Stephen Sondheim, Theater’s Greatest Lyricist

Lin-Manuel Miranda speaks to the man who has consistently remade the American musical over his 60-year career — and who is trying to surprise us one more time.

Comments: 126

  1. Lin-Manuel Miranda's interview with Stephen Sondheim is, as expected, a rapt meeting of minds batting long-held thoughts on "process" back and forth in a fluent volley of ideas. However, it also embodies the unexpected, the "surprise" element in which both writers take such delight: the visceral passing of a baton not unlike that between two runners whose hands meet momentarily in sweaty contact (or, in a more highfalutin image, the delicate touch with which Michelangelo's bearded Creator delivers the breath of inspiration to Adam). This is a baton which, if cracked open like a pinata, would shower down synaptic star showers in illuminations never to be extinguished, like trick birthday candles. It's one thing for mentors and prodigies to give readers the gift of their mutual discoveries as they compare methods and practices; what's rarer and perhaps more revelatory is when they possess the empathy to guide those readers into the same center of ecstatic sensation they experience when their excavations at long last unearth that perfect work or inevitable combination of notes. May Messrs. Sondheim and Miranda dazzle our hearts and minds with many more finished hats crafted of unexpected and surprising visions that give us "more to see."

  2. Stephen Sondheim is my creative hero. I'm a funk rock musician in the middle of downtown Dallas in 2017, and the lessons he imparted on the songwriting process are still being used by musicians of all stripes from all genres. I know rappers, classical composers, DJ's, and even dancers who worship at the feet of Sondheim

  3. Yes, Shakespeare, Picasso and Sondheim. They remind us the miraculous is possible if only we have the courage to reach for it.

  4. You can add in Lin-Manuel Miranda.

  5. Lin is too young yet.

    “Wait for it; wait for it...”

  6. "Lin is young yet".

    Thank God this is no longer the 1980s. Thank God Sondheim made it through unscathed.

  7. Reading this filled my heart with joy and awe. Thank you both for creating the music and lyrics if our lives.

  8. How I wish I was a fly on a wall in THAT room what this happened. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, thank you.

  9. So glad this man is still alive, with all of his faculties, and even better, still working. I tear up sometimes without knowing why just listening to his thoughts, remembering his lyrics. It was great to see in print that this man and his work will live forever in the pantheon of art, in all its forms, for all time.

  10. Thank you for this outstanding piece, Lin: I love surprises like this ....

  11. Thank you so much for this interview. One of my students, age 12, has been telling me for weeks that she's seeing "Hamilton" next week. She read a big biography about him in preparation and has memorized all the lines. Reminds me of me: name any Sondheim song and I'll sing it along with you (or at least hum it). Thanks, Mr. S, especially for my favorite all-time "You Are Not Alone" from "Into the Woods." It's my creed.

  12. What a joy it is to open up the paper and see this article about a truly great American artist. Sometimes we are reminded of the great things in life. I'm sighing with pure happiness just thinking about all the great afternoons and evenings listening to Sondheim songs. That started when I was about 5 years old -- such a long time ago (and far, far from New York).

  13. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you both, gentlemen.

  14. Over thirty years of being involved in community theatre, having played Larry in "Company," played trumpet in "Assassins" and "West Side Story," and built the Attack Pigeons in "Into The Woods," I have had a chance to sample many of Mr. Sondheim's sides. "America" remains one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, theatre or otherwise. Smoke on your pipe and put that in.

  15. Credit to Mr. Bernstein for the music.

  16. aaaaahhhhhhh
    This is magical.
    Thank you.

  17. As awful a time we are all living in, how grateful I am to be alive when Steven Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda are writing.

  18. Nice work, New York Times drama club. "Sing out, Louise!"

  19. I didn't know that "Green Grow the Lilacs" was about "homosexuality."

  20. Me neither. So I reread the play just now. And I cain't find eny sich of a thing no how.

  21. Yeah, it's there. It's an undercurrent in the rivalry. It's not really the main thrust of the story, but it's there. Though I read it 44 years ago for a paper I was doing on Oklahoma!

  22. Would definitely appreciate an explanation of that.

  23. Thanks so much for reminding me of what's eternal. Any distraction from the "news" is welcome, but most distractions are not doing it for me nowadays. This one did.

