Wednesday Open Thread: American Musical Theater – Stephen Sondheim

As both composer and lyricist


The first musical for which Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It opened in 1962 and ran 964 performances. The book, based on the farces of Plautus, was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Sondheim’s score was not especially well received at the time. Even though the show won several Tony Awards, including best musical, Sondheim did not receive a nomination.

Broadway failures and other projects[edit]

At this point, Sondheim had participated in three straight hits. His next show ended the streak. Anyone Can Whistle (1964) was a 9-performance flop, although it introduced Angela Lansbury to musical theatre and has developed a cult following.

Do I Hear a Waltz?, based on the 1952 Laurents play The Time of the Cuckoo, was originally intended to be another Rodgers & Hammerstein musical with Mary Martin as the lead, but was in need of a new lyricist.[24] Laurents and Rodgers’ daughter, Mary Rodgers, both asked Sondheim to fill in and Sondheim agreed. Even though Richard Rodgers and Sondheim agreed that the original play did not lend itself to musicalization., the team went ahead and began writing the musical.[25] The musical was plagued with problems, partly due to Richard Rodgers alcoholism as a way to cope with his self-perceived diminishing ability to write and the loss of his partner, Oscar Hammerstein II. After this show, Sondheim decided that he would henceforth work only on projects where he could write both the music and lyrics himself. Sondheim has said that this is the one project he has regretted.[6] He asked author and playwright James Goldman to join him as bookwriter for a new musical. Inspired by a New York Times article about a gathering of former showgirls from the Ziegfeld Follies, they decided upon a story about ex-showgirls. The show was titled The Girl Upstairs (which would later become Follies).[26]


do i hear a waltz

In 1966, Sondheim semi-anonymously provided the lyric for “The Boy From…”, a parody of “The Girl from Ipanema”, a highlight of the off-Broadway revue The Mad Show. (The official songwriting credit went to the linguistically minded pseudonym “Esteban Rio Nido”, which translates from the Spanish to “Stephen River Nest”. In the show’s playbill, the lyrics are credited to “Nom De Plume”.) In that same year, James Goldman and Sondheim hit a creative wall working on The Girls Upstairs. Goldman asked Sondheim about writing a TV musical. The result was Evening Primrose, starring Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr. It was written for the television anthology series ABC Stage 67 and premiered on November 16, 1966. Both Sondheim and director Paul Bogart admitted that the musical was only written because Goldman needed rent money. Sondheim asked producer Hubbell Robinson to produce it, but the network was not a fan of the title or Sondheim’s alternative title, A Little Night Music.[27]

After completing Evening Primrose, Jerome Robbins had tried to convince Sondheim to adapt Bertolt Brecht’s The Measures Taken, but Sondheim admitted that he did not like the play and did not like a lot of Brecht’s work. Robbins wanted to adapt another Brecht play The Exception and the Rule and called John Guare to adapt the book. Bernstein had not written for the stage in a while, and his contract conducting the New York Philharmonic was ending. Sondheim was invited to Robbins’ house, who unbeknownst to Sondheim, was trying to be convinced to write the lyrics to a musical adaption of The Exception and the Rule. Guare was asked to convince Sondheim to do the lyrics. According to Robbins, if Sondheim didn’t do it, Bernstein wouldn’t do it. After Guare told him about the show, Sondheim agreed to do it. Guare asked, “Why haven’t you all worked together since ‘West Side Story’?” to which Sondheim replied, “You’ll see”. Guare recalled a moment when Robbins had put him in a house Robbins had rented for Gold and Fizdale, and he put Guare in a locked room, saying he could not come out until he was finished. Any finished papers were slid under the door. Guare said working with Sondheim was like being with an old college roommate, they just talked and talked. Guare heavily depended on Sondheim to help him “decode and decipher their crazy way of working.” Guare said that Bernstein only worked after midnight and Robbins only worked in the bright and early morning. Guare also commented that Bernstein’s score, which was supposed to be light, was heavily influenced by Bernstein’s feeling he needed to make a major musical statement.[28] Stuart Ostrow, who had ties with Sondheim with The Girls Upstairs (later titled Follies), agreed to produce the musical, now entitled A Pray By Blecht (later titled The Race to Urga). An opening date was set and they were in the middle of auditions when Robbins asked to be excused for a moment. He did not come back and Guare asked where he went and the doorman said he got in a limousine and was headed to Kennedy Airport. This caused Bernstein to burst into tears and say “It’s over”. Sondheim said of the project, “I was ashamed of the whole project. It was arch and didactic in the worst way.”[29] He wrote one and half songs, and threw them both away (the only time he has ever done that). Eighteen years later, Bernstein and Robbins asked Sondheim to retry adapting the show, but Sondheim refused.[28]

