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What it's like to work with Stephen Sondheim

April 17, 2010 |  8:00 am

Sondheimhand Few people have turned 80 with the fanfare shown Stephen Sondheim. There have been special concerts and galas and the renaming of a Broadway theater after the composer and lyricist. Opening next week on Broadway is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Sondheim on Sondheim,” conceived and directed by his frequent collaborator, James Lapine, which encouraged me and The Times to ask several of Sondheim’s collaborators to share their thoughts on the man and his music.

Few people go so far back in Sondheim’s career as the director and producer Harold Prince. As Prince told me: “Sitting at the counter in Walgreen’s, eating BLT sandwiches, we’d talk about what was happening in the theater and how we wanted a place in it. We were probably a little intemperate because we hadn’t yet had to deliver ourselves. You’re not as generous when you’re young as when you’re older and you know how damn hard it is.”

Playwright John Weidman, who worked with Sondheim on “Pacific Overtures,” “Assassins” and the recent “Road Show,” says that among the things he likes about working with Sondheim, is “I go away and write a two-page scene, and the greatest composer and lyricist in the history of the American musical theater turns it into a song.”

When she sings one of Sondheim’s songs, says actress and singer Barbara Cook, “I feel safe because there is so much material to use. Sometimes when the song ends, I don’t want to come back to reality. I want to stay in the song.”

Read more about what these and other Sondheim collaborators have to say in Arts & Books this Sunday.

-- Barbara Isenberg

Photo: Stephen Sondheim presents the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's Monte Cristo Award to Hal Prince in New York earlier this month. Credit: T Charles Erickson