  24. My intellectual heroes in one article. Bliss.

  25. Truly lovely. Many thanks.

  26. Lin-Manuel Miranda meets Stephen Sondheim


  27. Reminds me of Joseph Campbell. He advised us to "follow our bliss" and said we'd know we had found it when time disappeared.

  28. I look forward to the day when Sondheim's musicals begin being performed regularly by major opera companies.

  29. Be careful what you wish for. Operatically-trained singers can rarely perform songs (as opposed to arias) with the proper phrasing and articulation. Check out most of the Broadway recordings done by opera singers - they reveal that difference in training. (There are exceptions, of course, most notably John McGlinn's "Showboat.") Of course, some opera companies bring in theatrically-trained singers, and you get the benefit of a large orchestra, which wonderful. But you still have the issue of some opera houses that are really too large for many Broadway shows. It's an ongoing problem.

  30. Can only compare to a conversation between Plato and one of his students. Absolutely thrilling to read. Keep making hats, gentlemen. Your work keeps us reaching for the sky. Ever grateful.

  31. One small reason Sondheim is the great artist he is that he is open. Open to surprise but also to other people. He does not separate himself or stand above his admirers and he answers his fan mail! I did not know him at all when, as an insignificant actor/singer in an insignificant 2006 production of A Little Night Music, I confided my inability to sing one of his songs properly because of a rhythmic quirk he had imbued it with. The song is “Now”, Frederik Egerman’s opening number. There is an off beat that recurs repeatedly at the beginning of sentences. Try as I might I could not get it right and eventually noticed that in both the New York and London original cast recordings neither of those singers did it correctly either. I wrote to Sondheim about this. He responded with advice I treasure to this day because it illustrates precisely why this man is the truly great theatrical genius he is. Sondheim admitted that, as I had guessed, he had given up trying to get the singers to do this entrance correctly. But then he added this remarkable sentence:
    “Personally, I find it easier to come in on the syncopated beat, because it reflects Frederik’s muddled state of mind.” Revelation! And then, genial theatrical god that he is, he added this reassuring advice “But do what makes you comfortable, as long as you act it.”

    How fortunate we are, we who love theater, to be alive in Sondheim’s time.

  32. Two musical heroes! Thank you Lin-Manuel, for bringing your relationship with Sondheim, and the creative process, to all of us. And with footnotes no less!

  33. This made me so happy.

  34. i dont need to tell anyone that Sondheim is a genius - that is self-evident. He not only has an ability to capture many of life's truisms, he sets them to music and makes them rhyme.

    One of my favorite Sondheim truisms is from "Passion" -

    Beauty is power
    Longing - a disease.

    I believe Harvey Weinstein succumbed to that disease in a very very ugly way.

  35. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

  36. Those two videos are delightful but the first, The NY Times Staff singing "Broadway Baby" literally brought tears to my eyes. I kid you not.

  37. It's super fun. I'd also really like to hear the whole number sung just by Elizabeth Synnott. You've got the chops, E.S.!

  38. I was born in 1959. My parents were given the OBC album of Gypsy by the actress Claudia McNeil when my father was working with her at CBS television. I was born listening to that fantastic score, and it still sounds brand new to me today. If that overture doesn't thrill you, there's something wrong with you. Fast forward to age 9. I remember trying hard to walk the 8 year neighbor boy through ROSE'S TURN on the HI-FI. All I got was a blank stare, when I said, "you see, she DID do it for herself too! Listen to her contradict herself" (as I put the needle back repeatedly) ...."it wasn't for me Herbie, and if I wasn't for me, then where would you be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee....!" Hooked for life. Surprise lyric? Hows this..My late mother is her last weeks would giggle in delight when I'd say, "Mom, I'm making for dinner tonight, "shepards pie peppered with ACTUAL shepard on top...." Of course, I could go on. I felt alone and isolated as a young gay boy in the 1960s thinking NOBODY else got it. Well, of course millions did and do, and I'm no longer alone in my adoration, of Mr. Sondheim. Thank you for infusing my rather isolated childhood with moving and provocative words, not to mention witty and surprising. Now, rather than being teased for listening to GYPSY over and over, I just think now I had excellent taste very young. As Frank Rich said, "GYPSY is one of the greatest pieces of American art ever made. Period." Mr. Rich. I agree. Small world, isn't it?