He has resided in an East Side brownstone in Manhattan since his fortunes swelled from writing Gypsy in 1959. While at his brownstone in 1969, Sondheim was playing music and he received a knock on the door. It was his neighbor, Katharine Hepburn, and she was in “bare feet – this angry, red-faced lady” and she told him “‘You have been keeping me awake all night!”. Hepburn had been practicing for her musical debut in Coco and was being distracted. Sondheim asked why she didn’t ask him to play for her, which she stated she had lost his phone number. With a wry smile, Sondheim reflected back saying, “My guess is that she wanted to stand there in her bare feet, suffering for her art”.[30]

anyone can whistle

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34 Responses to Wednesday Open Thread: American Musical Theater – Stephen Sondheim

  1. rikyrah says:

    Hillary Clinton Open to GOP Obamacare Demand
    Oct 8, 2014 4:04 PM CDT

    Hillary Clinton signaled she might be open to repealing a key component of Obamacare during a speech Wednesday at a medical device conference in Chicago.

    Since the passage of the landmark health care bill, Republicans have wanted to kill a 2.3 percent excise tax on devices such as defibrillators and pacemakers, usually paid by the devices’ manufacturer or importer. The money it raises – an estimated $29 billion over a decade – is central to the financing of Obamacare, and the White House opposes its repeal.

    In a paid appearance before the Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed, Clinton told a ballroom filled with more than 2,000 industry representatives that they “have an argument to make” when it comes to repealing the tax. “We have to look and see what are the pluses and minuses,” she said. “I don’t know what the right answer about the tax is.”

  2. rikyrah says:

    Traditional Media Spectacularly Misjudges Obama’s Political Strength
    Spandan Chakrabarti October 8, 2014

    Since the beginning of the Obama presidency, American traditional media has tried to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of this president, using measuring sticks they had been honing since, oh, the mid 20th century. Using those lenses that haven’t been cleaned since the 70s, they have reached the almighty conclusion that Barack Obama has become a politically ineffectual – even toxic – black mark (pun intended) that even Democrats don’t want to get close to this election.

    And to be honest, there are a few foot-shooting Democrats making that case easier to make than it has to be. But the truth remains that the traditional media is badly misjudging this president’s political acumen and how he is asserting it, and this morning’s piece in the New York Times by Jonathan Martin is as good an example of the media’s sore need to catch up to today’s politics as any. For today’s discussion, I am going to ignore Martin’s gratuitous personal attack on the President as well as the fact that the President has recently been to many red states.

    Martin’s piece, as many among his colleagues and talking heads on TV, sees presidential visibility as the key – and perhaps the only – indicator of his pull among Democrats on the ballot in November.

    “When Mr. Obama entered the campaign fray last week, he did so by returning to the unconditional embrace of his own hometown, in a blue state where the incumbent Democratic senator faces scant opposition and the Democratic governor is running in part on his support for the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the president attended private fund-raisers in Manhattan, to be followed by similar events in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Arkansas it is not.”

    Discounting for a second Martin’s short and tragic political memory that conveniently forgets that Illinois also has a Republican US Senator, the above paragraph is symptomatic of modern politics having moved so far past the mainstream press that it can’t even see it.

    The misjudgment of visibility as influence comes from something else that we have been hearing the media babble about since 2008: that what catapulted an unknown State Senator to the presidency in four short years was his exceptional oratory skills and stage presence.

  3. rikyrah says:

    Something’s stirring in South Dakota?
    10/08/14 10:05 AM
    By Steve Benen

    One of the reasons Republicans are so optimistic about taking control of the U.S. Senate is the geography of the 2014 battlegrounds. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats, but with Democratic incumbents retiring in three red states – Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia – Republicans believe they’re halfway to their goal before ballots are even cast.

    To be sure, that optimism is well-grounded. But what if one of the easy pick-up opportunities turned out to be a little less easy than everyone thought?

    In South Dakota, former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is in the midst of a three-way contest – there are a few of these this year – against Rick Weiland (D) and Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator who’s running as an independent. Nate Silver explained last night that the race is getting tricky.
    Rounds remains the favorite. It’s not clear that Pressler has enough money to run a substantial number of advertisements in the closing days of the campaign – or to finance a voter turnout operation. […]

    But the race increases the chance that we’ll have a “messy” outcome on Election Day.
    For months, Rounds’ victory seemed all but certain. In an unfortunate August gaffe, Weiland, the Democratic candidate and former Tom Daschle aide, accidentally referred to Rounds “senator, or, soon-to-be,” before catching himself.

