Stephen Sondheim (1930-)

show more detailshow less detail

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01Sondheim's Early Life And Career2010032220100726

As part of his 80th birthday celebrations, Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim looks back over his life and work, with Donald Macleod.

The result is a fascinating retrospective of half a century of creativity, with the artist himself as tour guide.

Along the way, he explodes a few myths about the inner workings of musical theatre.

In the first of the week's programmes, Sondheim talks about his childhood, his parents' divorce, his near-adoption by the Hammerstein family and his apprenticeship with Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist of Oklahoma! Then there's the rollercoaster ride of his early career: his first, abortive Broadway show; two amazing breaks, when he was commissioned to write the lyrics for first West Side Story, then Gypsy; his unhappy collaboration with Richard Rogers; and his major creative breakthrough with Company, a musical with situations and characters but no conventional plot, and the first appearance of characteristic Sondheim subject-matter - the virtual impossibility of forming good relationships.

As one British critic observed, "It is extraordinary that a musical, that most trivial of forms, should be able to plunge as Company does, with perfect congruity, into the profound depths of human perplexity and misery.".

Stephen Sondheim talks to Donald Macleod about his early life and career.

In the week of his 80th birthday, Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim looks back over his life and work, with Donald Macleod.

As one British critic observed, It is extraordinary that a musical, that most trivial of forms, should be able to plunge as Company does, with perfect congruity, into the profound depths of human perplexity and misery."."

02Follies, A Little Night Music And Pacific Overtures2010032320100727

Continuing our series in which Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim talks to Donald Macleod.

This programme features three shows that in typical Sondheim fashion expanded the notion of what the musical could be, with razor-sharp language and cracking tunes to boot: Follies, in which a reunion of Ziegfield-style Follies stars in a derelict theatre becomes a metaphor for the death of the American dream; A Little Night Music, a musical about relationships written almost entirely in waltz-time, that spawned Sondheim's most famous song, 'Send in the Clowns'; and Pacific Overtures, a 'kabuki musical' with an all-Japanese cast - an exploration of the 19th-century westernization of Japan, seen from the Japanese perspective.

Produced by Chris Barstow.

Three Sondheim musicals: one without a plot, one in waltz time and one based on kabuki.

In today's programme, three shows that in typical Sondheim fashion expanded the notion of what the musical could be, with razor-sharp language and cracking tunes to boot: Follies, in which a reunion of Ziegfeld-style Follies stars in a derelict theatre becomes a metaphor for the death of the American dream; A Little Night Music, a musical about relationships written almost entirely in waltz-time, that spawned Sondheim's most famous song, 'Send in the Clowns'; and Pacific Overtures, a 'kabuki musical' with an all-Japanese cast - an exploration of the 19th-century westernization of Japan, seen from the Japanese perspective.

03Sweeney Todd And Merrily We Roll Along2010032420100728

Donald Macleod focuses on two Sondheim musicals - Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along.

Continuing our series in which Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim talks to Donald Macleod.

Today's programme focuses on just two musicals: Sweeney Todd, widely regarded as Sondheim's masterpiece, an extraordinarily powerful work which he has modestly described as a small and scary evening about the need for revenge"; and Merrily We Roll Along, a tale of disintegrating friendships and compromised idealism, narrated, in a characteristic structural twist, backwards.

Sweeney Todd was a huge success and is widely performed today, from schools (in a special educational edition) to opera houses; despite a marvellous score, Merrily We Roll Along failed to catch the public mood and remains Sondheim's biggest flop to date.

Among other topics, Sondheim also discusses his long-time collaboration with director Hal Prince, the logistics of working with an orchestrator, and the heart attack he suffered in 1979, just three weeks after the opening of Sweeney."

This third programme focuses on just two musicals: Sweeney Todd, widely regarded as Sondheim's masterpiece, an extraordinarily powerful work which he has modestly described as "a small and scary evening about the need for revenge"; and Merrily We Roll Along, a tale of disintegrating friendships and compromised idealism, narrated, in a characteristic structural twist, backwards.

By Chris Barstow.

04Sunday In The Park With George2010032520100729

Donald Macleod explores Sondheim works including a musical based on a painting.

Continuing our series in which Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim talks to Donald Macleod.

In today's programme, the musical that grew out of a painting; a tangled web of fairytales; and a positively murderous show about the assassins, and would-be-assassins, of US presidents.

The painting in question is Seurat's hugely famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and the work it inspired was the Pulitzer-prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George, a deeply personal show about the joys and the costs of creation.

The fairytales are the ones familiar to every child, but in Into the Woods they are woven together in an extraordinarily intricate way, before completely unravelling in the second act.

Assassins caused a huge furore when it was unveiled in 1990, not least because it happened to coincide with the opening salvo of the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm - under such circumstances, a show that climaxed with the assassination of JFK was bound to be interpreted as deeply unpatriotic.

Sondheim also talks about the logistics of mounting a Broadway production, and the pleasures of trancing out" during the creative process.

"

The fourth programme features the musical that grew out of a painting; a tangled web of fairytales; and a positively murderous show about the assassins, and would-be-assassins, of US presidents.

The fairytales are the ones familiar to every child, but in Into the Woods they are woven together in an extraordinarily intricate way, before completely unraveling in the second act.

Sondheim also talks about the logistics of mounting a Broadway production, and the pleasures of "trancing out" during the creative process.

Produced by Chris Barstow.

05 LASTPassion, The Frogs And Road Show2010032620100730

Concluding our series in which Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim talks to Donald Macleod.

In the final programme, Passion, a kind of reversal of the Beauty and the Beast myth, which Sondheim has described as "one long rhapsody.

a straightforward, non-ironic love story"; The Frogs, a contemporary take on Aristophanes originally staged in the swimming pool at Yale University (with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver in the chorus line); and Road Show, a musical about the Mizner brothers which proves the old adage that "musicals aren't written, they're re-written" - it's currently in its fourth incarnation.

Produced by Chris Barstow.

Stephen Sondheim joins Donald Macleod to focus on Passion, The Frogs and Road Show.

In today's programme, Passion, a kind of reversal of the Beauty and the Beast myth, which Sondheim has described as one long rhapsody.

a straightforward, non-ironic love story"; The Frogs, a contemporary take on Aristophanes originally staged in the swimming pool at Yale University (with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver in the chorus line); and Road Show, a musical about the Mizner brothers which proves the old adage that "musicals aren't written, they're re-written" - it's currently in its fourth incarnation."