  39. When Assassins first came out, I rushed to buy the recording and play it immediately in one sitting. I sat right down and wrote Mr. Sondheim and said, "You have written the MOST American musical ever. You might not fully understand the profound impact this musical has, but it moved me greatly. Enclosed please find a postcard from the Temple of Music in Buffalo." Why did I feel compelled to send him that? I don't know (I collect postcards from Buffalo, my hometown). But many people started sending him assassination memorabilia. According to my BFF—who has been a friend of Mr. S for decades—my postcard ended up on the Assassins Wall in the Connecticut house. Wow. And the wall inspired him to write Something Just Broke to explain the national psyche. I have loved every show of his since West Side Story (except maybe Do I Hear a Waltz, but I blame Rodgers for that fiasco).

    So thank you both for this beautiful and insightful interview. The excitement he has for Finishing the Hat is clear in the song itself (Look I made a hat where there never was a hat). But my personal favorite is a song cut from Follies: Who Could Be Blue. A few months after my partner died suddenly, this song came on the radio. I started crying uncontrollably because he had captured everything I felt at that moment (hunt down the lyrics and you'll see why). Heck, I still tear up when I think of that song. And I say a silent Thank You, Steve every time.

    Thank you Steve (out loud) for everything.

  40. I definitely agree regarding Assassins. I can't think of a song that describes our current moment better than "Another National Anthem".

  41. "You shouldn't feel safe. 'You should feel I don't know if I can write this'" I spent over 50 years writing advertising copy (successfully, I might add) and never for a moment did I think I could do it. Every time I started a project, it was starting from "I can't do it", and I had to work my way up to a finished product. Torture, but sometimes it was exhilarating. I thought I was crazy for even trying. Now Mr. Sondheim tells me I wasn't. Thank you, Mr. Sondheim.

  42. A Sondheim lyrics changed my life when I met my beloved: "Loving you is not a choice, it's who I am".

    The lyric clarified my thinking, made the decision irrevocable, and changed my life forever.

  43. ""Loving you is not a choice, it's who I am". "

    Sorry, but this sounds like a Hallmark card cliché meaning nothing.

  44. In the context of the musical (Passion) and in particular as delivered by Donna Murphy, I can assure you that it is powerful and not at all "Hallmark". Passion is not the best Sondheim musical to start with though.

  45. Steven Sondheim's influence over all things theater should not be underestimated. His work, for example, is directly responsible for the massive bloom of Washington, DC's theater scene. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts sponsored (under the artistic directorship of Eric D. Schaeffer of local Signature Theatre fame) a then nearly unprecedented 15-week repertory festival of six full stagings of his musicals (Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park With George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passion and A Little Night Music) during May-August 2002. This tour-de-force helping of musical genius not only put DC on the theater map permanently (to the great jealousy / consternation of the many New Yorkers then "forced" to take south-bound Amtraks) but also engendered a secondary groundswell of previously untapped DC theater intelligentsia to demand more of the same. Particularly since that pivotal 2002 festival, DC's theater scene has literally exploded to the point where many Beltway denizens largely abandoned those return north-bound least, well, until Hamilton opened.

  46. Recently just getting through the day has become a serious challenge for a great many of us. The New York Times just made getting through today a real pleasure. I have seen every production of a Stephen Sondheim musical that was possible for me to attend since 1971 when my mind was opened by the magnificent COMPANY. No one comes anywhere near to what this great composer is able to do. Thank you Mr. Sondheim and of course thanks to Mr. Miranda for such a sparkling interview.

  47. Sondheim is certainly a brilliant lyricist, but for my money Frank Loesser still leads the pack with his lyrics for "Guys and Dolls."

  48. I had to drop everything to read this piece immediately. Lin-Manuel Miranda in the room where it happened! What a glorious thing! One particular pleasure was the comparison between Sondheim and Picasso, which I believe Barbara Cook made famous in her comments on a live recording, honoring a Sondheim birthday. Please, you two, give us more to see! More, more, more.

  49. "Perfect" shows reflect "perfect" books as well as scores. Sondheim's scores have risen above the books of the "non-perfect" shows he has contributed to.

  50. No. guys and Dolls was great, but nothing will ever surpass "The Most Happy Fella" which should become part of the opera repertoire.

  51. Wow, thanks for this collaboration. Sondheim and Miranda and the NY Times chorus, what a show!

    Felt the pleasure of both the intelligence and the emotional expressions of joy in a sad angry stupid time of history....