  4. rikyrah says:

    ‘A Chosen Exile’: Black People Passing In White America

    by Karen Grigsby Bates

    October 07, 2014 5:12 PM ET

    Several years ago, Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs was talking with a favorite aunt, who was also the family storyteller. Hobbs learned that she had a distant cousin whom she’d never met nor heard of.

    Which is exactly the way the cousin wanted it.

    Hobbs’ cousin had been living as white, far away in California, since she’d graduated from high school. This was at the insistence of her mother.

    “She was black, but she looked white,” Hobbs said. “And her mother decided it was in her best interest to move far away from Chicago, to Los Angeles, and to assume the life of a white woman.”

    “Her mother really felt that this was the very best thing she could do for her daughter,” Hobbs continued. “She felt this was a way to offer opportunities to her daughter that she wouldn’t have living as a black woman on the South Side of Chicago.”

    In California, the young woman passed as white. She married a white man, and they had children who never knew they had black blood. Then, one day, years later, her phone rang.

    It was the woman’s mother with distressing news: Her father was dying, and she needed to return home immediately to tell him goodbye.

    The cousin replied, “I can’t. I’m a white woman now.”

    She missed her father’s funeral, and never saw her mother or siblings again.

  5. rikyrah says:

    Cable News Gives Us the White Point Of View On Violent Indiana Traffic Stop

    On Tuesday, video emerged of Indiana police smashing a car window and tasing an unarmed black passenger, and Wednesday morning, cable news did an excellent job telling viewers what white people thought about it. Are you ready for a shock? You apparently have to “look at the whole story” to realize it was the black guy’s fault, while also not looking at the video evidence. Let’s see how they did.

    Morning Joe kicked things off by getting a bunch of the facts wrong (I’ll get to those later), but what really sets them apart is their cluelessly white view of interactions with police:

    Aside from the many other facts they get wrong (most glaringly, Scarborough’s assertion that “we can’t see” what passenger Jamal Jones is doing with his hands, which are visible in every frame of the video leading up to the window smashing), the Morning Joe crew fails to consider that Jones reached into the back seat because he was complying with the officers’ requests (like this guy did), and that the cops drew their guns on him. I doubt Scarborough has ever had a hot glue gun pulled on him, so what he does at a traffic stop is about as useful as a football bat. It’s also nice to know that Brzezinski’s reaction to danger is to abandon her children. These are the contortions white people will go through to defend the police who protect them from The Blacks.

    Fox News’ treatment of the story, while awful, was actually much better than MSNBC’s. On Fox & Friends, they delivered more (but still not all) of the facts, then ask viewers if they think the cops were just doing their jobs:


  6. rikyrah says:

    For some Ferguson whites, racial fault lines exposed by shooting come as a surprise

    By Robert Samuels October 7 at 8:52 PM 

    FERGUSON, Mo. — Alice Singen had always seen her home town as an integrated, harmonious place. Like many other white residents, she prided herself on staying here even when others began to leave.

    But since the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a white police officer, some African Americans are calling it segregated and racist. Now Singen has found herself talking in terms of “us” and “them,” “we” and “they.”

    “I didn’t have any problems with anybody or any color, and all of a sudden it feels like we are being held responsible for something that’s not our fault,” Singen, 70, said as she left Faraci Pizza, a 46-year-old Ferguson business that has become a focal point of racial tension. “I don’t get it.”

    That sense of shock is common here among Ferguson whites in the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death and the explosive protests in the days that followed.

    Protests and arrests have continued in Ferguson and across the St. Louis area, though things have been less volatile than in the summer. On Saturday, black and white demonstrators bought tickets to a St. Louis Symphony performance and at intermission stood and sang “A Requiem for Mike Brown,” with mixed reaction from a stunned audience.

  7. rikyrah says:

    Police pepper spray Wake County teen inside his home after he’s mistaken for burglar

    A Wake County family says their foster child was racially profiled and pepper-sprayed inside their own home.

    The parents of a Wake County high school student are outraged that police pepper-sprayed him inside their home after a neighbor mistook him for an intruder.

    It happened Monday afternoon on England Avenue in Fuquay-Varina.

    Ricky and Stacy Tyler have fostered 18-year-old DeShawn Currie for about a year. The Tylers, their three young children and DeShawn moved to Fuquay-Varina in July. They said while they’re still getting to know their neighbors, it’s hurtful someone would assume DeShawn was a burglar just for going about his normal routine of walking home after school.

