ROXBURY, Conn. — Stephen Sondheim stood by the gleaming piano in his examine, surrounded by posters of worldwide productions of his many well-known musicals, and smiled as he inquired whether or not a customer is perhaps in listening to songs from a present he had been working on for years, however hadn’t completed but.
“And now would you want to listen to the rating?” he requested. After all, the reply was sure. “You bought a while?” he requested, earlier than laughing, loudly, with a way of mischief: “It’s from a present referred to as ‘Fats Probability’!”
That was Sunday afternoon, 5 days in the past, when Mr. Sondheim, 91, had welcomed me to his longtime nation home for a 90-minute interview with him and the theater director Marianne Elliott a few revival of “Firm” that’s now in previews on Broadway. It might turn into his closing main interview.
There was little indication that Mr. Sondheim, one of many biggest songwriters in the historical past of musical theater, was unwell. He was engaged and lucid, with sturdy opinions and playfully pugnacious, as with the tease about his long-gestating, unfinished closing musical. At one second he complained that his reminiscence wasn’t as sturdy because it had been, however he was additionally telling anecdotes from a half-century earlier with ease.
He was having a little bit hassle getting round — utilizing a cane, in search of help to get in and out of chairs, and in apparent ache when strolling — which he attributed to an damage. Requested concerning the state of his well being, he answered by knocking on a wooden desk and saying, “Outdoors of my sprained ankle, OK.”
He was busy proper till the tip. On Nov. 14 he attended the opening of an Off Broadway revival of his musical “Assassins,” directed by John Doyle at Classic Stage Company. The subsequent night time he went to the primary post-shutdown preview for the Broadway revival of “Firm” — a reimagined manufacturing, opening Dec. 9, in which the protagonist, who has historically been performed by a person, is now performed by a girl. And simply this week, two days earlier than he died, he did a doubleheader, seeing a Wednesday matinee of “Is This a Room” and a night efficiency of “Dana H.,” two quick documentary performs on Broadway.
“I can’t wait,” he mentioned as he anticipated seeing these reveals. “I can scent each of these and how a lot I’m going to like them.”
He was not inclined to make any grand pronouncements on the state of Broadway. “I don’t take overviews — I by no means have taken overviews,” he mentioned. “Whither Broadway? I don’t reply the query. Who is aware of. I don’t actually care. That’s the longer term. No matter occurs will occur.”
One factor he hoped would occur: yet another musical. For years he had been collaborating with the playwright David Ives and the director Joe Mantello on a brand new musical, most lately titled “Sq. One,” tailored from two films directed by Luis Buñuel.
“The primary act relies on ‘The Discreet Attraction of the Bourgeoisie,’ and the second act relies on ‘The Exterminating Angel,’ ” he defined throughout the interview. “I don’t know if I ought to give the so-called plot away, however the first act is a gaggle of individuals looking for a spot to have dinner, and they run into all types of unusual and surreal issues, and in the second act, they discover a place to have dinner, however they will’t get out.”
Requested if he had any sense when it is perhaps completed, Mr. Sondheim mentioned, “No.”
Why did he hope to maintain working when he might simply bask in appreciation?
“What else am I going to do?” he requested. “I’m too outdated now to do plenty of touring, I’m sorry to say. What else would I do with my time however write?”
And did he write day by day in his closing weeks? “No, I’m a procrastinator,” he mentioned. “I want a collaborator who pushes me, who will get impatient.”
When it was identified that he had been a procrastinator all through his profession, and that it had appeared to work for him, he mentioned, “Sure, I’ve. Yeah, I believe eternally. Not after I was a hungry teenager — after I wished a lot to have a present carried out, I don’t assume I used to be a procrastinator then. However as soon as I had a present carried out, I believe a part of me received lazy.”
However together with his reveals operating on Broadway and off, and a serious movie adaptation of “West Side Story” about to be launched, Mr. Sondheim was clearly feeling good concerning the present reception of his work.
He confirmed his longstanding lack of curiosity in film musicals, saying, “Rising up, I used to be an enormous fan of flicks, and the one style that I wasn’t a fan of was musicals — I beloved the songs, however not the musicals.”
However he was clearly delighted concerning the Steven Spielberg-directed movie adaptation of “West Side Story,” a musical for which Mr. Sondheim wrote the lyrics, that’s scheduled to be launched subsequent month. “I believe it’s simply nice,” he mentioned. He added, “The wonderful thing about it’s individuals who assume they know the musical are going to have surprises.”
He was wanting ahead to much more in the months to return: a brand new manufacturing of “Into the Woods,” for which Mr. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics, is scheduled to be staged by the Encores! program at New York Metropolis Heart subsequent Could. Additionally, Mr. Sondheim revealed, New York Theater Workshop is hoping to stage an Off Broadway revival of “Merrily We Roll Alongside,” for which he wrote the music and lyrics, directed by Maria Friedman, who has beforehand directed properly obtained productions in London and Boston.
Requested which of his reveals he’d most wish to see revived subsequent, he appeared stumped. “What would I wish to see once more that I haven’t seen in some time? I’d have to consider it, as a result of an terrible lot of the reveals I’ve been a author of have been carried out in the previous couple of years.” He added, “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had good revivals of the reveals that I like.”
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