  52. Theater's greatest composer as well in my opinion. No one matches the full emotional palette to the full harmonic palette better than Sondheim. The lyrics are set like jewels, inseparable from the melodies that display them. I especially love his contrapuntal lines in songs like "Someone in a Tree" and "My Friends". There is a wonderful book called "Sondheim on Music" that goes into detail on this aspect of his work. It requires a little music theory to understand, but it's worth reading.

  53. One of my favorite anecdotes about Sondheim: during childhood he deliberately dumbed-down his vocabulary to fit in with peers.

    No doubt, the plight of literary geniuses for time immemorial.

  54. That explains the subtext that suffuses most Sondheim shows: the burning urge to prove that he, Sondheim, really was the cleverest guy in the room. I suspect Fred Allen had a touch of this affliction as well.

  55. One of Broadway's greatest lyricists--no doubt. But Broadway's greatest? I think Mr. Sondheim would be embarrassed to be called greater than his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II. Gypsy and West Side Story are masterpieces of lyrics, but the rest of his work did not reach that level, with Company being particularly overrated. And let's not forget Allan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Brigadoon, etc) or Cole Porter.

  56. The greatest? Really? The Gershwins? Irving Berlin? Rogers and Hammerstein? OK, Sondheim is great. But a little historical perspective here?

  57. @ Mark, indeed. Apparently those who write articles like these are to young to remember anyone who might have come previously. While I am a huge fan of Mr. Sondheim's work they were so many others who I consider greats before I would consider him to be one.

  58. Sunday in the Park -- saw it within about a mile (diagonally across Lake Michigan) of the artwork at the Art Institute. How cool is that?

  59. Sondheim had such an impact on me when I was in 5th grade and heard "Into The Woods" for the first time. The rapid-fire turns of phrase ignited my mind. Specifically lines like "It's your father's fault that the curse got placed/ And the place got cursed in the first place" showed me how much room there is for play within the context of writing lyrics. Blew my mind wide open. Thank you Sondheim (and Miranda).

  60. We should all thank Stephen Sondheim for enriching our lives. His work has always been brilliant. Kudos!

  61. The brilliance of Mr Sondheim's art has nourished me ever since as a ten year old I first heard West Side Story in 1961 and pressed my parent on the meaning of Anita's lyric ..."a boy like that wants one thing only, and when he's done, he'll leave you lonely"...and got a lesson on the facts of life.
    Since that time, there is hardly a thing he's written that I haven't seen or listened to. He is as the article says, the greatest lyricist in musical theatre, bar none and he's blessed with a wicked sense of humour.
    One of my favorite lyrics of his is from the song Do You Hear A Waltz and never fails to put a smile on my face when I hear it.
    "Such lovely Blue Danubey music".
    I am so grateful for his being and I can't wait to hear or see more.

  62. While the interview did not address Sondheim's music (analysis would be far more complex), I have always been fascinated by his use of harmony. It would be too subjective to call him the greatest theater composer; I find music to be far more personal than lyrics. While I am drawn to the theater music of Weill, Bernstein, Gershwin, Rodgers (in that order) and others of course, I am amazed by the increased sophistication in Sondheim's music over the years. I find the more I listen the more I am amazed by it. A composer/lyricist has the potential to create work that is greater the sum of its parts (forgive the cliché), and Sondheim's extraordinary literary facility combined with his focus on character makes his work almost unique. And tremendous credit goes to his orchestrators (especially Jonathan Tunick) who can give instrumental expression to those characters.

  63. Undoubtedly, Mr. Sondheim is a great lyricist. But this business of ranking talent is ridiculous and unproductive. Each great lyricist brings something unique to musical theater - Larry Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Sheldon Harnick, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin, Jerry Herman, Irving Berlin, - the list is long, and each is part of the creation of our great American musical theater. They are all artists who contributed mightily to the creation of our unique American art form and it denies Sondheim nothing to place him amongst them rather than at the top of some pyramid. As each of these great artists knew art is not a competition with others but with oneself.

  64. I'll add Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.

  65. His lyrics reflect the highest level of craft, and he has been fortunate to write for an incredible variety of characters unmatched, I think, by any other lyricists.

