Stephen Sondheim calls his ‘West Side Story’ lyrics ‘embarrassing’


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Stephen Sondheim appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” on Tuesday night, and during the interview, the theater legend disclosed that he found the words to his 1957 masterpiece “West Side Story,” written with Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein — are you ready for this? — “embarrassing.”


“It’s very hard for me to listen to some of those songs,” he said, reciting a line from “I Feel Pretty.”


Longtime fans of Sondheim, who turned 80 this year, may have heard many of the anecdotes he mentions on the “Nightline” segment and in his new (and first) book, “Finishing the Hat.” But it’s still fun hearing insights from that modest guy behind such landmark musicals as “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Gypsy” and “Into the Woods.” Like the fact that he writes lying down. Or that he’d like to rewrite some of his classic songs.

“Art needs surprise; otherwise, it doesn’t hold an audience’s attention. Theater needs surprise,’ he said. ‘So I like to surprise myself, and I want to surprise an audience.”

Perhaps it was no surprise that Sondheim saved his most biting words for critics who review his shows (not always kindly): “I think it’s the only one of the arts that is mostly reviewed by ignoramuses, people who know nothing about what they’re writing about.”

Ouch! Well, no one can say Sondheim doesn’t have a way with words. After all, he is the man who wrote ‘Send in the Clowns.’


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Stephen Sondheim: Merrily he rolls along

Book review: ‘Finishing the Hat’ by Stephen Sondheim

-- Lisa Fung