Sunday, 17 October 2010

Warning - genius on stage!

"Sondheim in Conversation" last night was every bit as brilliant as we might have expected. In a cleverly constructed discussion with Jude Kelly, artistic director at the Royal Festival Hall, the great man himself gave a sometimes wicked insight into his long career as the primo lyricist and musical legend of Broadway.

At 80, Stephen Sondheim looks many decades younger, and is as sharp as a knife in his observations. As recently reported by the British press in "outraged" tones, he considers Sir Noel Coward an "unemotional" lyricist, and W.S. Gilbert (of "and Sullivan" fame) to only have written lyrics that mattered to himself, not the audience. His waspish criticism of lyric-writers even extends to his own mentor and father-figure, Oscar Hammerstein. However Cole Porter, Yip Harburg, Dorothy Fields, Frank Loesser and Irving Berlin escaped with far more praise...

He was a little less candid - as might have been expected - about his personal life, but his emotional attachment to teaching others his craft shone through. Some of his wry anecdotes were very funny - in particular his recollections of Ethel Merman (not known for being "Brains Trust"), and his resignedness about his general lack of commercial (as opposed to critical) success.

Mr Sondheim has recently produced a weighty tome - his first book - of his own collected lyrics and analysis of others'. Titled Finishing the Hat (itself a lyric from Sunday in the Park with George about the elation the artist feels creating art), the book opens in 1954 with Saturday Night and ends in 1981 with Merrily We Roll Along, encompassing the likes of West Side Story (1957), Company (1970), Follies (1971) and A Little Night Music (1973) along the way. An incredible track record of musical supremacy, and this is only book one (the second volume is promised for this time next year!). We could have queued for signed copies at the Royal Festival Hall, but at £30 a pop it can wait...

A once-in-a-lifetime experience (which we shared with the likes of Sir Tim Rice, Julia McKenzie, Eileen Atkins, former MP Chris Smith, and a host of other thesps, and major and minor celebs), this was a fabulously entertaining evening! So, to celebrate here are just a few of Mr S's greatest moments:

And that's merely "scraping the surface"...

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