  66. Strongly agree and was about to write something similar. He doesn't need to be "the greatest." Indeed, the appellation detracts from consideration of his body of work since it forces an unnecessary comparison with other great artists such as those mentioned by SY. There's no question but that Sondhieim is a great lyricist and deserves whatever praise and prizes that come his way. All great artists are a reflection of their time, the culture they grew up and lived in, and the events that challenged and affected their work. Was Plato a "better" philosopher than Maimonodies

  67. In a way, it's regrettable that Sondheim was so insistent on going it alone. To many of us, West Side Story still towers above his later work. If only he and Bernstein had continued to work together! After all, how many of his own songs could you hum at a moment's notice, no matter how clever the lyrics?

  68. In 1973 we had to share our favorite song with our English class. The teacher would break down the lyrics for form and content. Lots of Three Dog Night, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart. I played "A Weekend in the Country" from A Little Night Music. The teacher finally had brilliant material to work with.

  69. According to you.

  70. I'm willing to concede that Sondheim is arguably the best lyricist of the post-war generation, but my vote still goes to Ira Gershwin as the greatest ever.

  71. You won't get an argument from me, although I would include Cole Porter and Irving Berlin among those greats. Sondheim deserves to be numbered among those greats, and Miranda, depending upon what he next does, has that same quality.

  72. Everyone who knows and socializes with theater folk has heard this line: "I ADORE Sondheim."

  73. Agreed, but don't slight his greatness as composer. One of Mr. Sondheim's lesser-known but cleverest lines: perpetual sunset is such an unsettling thing (describing mid-summer night in long ago Sweden). Rise, rise.

  74. For me, his brilliance lies in what he captures time and time again. All those grey areas between the black and white. Anyone can construct end points--a true artist creates all variations existing between two boundaries.

  75. i'm lucky enough to have seen some Sondheim on stage, Company and Pacifc Overtures on broadway, Follies and A Little Night Music in boston, and Sweeney Todd in london. it was all Sondheim, all the time with the people i lived with in the early 70's. some of them snuck into Pacific Overtures every single night when it was in boston. His music has been a background in my life for decades now. i don't have a favorite. i love them all.

  76. I appreciate this insight into how great artists create their works and keep it fresh. How glad I am that Lin Manuel Miranda was encouraged by a theatrical genius.
    That Mr. Sondheim was an admirer and encouraged by Oscar Hammerstein is a tribute to them both. Growing up my household was filled with the sounds of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
    I always drifted toward the lyrics. That someone could pen 'Out of my dreams' and 'Edelweiss' as well as 'This nearly was mine' and 'Something wonderful' just made me appreciate the emotion and storytelling.
    What Sondheim does is similar, but with his own style and intelligence. If it takes collaboration to bring it out it is a tribute to both parties.
    I do not think the American theater would be the same without his contribution. Shows like 'Company' and 'Follies' matured musical theater and lyrics became a centerpiece. There is not a day where I don't listen to something from his vast catalog. To call it thrilling doesn't even cover my response to his music. I guess I should say 'Not a day goes by...'
    Long may they both reign.

  77. Saw Pacific Overtures earlier this year in NY production with George Takei. Sondheim is such a genius! Someone in a Tree--my number two favorite Sondheim after the lovely Finishing the Hat.

  78. Being fascinated with all things linguistic, I have always prized Sondheim's brilliant word play. One of my favorite examples is in "Sunday in the Park with George." A young soldier is talking to his friend about approaching two young women: "The one on the left is right for me, so the one on the right is left for you."

  79. SONDHEIM'S Conversation with Lin Manuel was fascinating not so much for what it told us, but what it did not. It showed two great talents meeting and discussing their struggles with creation. Like weight lifters spotting each other in the gym. Different from that scene, though, because they referred to parts of the creative process that are all but incomprehensible to the outsider looking in on their meeting. In some ways their conversation was like what I experienced as an adult during a music lesson, where the teacher and I exchanged ideas about the music I was studying at the moment, then comparing and contrasting it with other music. What we said was very meaningful to the two of us. But to an outsider, even someone skilled in music, it could not have the same meaning. Because of all the arts, music is of the moment. Making music is being present. What is past is not music and what is future is not music. The notes you just heard were music. Those you will hear will be music. While music involves activity in more areas of the brain than any other human activity studied, its existence is mercurial, yet enduring. It requires a degree of intimacy between creative people that is unique in each instance. Permanent, but only in the minds of the participants. The power of creation is the act itself.

