Stephen Sondheim has ’20 or 30 minutes’ written of a new musical


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Stephen Sondheim may not give a whit about posterity, as he tells a reporter with the London Evening Standard, but that doesn’t mean he’s content to rest on his classics.

In a lengthy chat in which Sondheim laments the theater culture in America (more on that in a moment), he also shares that he’s got ’20 or 30 minutes’ written of a new musical, in collaboration with American playwright David Ives, who took on sadomasochism in his 2010 play ‘Venus in Fur.’ Though ‘Sweeney Todd’ similarly sports a dark streak, there’s no word from Sondheim if this new work will follow suit.


Songwriting is rough going for the artist, now 81, who claims to be out of practice on the piano after spending his recent years writing two books, both memoirs of his career as a composer and lyricist. (His ‘Look I Made a Hat’ was just announced as a finalist for the fifth annual Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography.)

‘I’m really rusty,’ Sondheim confessed. ‘I sit at the piano and think, ‘Where’s middle C?’ Any muscles, as you know, atrophy when you don’t use them, and I haven’t been using my musical muscles.’

The Broadway veteran, who was in London to attend the new cast recording of ‘Sweeney Todd,’ starring Michael Ball as the murderous barber and Imelda Staunton as his chipper assistant, also says that New York is starved of plays, except off-Broadway. And as far as attitudes toward theater goes in the rest of the country, Sondheim sounds exasperated. ‘You know that in the U.S. now there are places that won’t do [his 1962 comic musical] ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ simply because it uses the word ‘virgin.’ And that is not a joke. Curiously enough, we rarely get any problems with ‘Assassins’ [his 1990 revue-style musical]. They’re much more worried about ‘virgin’ than they are about shooting presidents.’


Stephen Sondheim sees little use for critics

Stephen Sondheim and the case of ‘Porgy and Bess’


Book review: ‘Finishing the Hat’ by Stephen Sondheim

--Margaret Wappler