A packed house at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan welcomed the 69-year old Stephen Sondheim March 19 for a conversation with composer Ned Rorem in the "Ned Rorem Hosts" series.
Sondheim, who admitted he's been interviewed so much that the high context audience probably knew all his answers, fielded the usual questions about his relationship with Oscar Hammerstein II (mentor and father figure) and his feelings about opera vs. musical theatre (one is performed in an opera house, the other in a theatre, he said).
In the first five minutes of the conversation, Rorem brought up the unflattering black and white photo that appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine March 12. Craggy, squint-eyed, almost grimacing, Sondheim was shot in closeup, and the image shocked industry people and fans for its naked display of apparent decay.
Sondheim, in good humor about the photo, said that at Music Theatre International some wags had apparently affixed a note to the cover that read, "will compose for food." The audience roared, and Sondheim, looking comfortable and groomed in his now-signature pullover and cotton pants, shrugged it off.
Sondheim confirmed what The Times had reported: Director Harold Prince, his collaborator in the 1970s and for 1981-82's Merrily We Roll Along, will take over direction of the long-aborning musical, Wise Guys, which had an unproductive workshop in fall 1999. In The Times, he called the workshop a "waste of time." Sondheim said it was hoped the show would appear "next season."
He also confirmed that Follies was expected to be produced in New York next year. The Roundabout, as previously reported, is expected to present.
Liz Callaway and Jonathan Dokuchitz sang a handful of Sondheim songs picked by the composer-lyricist. Paul Ford played piano. Songs included "Silly People" (Dokuchitz), "In Buddy's Eyes" (Callaway, Follies), "Poems" (Callaway and Dokuchitz, Pacific Overtures), "I Remember" (Callaway, Evening Primrose), "So Many People" (Callaway and Dokuchitz, Saturday Night).
-- By Kenneth Jones