  80. Set aside a couple of days and listen to Sondheim's entire body of work, each song and each lyric. I have done that and nothing i can say will prepare you for the astonishment you will feel. That this range of feeling, wisdom, and beauty could flow from one man. I am glad he is so recognized now but await the judgement of history. My great great grandchildren will still know his name and his music. Not many around today , in any field , will achieve that.
    Listen to it all and when you no longer have the words to express what you feel , you will better understand the measure of this remarkable man.

  81. Mr. Sondheim was indeed a great lyricist when he was working with great composers, e.g., Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) and Jule Style (Gypsy). But as the sole songwriter, because of his limited skills as a composer, his lyrics are portentous, repetitive, overwrought, obvious and tedious. I know mine is a minority opinion, but whenever I share it in a group, others who've been afraid to come forward look over at me and mouth the words "I agree." It's almost as if we're not allowed to have anything but a hyper-inflated opinion of Mr Sondheim's work.

    The arts are extremely subjective and there's no accounting for tastes. I would never insist that others agree with me, even if it were possible to do so. So I'm just stating for the record that Sondheim has not only underwhelmed me over and over, but also that I've learned to simply not waste my time on his boring grandiosity.

  82. Once again, you offer proof that there is, indeed, no accounting for taste. Thanks for the reminder. What is it that you do, by the way?

  83. Such BRAVE self-congratulation!

  84. The first time I read Sondheim saying that Green Grow the Lilacs was about homosexuality in the west I was astonished and had to read the play right away, so I did. I didn't see even a hint of homosexuality. I wonder what Sondheim saw.

    What I was struck by was the fidelity of the musical Oklahoma! to the original play, right down to the Isinglass curtains in the surrey with the fringe on top. And I learned what I probably should have already known, that the point of the story was that the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

    Also, I read Kaufman and Hart's Merrily We Roll Along after seeing the fabulous musical production in Boston last week. Once again, it was fascinating to discover all the ways Sondheim and Furth's story is essentially the same while being its own original, artful thing.

    I am eager to see Sondheim's new Bunuel musical. I recently saw both movies for the first time and loved them a lot. If you want surprising, they are surprising. I expect this musical adaptation of movies with complex ideas will be wonderful in all the ways Merrily We Roll Along is wonderful—and for Sondheim I hope this one is better received its first production.

  85. Favorite anecdote. Sondheim sent a telegram to Elaine Stritch on the occasion of her opening at the Cafe Carlyle with and all-Sondheim show. It read: “Good luck. I won’t be there, so feel free to make up your own lyrics. Love Steve”

  86. In these dark days, people like Stephen Sondheim are my refuge through their wit and art.
    At the end of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" after a crazy day of philandering, the Count realizes what a jerk he's been, falls to his knees and says to the Countess, "Contessa perdono, perdono, perdono." In just a few words, she forgives him. All the cast joins together and sings 'Now we can be content".
    From three very short lines, Mozart gives us six minutes of the sublime music of redemption. Even I am forgiven for being the fool I am.

    Trump exhausts me and fills me with despair. Mozart and Sondheim redeem us. Without them and other geniuses, there would be no hope. Thank you Stephen Sondheim, forever. Well done, Mr. Miranda.

  87. inside the heads, hearts and souls where it happens

  88. Referencing the Hammerstein/Sondheim lineage right at the top of this piece, Miranda is clearly hoping to plant in everyone's mind that he is Sondheim's d-i-r-e-c-t artistic heir....

    P.S. I don't recall many previous Times articles that included footnotes! Is this piece intentionally directed at future academia? Legacy!!

  89. Love the video. Great job you guys and gals.

  90. Top five popular music composer/lyricists 1900-1950:

    -Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein
    -Jerome Kern
    -Irving Berlin
    -George Gershwin
    -Cole Porter

    Top five 1950-2000:

    -Stephen Sondheim
    -Bob Dylan
    -Paul Simon
    -Joni Mitchell
    -?????? (Young, Springsteen....?)

  91. You missed Leonard Cohen and Jimmy Buffett and Jackson Browne, all more literate than SS. And they write the music too.

  92. Leonard Cohen.

  93. Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell are lovely, but get serious. Holland, Dozier, and Holland wrote more classics in a year than Simon and Mitchell wrote in their entire careers combined. After HDH, you're looking at Brian Wilson, Isaac Hayes, maybe Carol King.

