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Stephen Sondheim on Firm and the ability of theatre, Leisure Information & Prime Tales

Stephen Sondheim on Firm and the ability of theatre, Leisure Information & Prime Tales

ROXBURY, Connecticut (NYTIMES) – Had I recognized what was about to occur, I’d have requested so many various questions. However I did not and, presumably, neither did he.

It was Nov 21, a beautiful fall Sunday, and I had pushed to rural Connecticut to speak with one of many best figures in musical theatre historical past, Stephen Sondheim, a couple of Broadway revival of his seminal idea musical, Firm.

We chatted in regards to the present with its director Marianne Elliott. We talked, too, about an unfinished musical he hoped to finish (Sq. One, tailored from two Luis Bunuel movies), his work habits (“I am a procrastinator”) and his well being (“Outdoors of my sprained ankle, okay”). And he confirmed us a number of rooms in the home, which he had used for years as a weekend getaway, and the place he had spent most of his time in the course of the pandemic.

5 days after our dialog, Sondheim died. He was 91.

What stands out, as I feel again on that afternoon? Each time I seemed up, I noticed an enormous, daring Firm art work, a multicoloured print by American artist Deborah Kass with the phrases “Being Alive” – the title of one of many present’s greatest songs.

Firm, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a e book by George Furth, first ran on Broadway in 1970 (and gained the Tony for finest musical the next yr). The non-linear present is a couple of single particular person, simply turning 35, feeling strain to cool down from paired-off buddies.

The present revival, which modifications the gender of the protagonist (the male Bobby is now the feminine Bobbie), is now in previews and is scheduled to open on Dec 9, following a prolonged pandemic delay. Over the course of 90 minutes, we principally talked in regards to the new revival, however he additionally supplied flashes of perception about theatre and theatre-making.

These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

Let’s speak about why you determined to revisit Firm.

Stephen Sondheim: I revisited it as a result of Marianne needed to. I used to be an enormous fan of Marianne’s. I used to be sceptical. Then she did a workshop, and videoed it, and there was a younger cameraman there who had by no means heard of the present. When Marianne instructed him about what the present was initially, he stated, “You imply it labored with a man?” After which I knew we had a present.

Marianne Elliott: I might all the time cherished Firm. I might by no means seen it really, however I listened to it rather a lot.

But when it was set now, it looks like it will have extra efficiency if it was with a feminine Bobbie, as a result of a male Bobby who’s 35 now, who has clearly obtained a beautiful life – a lot of buddies, a lot of girlfriends, clearly doing fairly properly, an condominium within the metropolis – no person’s going to be pushing him into getting married. They’d in all probability simply slap him on the again and say, “Have a good time.”

However for a girl at 35, it is fairly a threshold. There’s going to be numerous strain on her from her buddies to make a want that she is going to “type her life out” and cool down and get married and have a household, perhaps.

Stephen Sondheim and Marianne Elliott at Sondheim’s residence on Nov 21, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

You had turned down a proposal for an all-male Firm with a homosexual Bobby, directed by John Tiffany.

Sondheim: Sure. There have been sure scenes that labored rather well and sure scenes that simply appeared pressured. The scenes that labored finest had been what we name the girlfriend scenes. However the marriage scenes did not actually work properly.

So why did you say sure to this one?

Sondheim: My feeling in regards to the theatre is the factor that makes it totally different from motion pictures and tv, is that you are able to do it in several methods from technology to technology. Simply as you may have many various actors play Hamlet, you may have many various methods of a present with out distorting it. And in addition, reveals change their life in accordance with what’s going on on this planet round them. Assassins now has a wholly totally different and ominous high quality to it due to what is going on on with weapons and violence. Firm has a distinct flavour than it had earlier than feminism actually obtained a foothold.

What retains theatre alive is the prospect all the time to do it otherwise, with not solely recent casts, however recent viewpoints.

Katrina Lenk (left) as Bobbie and Claybourne Elder as Andy in a scene from the musical “Firm’ in New York. PHOTO: NYTIMES

How did the 2 of you collaborate?

Sondheim: We simply went over it scene by scene. And I’d change, and Marianne would, taking a few of George’s traces. And she or he’d say, “Effectively, that is okay, however I want it had been extra this”, and I might say, “That is okay, however I do not fairly perceive what she’s feeling”. That sort of factor. (One of many final selections Elliott and Sondheim made was to vary the gender of one in every of Bobbie’s buddies, changing an Amy with a Jamie, so there may be now a same-sex couple wherein one particular person is having marriage ceremony day jitters.)

Is there one thing about same-sex relationships that made that work?

Sondheim: It is up to date. This makes it a lot “of immediately”. The entire forged takes it as a right. It is simply, “Oh, these two guys are married”. It is what folks would do immediately.

Elliott: I do not know whether or not that is trendy or not, however there’s one thing a couple of girl saying to a homosexual man, “Oh, God, we’re each getting older, let’s simply you and I get married”, in a form of flip means, that feels fairly actual, however then it turns into extra severe.

Sondheim: The nice key line – I will paraphrase it – is “Simply because we will get married, doesn’t suggest we must always” and that sums up the whole lot in regards to the homosexual side of marriage. That is such a prescient line.

This manufacturing of Firm started its life with a run in London. Was there something you noticed there that you simply determined to vary for New York?

Elliott: I needed to make it actually clear it was all in regards to the second when, at her celebration that she’s going to have, she’s going to should blow the candles out on the cake. I additionally needed to make it clear that in my head – I imply, this isn’t in my head, that is because it’s written – it is all in her head as she’s ready for this shock get together to show up. As she’s ingesting, on the bourbon, she’s in all probability hiding below the steps considering, “What is going on to occur?” And she or he drifts from thought to thought to thought. So it is not essentially a story, however there’s logic from one thought to a different thought to a different thought, which then takes her to the place of “Being Alive”.

Katrina Lenk, heart, as Bobbie in a scene from the musical “Firm’. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Sondheim: That is why it is not a revue. It has the type of a revue, nevertheless it’s not. It is a play.

Elliott: Yeah. And I needed to make that clear. So the “Alice in Wonderland” options extra closely right here than it did in London.

Sondheim: And in addition you needed to restage One other Hundred Individuals. That is an entire restaging of what was in London.


Elliott: Effectively, I did not suppose it labored significantly properly in London.

Sondheim: No, it did not. And naturally, it wasn’t written to be a gaggle quantity – it was written as a solo. And so Marianne needed to invent one thing – I do not know precisely why you needed a gaggle quantity, nevertheless it’s good to have one there.

Elliott: I needed it to appear to be she was being taken via the streets, alleys and corners, and the highs and the lows of New York, and likewise via, probably even, an app. So it has connotations of her strolling, but in addition connotations of her going via a courting app.

Sondheim: That is New York’s solo.

Elliott: That is an effective way of placing it: New York’s solo. Each single scene, New York is talked about. All of them have one thing to say about New York. And it is implausible to return again and do a present, within the yr after the pandemic, that’s completely the antithesis of being locked down, as a result of everyone is crammed in her condominium – all her buddies – and likewise to do a present that’s about how implausible New York is.

Sondheim: The picture of all of them crowding that small room, in the beginning, provides the present a wholly totally different flavour than it is ever had earlier than. It provides a complete different which means to the title, Firm, trigger they’re smothering her. That is one thing it is by no means had earlier than. It is all pleasant, and full of affection and heat, and so they’re smothering her.

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