Did you get or give someone a Sondheim-related book during the holidays? As I mentioned last month, there are several good ones out there. Here’s another rundown with a few more items and some comments:
Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George by James Lapine. This wonderful book is full of insights from Sondheim’s collaborator who both write the book and staged its original Broadway production. Lapine interviewed numerous performers, designers and others who were involved. The book also includes the full text of the show about pointillist artist Georges Seurat and his (imaginary) descendent.
Lord Knows, At Least I Was There: Working with Stephen Sondheim by Paul Ford. Anecdotes from the rehearsal pianist who worked on many of Sondheim’s productions in the 1970s and ’80s. This one is a memoir, and Ford is a many of strong, sometimes sour, opinions. But it’s intriguing to hear his take on the world of musical theater. He closely collaborated with Mandy Patinkin for many of his solo recordings and acts.
Sondheim & Me: Revealing a Musical Genius by Paul Salsini. The founding editor of The Sondheim Review recalls and reproduces lots of his correspondence and conversation in conjunction with his decade of managing the magazine. (Paul was my predecessor as TSR’s editor; I took over when he retired in 2004.) I had some interesting exchanges of my own with Sondheim, but not nearly so many — or so colorfully — as Paul.
Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim by D. T. Max. The New Yorker writer had a series of conversations with Sondheim near the end of the composer’s life. Max’s book is about 90 percent transcriptions of their chats (one also features Meryl Streep and another conductor Paul Gemignani and his actor/conductor son Andrew), as well as thoughtful framing remarks. Max was rather casual in their exchanges, and Sondheim was sometimes grumpy when he had to fill his interviewer in on topics familiar to many of us. But they did discuss his musical with David Ives, tentatively titled Square One, based on two Luis Buñuel films. It’s the most in-depth set of remarks on that subject that I’ve read.
SHY: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green. This volume, in the voice of Richard Rodgers’s opinionated and often contrary daughter with amusing and informative footnotes by Green (now the New York Times chief theater critic), is truly dishy and only incidentally about Sondheim. But he’s the subject of some of the best dish about their decades-long friendship, which began during their teenage years hanging out at Oscar Hammerstein II’s home. Even knowing that Sondheim was gay, Rodgers had a lifelong crush on him which led to some interesting experimentation. She also shared her thoughts about marriage (she had two of them) when he was writing Company.
One last-minute reminder about my book, The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia, published by Rowman & Littlefield. If you still don’t have your own copy, you can purchase it at a significant 35% discount by applying the code 22JOYSALE at rowman.com. But do so quickly: The last day for this sale is Friday, January 6.
Have you watched The Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson’s hilarious tale of murder and intrigue on Netflix? In the film’s early moments, you will see the dejected detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) yearning to overcome his boredom while sitting in his bathtub and playing an online game with some familiar characters with murder mystery credentials — particularly Angela Lansbury and Sondheim. Their appearances mark their final film performances prior to their passing, Sondheim in November 2021 and Lansbury in October 2022. If you like complicated whodunits, this is the movie for you but watch carefully for Steve and Angela: Their sequence takes just a few minutes.
I’ve been recording a series of podcasts with Stuart Brown, the producer of Sounds of Broadway, a 24/7 online radio station playing the music of Broadway, Off-Broadway, the London stage and more . Each of our sessions (nine so far) in a series he calls “The Complete Stephen Sondheim,” focuses on a specific show with a handful of music selections. Our most recent discussion focused on Sunday in the Park with George. These podcasts, each about an hour long, are archived on the website under the Podcast menu. Please give it a listen.
Best wishes for a musically satisfying 2023!