Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim joins Donald Macleod to talk about his early life and career, including his apprenticeship with Oscar Hammerstein.
As part of his 80th birthday celebrations, Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim looks back over his life and work, with Donald Macleod. The result is a fascinating retrospective of half a century of creativity, with the artist himself as tour guide. Along the way, he explodes a few myths about the inner workings of musical theatre.
In the first of the week's programmes, Sondheim talks about his childhood, his parents' divorce, his near-adoption by the Hammerstein family and his apprenticeship with Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist of Oklahoma! Then there's the rollercoaster ride of his early career: his first, abortive Broadway show; two amazing breaks, when he was commissioned to write the lyrics for first West Side Story, then Gypsy; his unhappy collaboration with Richard Rogers; and his major creative breakthrough with Company, a musical with situations and characters but no conventional plot, and the first appearance of characteristic Sondheim subject-matter - the virtual impossibility of forming good relationships. As one British critic observed, "It is extraordinary that a musical, that most trivial of forms, should be able to plunge as Company does, with perfect congruity, into the profound depths of human perplexity and misery.".
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