    “He’s my baby boy just as much as my other three children are,” said Stacy.

    She left the side door to their home unlocked Monday for DeShawn, who was coming home early from school.

    Fuquay-Varina police said when a neighbor saw DeShawn walk in; they called 911 to report a break-in. Soon, three officers were inside the house, all to DeShawn’s surprise.

    “They was like, ‘Put your hands on the door,'” said DeShawn. “I was like, ‘For what? This is my house.’ I was like, ‘Why are y’all in here?'”

    DeShawn said he became angry when officers pointed out the pictures of the Tyler’s three younger children on the mantle, assuming he didn’t belong there. An argument ensued and DeShawn said one of the officers pepper-sprayed him in the face.

    By the time Stacy came home, EMS were treating DeShawn in the driveway. She cleared up the confusion with the officers, but not with the rest of her family.

    “My 5-year-old last night, she looked at me and said, ‘Mama I don’t understand why they hated our brother, and they had to come in and hurt him.'”

    “Everything that we’ve worked so hard for in the past years was stripped away yesterday in just a matter of moments,” said Ricky Tyler.

    DeShawn said he chose this family with a hope of security and love, but now he’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to move on.

    “I’m feeling comfortable,” explained DeShawn. “I had moved into my room, and I’m feeling like I’m loved. And then when they come in and they just profile me and say that I’m not who I am. And that I do not stay here because there was white kids on the wall, that really made me mad.”

  8. Eric Duncan told Texas Presbyterian Hospital he had been in Liberia & what did they do? Gave him antibiotics and sent him home. Antibiotics for a virus?!!!!!

  9. Ametia says:

    Thomas Duncan, the Texas Ebola patient, has died

    Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday morning in Texas, according to the hospital where he had been treated for Ebola.

    Duncan, the first person ever diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died at 7:51 a.m., according to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Tex.

    “He fought courageously in this battle,” the hospital said in a statement.” Our professionals, the doctors and nurses in the unit, as well as the entire Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas community, are also grieving his passing. We have offered the family our support and condolences at this difficult time.”

  10. ‏Breaking: Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan has died.

  11. Ametia says:

    U.S. airports will begin taking the temperatures of passengers arriving on flights originating from West African countries where Ebola is concentrated, according to an official with direct knowledge of the screenings.

    The screenings will begin this weekend or next week, the source said.

    Umm, not sure I’m “ON BOARD” with this. (PUN INTENDED)

  12. rikyrah says:

    Wow, 6 percent sounds pretty good’
    10/08/14 08:35 AM
    By Steve Benen
    During the last presidential campaign, Mitt Romney argued that he, and he alone, could give the economy a terrific boost. Sure, President Obama’s policies had successfully ended the Great Recession, but a Romney/Ryan administration would send the economy into overdrive.

    In May 2012, the Republican candidate sat down with Mark Halperin, who pressed Romney to get specific about what Americans could expect to see under his presidency.
    HALPERIN: Would you like to be more specific about what the unemployment rate would be like at the end of your first year?

    ROMNEY: I cannot predict precisely what the rate would be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by a virtue of the polices that we put in place, we get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower.
    Yep, Romney said that if he were elected, and given a chance to implement his bold economic vision, freeing the nation of the scourge that is Obama’s crushing agenda, the unemployment rate would drop to “6 percent” – maybe even “a little lower” – by the end of 2016.

  13. rikyrah says:

    Former college athletes sue broadcasters

    Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY Sports 6:37 p.m. EDT October 7, 2014

    A group of former college football and men’s basketball players have filed an antitrust suit against an array of broadcasters, conferences and multi-media/marketing rights companies, alleging that the defendants have illegally used athletes’ names, images and likenesses in television and radio broadcasts.

    The defendants include nearly all of the national over-the-air and cable television networks that have significant live college sports programming; the five power conferences; and the nation’s two largest college-sports multi-media and marketing rights companies.

    The suit, which seeks to become a class action, was filed last week in a U.S. District Court in Nashville.

    This case follows several others that have centered on the use of college athletes’ names and likenesses, but this is the first one to include television networks as defendants.

  14. rikyrah says:

    Election Night: Good to Great for Dem Governors
    by BooMan
    Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 06:46:43 AM EST

    I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on election news in a frantic effort to get up to speed. I still feel like my time off has left me at a major analytical disadvantage. It’s hard to estimate how important an ineffable feel for the electorate is to my accuracy in prognosticating, but I certainly don’t excel at predictions simply because I have better reading comprehension than you do. I read through political coverage rather than just consuming it. What gets written is perhaps more important that how it is written. Noting that The Hill has more than a dozen articles on Ebola and almost nothing on individual congressional races tells me, for example, that the right thinks they’ve found some blood. That doesn’t mean that Ebola is an issue that is going to drive House races.

