Stephen Sondheim Speaks!

Friday March 29th was a special day for the National Theatre, and for the 1100-plus audience who had managed to get tickets for a Conversation with Stephen Sondheim.

Dominic Cooke (director of the National’s current Sondheim hit FOLLIES) chatted onstage with the musical theatre legend (looking well and sprightly for his 89 years) for 40 minutes about his career, collaborations and the mechanics of show construction. It made for a fascinating mini-masterclass.

A few choice quotes for you:

“British audiences appreciate language…..language is a passion of mine.”

On the value of music – “The characters should be different at the end of the song than at the beginning,…. music can speed up those points of change. What might take a whole scene can be done in four quatrains……that’s because of the magic of music.”

“It’s remarkable to me that so many playwrights want to write musicals.”

On collaboration – “You are feeding each other and feeding off of each other at the same time. That’s what makes a good collaboration. Its like a good marriage. You supply something and you receive something that you wouldn’t receive doing it alone.”

On “fixing” a show – “You fix the first scene first, then you look at the rest of the show, then you fix the second scene, then you look at the rest of the show, and so on. Every time you fix something, it will affect everything else, maybe for the better, it may show up what’s wrong (elsewhere).”

On Follies – “I wrote the whole (individual) Follies sequence while we were in rehearsal. I didn’t know how we were going to get out of it”…….. ““I’m Still Here” was written on the road for Yvonne de Carlo”……. “Originally “Losing My Mind” was for both women”…… “Alexis Smith said to me “I wish I had a number where I could show off my legs.””

“Most of the shows I’ve written deal with the theme of friendship”

“(A lot of) actors enjoy signing my songs because they’re acting songs, they’re not just presenting a song.”

At the end, as the standing-room house roared its approval, everyone knew that the last 40 minutes had been very well-spent.

Thanks to everyone at the NT for a rare opportunity to hear from this musical theatre giant in person.


For those wanting more, the Stephen Sondheim Society is a great source of Sondheim-related events in the UK. Take a look at their website here

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