  94. So v cool! Thanks!

  95. "Theater's Greatest Lyrcist"!?! While I believe Sondheim's early works, especially West Side Story are magnificent, calling him the Greatest, certainly subjective, is a bit too much! Arlen, Hammerstein, Hart, Kern, Lowe, Mercer, Porter, Van Heusen, and Warren! While they all didn't just do Theater, how soon we forget!!!

  96. You have listed a bunch of composers who did not write the lyrics to their best known music. Your argument is faulty.

  97. Unfortunately, labeling Sondheim the "greatest" is ESPNing. Well the entire sports industry seems struck with the notion that in whatever game they are playing several of the players are -- "as good as anyone in the NFL," or more exotic encomiums. We all know that Tom Brady is the "greatest qb of all time" at least since Manning retired and Montana isn't around anymore. And he'll be the greatest until -- the next greatest shows up.

    Please. It cheapens art when you try to start ranking artists. Who was the greatest American novelist? Greatest classical composer? Etc.

    I can buy that the Beatles are greater than Van Halen. But then, so are a lot of bands. What is the point though? Being a poseur who knows more about the theater or literature or whatever than the rest of us?

  98. Listening to Sondheim's songs has revealed humanity and all its foibles to me. His music touches my soul to the core, and his words have taught me about myself and about life. I'm just a regular gal with no musical talent, but even we lay people can be moved to tears by his genius. I count myself fortunate indeed to have lived in his era and heard his music as part of my growing experience as an adult. What dimension and inspiration he has brought to my life! I love you, SS.

  99. "There's a chap I know in Mexico,
    Who's as strong as he can be.
    Eating nails and drinking Texaco,
    He is the type for me..."

    Guess who - (Hint:- it's not Sondheim) ...

  100. Gershwin? "Girl Crazy"? Later to become "Crazy For You". I was in "Girl Crazy" in college. I was a "Bronco Buster ".

  101. What absolute and utter joy to have this to read today! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  102. A pleasure to read Lin Manuel with this legend. They understand and admire each other so .....thank you for this.

  103. After West Side Story, and possibly Gypsie, I find his lyrics to be superficial, not memorable. Strictly for the out-of-towners. Sorry.

  104. Well, smell you! You're clearly not a singer; if you were you'd have a great appreciation for Sondheim. As a lyricist and composer, he is unparalleled.

    Perhaps you should stick to Lloyd-Weber. He is probably more your speed.

  105. Isn't Concord out of town?

  106. Maybe out of Concord...

  107. How do you explain to a great artist how much his work has taught you, how much it has thrilled you, and how much it has meant to your love of music, language, theatre, and family? It was a privilege to be cast in the first college production of "Company", in 1971. Our orchestra and musical director were wonderful, we (the cast) were mostly awful, but discovering the specificity and complexity of the words and music and the subtle verse-to-verse note variations and their meaning was more educational and inspiring than anything else in my undergraduate years. I recall so clearly the first time we rehearsed the opening of "Company" with the orchestra -- and had to stop as we heard the strings swell into "Bobby come on over for dinner" and our voices stuck in our throats. Seeing the original Broadway cast of "Follies", and then the pre-Broadway run of "A Little Night Music" in Boston are indelible memories: how the younger-selves shadows wove themselves into "Waiting Around For The Girls Upstairs"; the Boston audience's reaction to "Send In The Clowns" -- awestruck silence followed by rapturous applause (I think the song was only days old at the time). My children were raised on the OBC video of "Into The Woods" and my daughter and I attended every Sondheim revival and show when she was living in Manhattan ("Follies", "Night Music", and "Sondheim by Sondheim"). How do you say "thank you" and have it mean as much as it should?

  108. It is foolish to say that Sondheim is the greatest. The Gershwins, Rogers & Hart. Rogers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and many others were all great. They all brought something that was unique and different to musical theatre and each appealed to different tastes.
    My own personal best were the Gershwins, I saw Paul Whitman in a concert played Rhapsody In Blue and I was hooked.

  109. There will never, ever, ever, be another like Stephen Sondheim.Bravo to the times and Mr. Miranda from a piece that reminds us of the beauty of human hopes fears and frailties; and that introspection still exists in these times of seemingly constant crisis.

  110. "Green grows the lilacs homosexuality" is autocompleting on Google so at least 43 of us have looked it up. Didn't know until today that Lynn Riggs was a man. Jud loving Curly, I believe it.

