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Lessons from Stephen Sondheim

Five things I learned from attending Stephen Sondheim’s talk Friday evening at the State Theatre in Minneapolis:
He doesn’t care much for movie adaptations of stage musicals, from “My Fair Lady” to “Cabaret” and even the well-regarded “Chicago.” Tha

Five things I learned from attending Stephen Sondheim’s talk Friday evening at the State Theatre in Minneapolis:

  • He doesn’t care much for movie adaptations of stage musicals, from “My Fair Lady” to “Cabaret” and even the well-regarded “Chicago.” That’s often because an essential part of the musical equation ­ — the interaction with the audience ­— is missing from the film. Sondheim, however, did enjoy Tim Burton’s adaptation of “Sweeney Todd.”
  • Watching a show fail can be as helpful as a success. His early friendship with Oscar Hammerstein II allowed Sondheim to watch the development of “Allegro,” where a crew of talented creators fell flat on their collective faces. However, innovations in the show ­ — such as the staging ­ — have gone on to be standard in modern musicals. “It’s always best to fail from the top rung of the ladder.”
  • As a craftsman, Sondheim is dedicated to the characters and the story and is more than willing to kill his creative darlings (another lesson learned while observing a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, in this case an expected hit song in “Carousel” that was dropped after the first performance). His unused song trunk is more of an “attaché case,” comprising a couple dozen pieces.
  • Sondheim would much rather be liked than admired, and he wishes that famed New York Times critic Walter Kerr would have been in the former camp rather than the later.
  • He thinks that there are innovative and exciting musicals being developed today,­ but not on Broadway. Most of the creative hits of the last few years started Off Broadway and then transferred once it was seen they could have more commercial legs.

Next up in the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s series of Living Legends programs: Carol Burnett on April 14. Tickets are $53-$63. For information, call 1-800-982-2787 or visit online.