When Stephen Sondheim was still just a lyricist he appeared on a CBS 'educational show' and discussed how he became (at the age of not-yet-thirty) the celebrated lyricist of 'West Side Story' and 'Gypsy'. Above is the show. It's a wonderful watch as we see the young, low-key and utterly confident Sondheim begin spinning the basic anecdotes, opinion and autobiography that he's never really changed over the years e.g. how his childhood mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, taught him to write a show by mercilessly criticizing his high-school musical effort, how he hates writing lyrics, how he doesn't like his own beautiful lyrics to 'I Feel Pretty' etc. etc. The orchestrator/conductor Irwin Kostal is also part of the show and, during his  interview, goes a little postal on how much his arranging helps composers who are lazy and only give him a melody to work with (!), as well as throwing in his contempt for how unschooled new composers are and how bad rock and roll is. It's quite a performance, matched only by the woefully miscast and stiff singers who demonstrate a few Sondheim songs--in the words of Gore Vidal (when he was speaking of Charlton Heston's acting): "You can hear the piles of wood collapsing from miles away".

 Subscribe in a reader