The cover of The Dramatist magazine with a photo of Stephen Sondheim
On Writing Theatre Lyrics

This is the edited transcript of a talk on lyrics given by Stephen Sondheim at the 92nd Street Y that first appeared in The Dramatists Guild Quarterly, Autumn 1971. The Dramatist deeply appreciates this opportunity to reprint it, with Mr. Sondheim’s kind permission. We also extend our thanks to the many music publishers and their representatives who have given permission to print the quotations from lyrics and to those who researched the copyright lines.

Mr. Sondheim was introduced to the audience at the 92nd Street Y by Lehman Engel, who characterized him as an artist with “a full grounding in the culture of the past, an awareness of the present, and a feeling of responsibility for the future,” in a musical theatre which he described as “the most collaborative of all possible efforts.” Mr. Sondheim responded by naming all his own collaborators—Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents (four times), James Goldman (twice), Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart, George Furth, and Richard Rodgers—in addition to Harold Prince as his most recent producer/director at that time. He then proceeded with the following informally structured and “random” talk.

black line drawing of a composer at the piano and sketch of The Alvin Theatre
Illustration by Tom Funk

This is all fairly unprepared. I am just going to talk, and I am just going to ramble. Some of the thoughts will be incomplete, some will be pontifical. And contentious and dogmatic and opinionated.

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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.