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Stephen Sondheim sees little use for critics

November 21, 2011 |  1:04 pm


The beleaguered profession of criticism has received another stake through the heart courtesy of Stephen Sondheim.

"It takes a long time to learn not to pay attention to critics, or at least not to let them distract you," the composer writes in his latest book, "Look, I Made a Hat." The volume is a follow-up to his recently published book "Finishing the Hat."

Excerpts from the new volume were published recently by the Guardian newspaper. Sondheim writes that critics are especially "destructive" to young writers: "If they praise you, you suffer afterwards by disappointing them; few writers who have a smash hit the first time out survive to be more than one-trick ponies. When the critics pan you, your confidence is shattered, but you gain a certain resilience, if for no other reason than there's nowhere to go but up."

Sondheim points out that critics are often wrong and that many great composers received negative reviews. And he argues that getting all worked up over a pan isn't worth the effort: "That's the most pernicious thing about critics: they cause you to waste your time."

"Look, I Made a Hat" is scheduled to appear in the U.S. this week. The book covers Sondheim's career from 1981 to the present and contains annotated lyrics to his works, including "Sunday in the Park With George," "Into the Woods," "Assassins" and "Passion."

In the excerpted passages, Sondheim writes that thanks to the Internet, "good critics are no longer necessary to find" to a certain degree. "In the theatre, the buzz created by chatroom chatters has become increasingly important to a show's reputation before it opens. There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen -– so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?"


No Sondheim, but the show rolls along in Costa Mesa

Composer Stephen Sondheim and the case of 'Porgy and Bess'

Book review: 'Finishing the Hat' by composer Stephen Sondheim

-- David Ng

Photo: Stephen Sondheim. Credit: Ari Mintz / Newsday