This is an article based on notes taken during a conversation between Frank Rich and Stephen Sondheim. Rich wrote in his autobiography that he made his reputation when he wrote a review, while still at Harvard, of Sondheim's "Follies," my favorite musical. It drew the attention of Hal Prince and the rest is history. Rich became the NY Times lead theatre critic. He was brutal but honest, and his reviews were the best read in town. He retired from that position and is now writing an influential weekly political column.
When he and Sondheim sat down for a chat at Avery Fisher Hall, this writer took notes. For theater fans, this is cocaine and heroin.
We've heard most of the Merman stories. Jimmy tells most of them in his lecture series. But I loved:
I also related to this as a writer:
Sondheim noted that he didn’t think that Merman would be able to act when he wrote most of the show. As such, he designed “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” as a song in which Merman could belt to the rafters while Louise and Herby would do the real acting. Furthermore, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” was designed to be similar to “Blow Gabriel Blow,” another famous Merman number, so that she would feel comfortable in the moment. Sondheim then admitted that, “We found out later that she could act.”
There was also a production of “Company” in England where Bobby shot himself at the end. Rich then asked, "He shot himself after 'Being Alive'?"
Clearly upset, Sondheim said, “These directors feel they can improve a show. They have such contempt for the authors. We (the authors) know what we’re doing and they don’t. It’s contemptuous of them.”
But this one was my favorite because it's about a friend of ours. Rich asked him to cite his favorite auditions. He mentions, here, Pamela Myers, who sang a song called "I'm Not Getting Married" in the show Company. It's a song with a gajillion words sung as quickly as you possibly can because it's about a nervous bride having a nervous breakdown over the ceremony that's moments away from happening.
Marta was originally envisioned as a Jewish girl. But after Myers, a Midwesterner, auditioned and stunned all of them, the creators agreed to rewrite the role to fit her personality and background..Yes, we from the Middle Lands of the United States can get just as crazed as any New Yorker. And it's impossible to listen to that song and not hear her voice. I didn't grow up in theater, so it all came to me second hand and, even before I became friends with her, all I needed was to hear it once.
Enjoy the article.
(I kinda met Sondheim once. We met him in the lobby of the City Center. I mentioned "The Big Voice" to him and I think we even gave him a flyer, but I don't think he would remember. He was being approached by a lot of people that night. Someday, I'd love for him to see one of my own musicals.)