One of my greatest and longest lasting obsessions is with the music of Stephen Sondheim. I’ve loved his work since the first time I heard it in 1974…….it’s been forty years now that I’ve listened to the scores of Sondheim’s shows, over and over again, and traveled across the country to see productions of his work….and only in the past few years have I come to realize how Sondheim’s philosophies about work are very similar to mine.
On the inside covers of Sondheim’s first book ‘Finishing the Hat’ I found these words ‘Content dictates form’, ‘Less is more’ and ‘Clarity’. Boy, do these words speak to me. Once, in the Museum of TV and Radio in Manhattan, I watched an interview from the late ‘70s, with Frank Rich (then theatre critic of The New York Times) and Sondheim where he said, when Rich asked what he does he do to create his amazing lyrics, Sondheim replied ‘I listen.’. Later in the interview Sondheim offered some advice to people attempting to sing his oft times difficult lyrics - ‘Do not show off or embellish.’. I can still remember how I felt when I heard him say he those words - “I listen’, ‘Do not show off or embellish’, Content dictates form’. What was important to him, The Man, were the very things that were – that are – important to me in my work.
If you don’t know Sondheim, if you haven’t been exposed to this man’s true genius, you have a wonderful opportunity coming up when the movie version of ‘Into the Woods ‘opens on Christmas Day. It’s a wonderful show, full of storybook characters, subtle lessons in life, and some of his finest lyrics.