  111. I think Lin has overpraised Steven and lurched into press agent talk. Never mind, Steven is brilliant, but can you say he is more briliant than Oscar, or Frank Loesser, or Hart, or even Irving Berlin. They're all brilliant and thank God for them all.

  112. Agreed, at least in regard to a Frank Loesser. "The Most Happy Fella" is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest American musicals. It is operatic.

  113. ONLY Oscar is more brilliant.

  114. Seeing Times staff members belting out "Broadway Baby" is fine and dandy but watching young people sing "I'm Still Here" makes me cringe. For as many times as I've seen this song performed by a host of individuals, nothing ever wipes away it's original intent as voiced so emphatically by Yvonne DeCarlo (even on the truncated original cast album). Whenever it is played for laughs--which is often, it feels as it is being stripped of its raw emotional power and I don't appreciate it being diluted this way. Bright faced young people who can't possibly bear the weight of maturity it takes makes the song worse than a poor choice. Just imagine trying to explain who Brenda Frazier was and why it is relevant to know this. Thankfully, this line is cut along with its surrounding stanza in most versions except when sung on stage in context. Otherwise, terrific article. And for those who don't know, the second greatest lyricist is a contemporary of Sondheim's, the unheralded Bobb Goldsteinn, in whose living room Harold Prince found that photograph of Gloria Swanson posing in the ruins of the Roxy Theatre which inspired Prince to take what was then known as "The Girls Upstairs" and transformed it into what we now know as "Follies."

  115. Totally adore Lin-Manuel. You're a beacon to Puerto Rico and to the world.
    Mr. Sondheim is a talent beyond words.

    Problem: 'West Side Story'. This work was a nuclear explosion for the Puerto Rican community–which Puerto Ricans are living with today.
    Mr. Sondheim helped create some of the worst and most underserved stereotypes to introduce the Puerto Rican people to mainland America. Puerto Ricans = Gypsies, tramps and thieves.
    When Mr. Sondheim wrote the lyrics to 'West Side Story", he knew little about the Puerto Rican community, so I presume he used the ugly, undeserved Eastern European gypsy stereotypes he knew about and tagged them on to these great people.
    When this work first appeared, Puerto Rico's public relations agency, Ogilvy and Mather immediately contacted the governor of Puerto Rico to let him know about this major disaster. Puerto Rico spent a lot of money to fight this nightmare. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico had limited resources.

    I believe Mr. Sondheim owes a very long overdue apology the entire Puerto Rican community for the terrible injustice, he helped create. Many Puerto Ricans have suffered and continue to suffer from his ugly and careless stereotypes.

  116. Perhaps you should apologize to the Roma community as well.

  117. Oh, for goodness' sake.

  118. It's true! I first heard this lyric when I was enthralled with 'West Side Story' as a kid. I genuinely grew up thinking those qualities of Puerto Rico were true. We have to be very careful as artists not to use an easy stereotype merely to make a rhyme or a story or a scene work.

  119. Let's put the emphasis on what Stephen Sondheim is saying to all of us, Surprise yourself. Don't take the easy rode. To quote another creative person, Walt Disney, "It's kind of fun doing the impossible".

  120. thank you. this is the best piece I've read in the Times... anywhere... in a long long time. a wonderful look into the mind of a genius from whom we haven't heard in a while.

  121. I play a recording of Sunday in the Park with George whenever I start a painting.

  122. I LOVE the footnotes - wish every article had them.

  123. My parents, bless them, took me to every Sondheim show from Sweeney Todd on, and off-Broadway productions, as they came up, for the ones I'd missed. At at least three of those shows I remember looking over at them and seeing them both with tears streaming down their faces. Such a talent. Seeing the original Broadway cast perform Sweeney Todd is still my favorite night of theater. What could be more exciting? But Sondheim has given me many other fantastic nights of theater, plus a few afternoons. Genius, for sure.

  124. This article made me smile for an entire day. I have been a fan since the age of eight— first musical South Pacific— and I have taken my son since he was five. Both Sondheim and Lin Manuel have broadened and enriched our cultural experience, and given us both pleasure and food for thought. Do we ever need them now!

  125. This was a joy to read. Thank you.

  126. I continue to see every production of a Sondheim show that I can. Revisiting each of his creations as I progress throughout life has brought both immeasurable joy and fresh insights about both myself and others.