    There’s one thing I can say preliminarily with some degree of confidence, and it has to do with the effect of these midterm elections on the 2016 presidential elections beyond the day-after-Election-Day spin on the midterms.

    The Democrats look like they’re about to improve their position in important gubernatorial positions that will help their 2016 nominee. Some of these elections are still toss-ups, but recent polls have been encouraging in some very important delegate-rich states like Florida and Illinois. The Dems will win the governorship in the firewall state of Pennsylvania and look favored to win Maine, which has the potential to award one Electoral College delegate to a Republican due to the state’s unusual presidential election law. Tough elections for Democratic incumbents in Colorado and Connecticut are looking a little more solid.

    The Dems are still in striking range of pulling off upsets in Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, all of which could be toss-up states (yes, including Arkansas against Clinton) in any close election where a Republican has an actual chance of winning.

    Not that it will have an impact on the 2016 elections, but it should also be noted that the Dems look poised to capture the governors’ mansions in both Kansas and Rhode Island, and to knock out the Republican incumbent governor of Alaska. (Norwegian Rat Saloon? Seriously?).

    The pipe dream of seeing Wendy Davis take the seat in Austin once occupied by Shrub is going to go up in smoke, but that appears to be the only truly big state where the Republicans will have executive power. Their hold on the second tier of big states, like Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona is tenuous, and after a really bad night they could be looking at nothing more than Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina as states (other than Texas) that they control with more than nine electoral votes.

  15. rikyrah says:

    Richmond School Board confirms member leaked student files

    Posted 9:32 pm, October 7, 2014, by Alix Bryan, Updated at 12:22am, October 8, 2014

    RICHMOND, Va. — On Monday the Richmond School Board learned a board member compromised student records.

    School board member Tichi Pinkney Eppes was named in a statement as the member responsible for the breach. Pinkney Eppes compromised approximately 20 confidential student files, the statement said.

    She emailed the student disciplinary files to a vendor, a high-level ranking source told CBS 6.

    All affected students will be contacted by their school administration.

    The matter is under investigation.

    The school board statement is below, in its entirety.

    This is a developing story.

  16. rikyrah says:

    Boehner’s welcome candor: No GOP jobs plan
    10/07/14 03:23 PM—UPDATED 10/07/14 03:24 PM
    By Steve Benen

    House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Twitter feed is a surprisingly aggressive operation, which occasionally leads to some embarrassing errors. Take today, for example.

    This morning, the Speaker tweeted his five-point jobs plan, numbered one through five, which was left entirely blank – making it appear as if the Republican plan to create jobs simply doesn’t exist.

    It was obviously just a mix-up, of course, and Boehner almost certainly has nothing to do with his own tweets. But there’s a substantive element to this that shouldn’t just be laughed off. Danny Vinik explained:
    Liberals have had quite a bit of fun with this on Twitter (as I have), but Boehner accidentally told the truth in that tweet. The Republican Party doesn’t have and has never had a jobs plan during the Obama presidency. […]

    That’s the cruel irony in Boehner’s tweet. It would be funny, but it represents the massive economic damage that the Republican Party has unnecessarily inflicted on the country the past six years. And that’s not funny at all.
    Indeed, the only part of the Speaker’s tweet that wasn’t a mistake was a link to the actual five-point plan, which only helped reinforce the fact that the Republican jobs agenda is little more than a mirage.

  17. Ametia says:

    Because this issue is so much more important than our RIGHT TO VOTE

    Supreme Court debate over inmates’ religious rights gets a little hairy
    By Robert Barnes October 7 at 9:03 PM

    The Supreme Court debated God and beards Tuesday, and the result did not seem promising for Arkansas prison officials who refuse to let prisoners grow facial hair in accordance with their faith.

    The justices pelted a deputy attorney general from the state with so many tonsorial inquiries he had trouble keeping up. In the end, they seemed to indicate that they found it hard to believe the state’s contention that a half-inch beard poses more of a security threat than the hair on top of an inmate’s head, which is unregulated.

    “You have no comparable rule about hair on one’s head, where it seems more could be hidden than in the beard . . . hide something in a beard, and it might drop out,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

  18. rikyrah says:

    Good Morning, Everyone :)

  19. Ametia says:

    Good Morning, Everyone. Happy Hump Day!

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