ROXBURY, Conn. – Stephen Sondheim stood by the glittering piano in his office, surrounded by posters of international producers of his many famous musicals, and smiled as he asked if a visitor might be interested in listening to songs from a show he had worked on for years but had not finished. still.
“And now you would like to hear the score?” asked. Of course, the answer was yes. “Do you have some time?” he asked, before laughing out loud, with a sense of malice: “It’s from a show called ‘Fat Chance’!”
It was Sunday afternoon, five days ago, when Mr. Sondheim, 91, welcomed me to his overnight cottage for a 90-minute interview with him and playwright Marianne Elliott about a revival of the now-defunct “Company.” on Broadway. It will turn out to be his last big interview.
There was little indication that Mr. Sondheim, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of musical theater, was not well. He was engaged and clear, with strong views and playfully aggressive, as well as teasing about the long, unfinished finale of the musical. At one point he complained that his memory was not as strong as it was, but he also easily told jokes from half a century ago.
He had a hard time moving – using a cane, asking for help getting in and out of chairs, and was clearly in pain when he walked – which resulted in an injury. Asked about his state of health, he answered by knocking on a wooden table and saying: “Out of my sprained ankle, okay”.
He was busy until the end. On November 14, he attended the opening of a revival of the “Assassins” musical on Off Broadway, directed by John Doyle. in the Classic Stage Company. The next night he went to the first preview after closing for the revival of “Company” on Broadway – a redesigned production, which opens on December 9, in which the protagonist, traditionally played by a man, is now played by a woman. And just this week, two days before he died, he made a double, watching a Wednesday matinee of “Is This a Room” and an evening performance of “Dana H.”, two short documentaries on Broadway.
“I can not wait,” he said as he waited to see these performances. “I can smell both and how much I will love them.”
He did not tend to make big statements about the state of Broadway. “I do not take reviews – I have never done reviews,” he said. “Where is Broadway?” I do not answer the question. Who knows. I do not really care. This is the future. “Whatever happens will happen.”
One thing he hoped would happen: another musical. For years he collaborated with playwright David Ives and director Joe Mandello on a new musical, most recently entitled “Square One,” adapted from two Luis Buιuel films.
“The first act is based on ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ and the second act is based on ‘The Exterminating Angel,'” he explained during the interview. “I do not know if I should deliver the so-called plot, but the first act is a group of people trying to find a place to eat dinner and come across all sorts of weird and surreal things, and in the second act, they find a place to dine, but they can not get out. “
Asked if he had any idea when it could be completed, Mr Sondheim said: “No.”
Why did he hope to keep working when he could just enjoy the appreciation?
“What else will I do?” asked. “I am too old now to travel a lot, I’m sorry to say that. “What else would I do with my time besides writing?”
And did he write daily for the last few weeks? “No, I’m procrastinating,” he said. “I need a partner who pushes me, who becomes impatient.”
When told that he was procrastinating throughout his career and that it seemed to work for him, he said, “Yes, I did. Yes, I think forever. Not when I was a hungry teenager – when I wanted so badly to do a show, I do not think I was procrastinating then. “But as soon as I did a show, I think a part of me was lazy.”
But with his performances running on Broadway and ending, and a major film adaptation of “West Side Story” coming out, Mr. Sondheim clearly felt comfortable with the current reception of his work.
He confirmed his long-standing lack of interest in film musicals, saying: “Growing up, I was a big fan of films and the only thing I didn’t like was the musicals – I liked the songs, but not the musicals. ”
But he was apparently excited about the film adaptation of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg, a musical for which Mr. Sondheim wrote the lyrics, which is scheduled for release next month. “I think it’s just wonderful,” he said. He added, “The great thing about this is the people who think they know the musical will have surprises.”
He was looking forward to even more in the coming months: a new production of “Into the Woods”, for which Mr. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics, is scheduled to be uploaded by Encores! program in downtown New York next May. Mr. Sondheim also revealed that the New York Theater Workshop hopes to bring up an Off Broadway revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” for which he wrote the music and lyrics, directed by Maria Friedman, who has previously directed good productions in London. and Boston.
Asked which of his shows he would most like to see revived next, he looked confused. “What would I like to see again that I have not seen in a long time? I should have thought about it, because many of the shows I was a writer of have been made in recent years. ” He added: “I was lucky. I had good revivals of the shows that I like “.
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