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The Life and Legacy of Stephen Sondheim

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 3 December 2021

⏱️ 35 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript

Summary

Stephen Sondheim died last week at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 91. For six decades, Mr. Sondheim, a composer-lyricist whose works include “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods,” transformed musical theater into an art form as rich, complex and contradictory as life itself. “For me, the loss that we see pouring out of Twitter right now and everywhere you look as people write about their memories of Sondheim is for that person who says yes, devoting yourself to writing or to dancing or to singing or to composing — or whatever it is — is a worthwhile life,” Jesse Green, The Times’s chief theater critic, said in today’s episode. “And there really is no one who says that as strongly in his life and in his work as Sondheim does.” Today, we chart Mr. Sondheim’s career, influence and legacy.

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0:00.0

From New York Times, I'm Michael Bavaro. This is Adali.

0:07.0

One of the first things you have to decide on with musical is why should there be

0:14.0

songs? Today. You can put songs in any story, but what you have to look for is

0:19.0

why are songs necessary to this story? For six decades until his death last

0:25.0

week, Steven Sontai transformed musical theater into an art form as rich, complex,

0:33.0

and contradictory as life itself. If it's unnecessary, then the show generally turns

0:40.0

out to be not very good. I spoke with my colleague, theater critic Jesse Green,

0:47.0

about Sontai's career, influence, and legacy. It's Friday, December 3rd.

1:05.0

Jesse, what are your earliest memories of Steven Sontai? What was your first

1:10.0

feeling counter with his work? I suppose it was when I was about 11 and my parents

1:16.0

who used to go from where I lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia to New York, now and

1:21.0

then to see shows. My mother had been really turned on by hair, as who's was not

1:28.0

really. Hair, the musical, not the... Not my father's hair. No. And they came back one

1:33.0

night late from seeing something which they were still talking about, and this would

1:38.0

be a two hour drive home. And they were like, oh my God, this was incredible.

1:43.0

I'd never heard them talk about a show as if it were, say, a novel. And so which show

1:48.0

had they just seen? The name of the show was company, which I then

1:52.0

learned was a new musical by Steven Sontai that had opened in 1970 on Broadway.

1:57.0

And my parents had bought at the theater the cassette tape.

2:01.0

And I played it. And then I played it again. I just needed to know how this was

2:16.0

done, who these people were, who made it, and how they made it, how this show was

2:21.0

having the effects was having on me, even though I was whatever, 11 years old, and

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