Is Lifeless at 91

An afternoon-long tutorial adopted, training him, by Mr. Sondheim’s account, more about the craft than most songwriters master in a life time. Hammerstein laid out a path of writing workout routines for him: Adapt a good perform into a musical adapt a flawed perform into a musical adapt a tale from one more medium into a musical and, last but not least, produce a musical from your personal authentic tale. This the youthful Mr. Sondheim did, a project that carried him through his graduation from Williams College in Massachusetts, in which he complemented his theater do the job with serious composition analyze under Robert Barrow, an intellectually rigorous professional in harmony, from whom Mr. Sondheim gleaned the lesson, as he set it, “that artwork is do the job and not inspiration, that invention arrives with craft.” Mr. Sondheim would afterwards research independently with Milton Babbitt, the avant-garde composer.

Mr. Sondheim’s initially specialist clearly show business position was not in the theater at all through the company representing Hammerstein, he was employed to create for a 1950s television comedy, “Topper,” about a fussbudget banker haunted by a pair of urbane ghosts. (Much later on, Mr. Sondheim wrote a whodunit film script, “The Past of Sheila,” with the actor Anthony Perkins it was generated in 1973 and directed by Herbert Ross.) By the ’50s he experienced turn into a connoisseur of word video games and puzzles, and an inventor of elaborate games. From 1968 to 1969, he designed cryptic crosswords for New York journal.

His affinity for theatrical misdirection and mystery was acknowledged by his close friend, the playwright Anthony Shaffer, who dependent the cunningly vengeful cuckold in his play “Sleuth” partly on Mr. Sondheim. (The participate in was when tentatively titled “Who’s Frightened of Stephen Sondheim?”)

Mr. Sondheim was in his early 20s when he wrote his first professional present, a musical named “Saturday Evening,” which was an adaptation of “Front Porch in Flatbush,” a participate in by Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein. He acquired the career, to generate both words and phrases and songs, following the composer Frank Loesser turned it down. The clearly show was scheduled to be offered in 1955, but the producer, Lemuel Ayers, died just before he experienced concluded elevating the income for it, and the production came to a halt. The exhibit was not presented right until 1997, by a modest company in London it subsequently appeared in Chicago and lastly experienced its New York premiere in 2000, Off Broadway at the Next Phase Theater.

Mr. Sondheim was loath to just take either of his very first Broadway gigs, “West Aspect Story” and “Gypsy,” simply because he felt he was a composer, not only a lyricist — “I appreciate writing tunes considerably more than lyrics,” he confessed in “Finishing the Hat.” But he agreed to both of those on the advice of Hammerstein, who instructed him that he would benefit from working with the likes of Bernstein Laurents, (who wrote the guide) and the director Jerome Robbins, in the initially occasion, and from producing for a star like Ethel Merman in the 2nd, even nevertheless it was she who had preferred a far more experienced Broadway hand, Jule Styne, as the composer.

About the author: Robert Anthony

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