Musical Theatre: A Talk by Stephen Sondheim

The following is the transcript of an ad lib dissertation from 1977 on “The Musical Theatre” in response to questions at a Dramatists Guild Special Projects session.

The transcript was edited for publication [in The Dramatists Guild Quarterly, Autumn 1978] with the approval of Mr. Sondheim.

Stephen Sondheim © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation.
© The Al Hirschfeld Foundation.

Since we’re here to talk shop, let’s talk, without false modesty. I’ve been the object of a cult admiration because of shows like Anyone Can Whistle—those nine performance wonders that make people think, “It’s so gorgeous!” because it lasted only nine performances. They wouldn’t like that show as much if it had run a year, but because the lucky 300 [people] saw the show, they give it a cachet.

Also, I write generally experimental, unexpected work. The critical fraternity doesn’t like not knowing exactly what they are going to see. It really upsets them.

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Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

(1930-2021) wrote music and lyrics for Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, and Road Show, and lyrics for West Side Story, Gypsy, and Do I Hear A Waltz? He composed music for the films Stavisky, Reds, and Dick Tracy and for the television production Evening Primrose. His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made A Hat. In 2010 the Broadway theatre formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed in his honor.