STAGE TO SCREENS: "Good Thing Going: Celebrating Sondheim at 75," The Museum of Television & Radio Tribute

STAGE TO SCREENS: "Good Thing Going: Celebrating Sondheim at 75," The Museum of Television & Radio Tribute This month we speak with the Museum of Television & Radio Associate Curator Rebecca Paller and Jane Klain, Manager, Research Services, about the retrospective in honor of Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday (March 22). Several new items have been added to the program, originally shown at the time that the composer-lyricist turned 70.
Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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"Could it be? Yes, it could. Something's coming, something good. . . " Among the new acquisitions, notes Rebecca Paller, "are two really valuable clips. One is from 'The Carol Burnett Show' in 1971 — Carol Burnett, Marilyn Horne and Eileen Farrell singing 'You Could Drive a Person Crazy.' It's a delightful piece. Vicki Lawrence introduces it and talks about Company, which was then on Broadway.

"The other [clip] is from 'The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson' in 1973. D'Jamin Bartlett sings 'The Miller's Son,' and she and Glynis Johns chat with Carson. Back then, the show originated in New York, and about 20 minutes were devoted to A Little Night Music. Now you occasionally get maybe five minutes at the end of Letterman devoted to a Broadway musical, and the song is usually out of context. I remember seeing [the Bartlett performance] as a kid, and thinking: 'When I grow up, I've got to move to New York.'"

Jane Klain is excited that the new material includes "a 2000 German-made documentary that hasn't been shown in this country. It's an English-language version and has interviews with Sondheim, Milton Babbitt [a composer with whom Sondheim studied] and [conductor] Paul Gemignani. There's never been a full-length [Sondheim] documentary done [in America].

"From a special about Hollywood's diamond jubilee we have Yvonne DeCarlo in front of the restored Hollywood sign — singing 'I'm Still Here.' We have a 'Times Talks' [program] from 2004, with Sondheim and Barbara Cook interviewed by Stephen Holden. That's only been seen locally [in New York City]." Says Paller, "Jane Klain is a fabulous, fabulous detective. We all do detective work here, but she's fabulous at tracking things down. Even things we don't think exist, she optimistically continues to track down."

Among Sondheim items for which Klain continues to search (for the collection) are "a color version of 'Evening Primrose' and his appearance on a celebrity edition of the game show 'Password,' on which he appeared with Lee Remick [a close friend] and her mother. And there are two things we haven't gotten yet [for the series], but we may get. We hope that there will be two added surprises."

Klain points out that only some Sondheim shows have been made into movies (including "West Side Story," "Gypsy," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "A Little Night Music"), while far more have been done for TV: "Company" (in England), "Follies in Concert," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Into the Woods," "Putting It Together" (for cable) and "Passion."

Incidentally, on March 31, PBS will telecast a live performance of a concert version of Passion, starring Tony winners Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris (from Frederick P. Rose Hall at Time Warner Center).

Concludes Paller, "The final program [in the series] is completely new [for this tribute]. We've added to a lot of the other packages, but the final one is totally new. It's really quite something — 50 years of Sondheim's work on television."

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The salute will be shown at the museums in Manhattan (25 West 52nd Street, 212-621-6800) and Los Angeles (465 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, 310-786-1000). New York screenings are Tuesdays-Sundays at 2 PM, and Thursdays at 5 PM; in Los Angeles, they're Wednesdays-Sundays at 2 PM. Dates, titles, lengths and contents follow.

March 18-27, "Early Days," 130 minutes. The program includes a Crista Moore recording of Sondheim's 1952 song "The Two of You," written for (but not used by) the children's TV show, "Kukla, Fran & Ollie." Also: a segment on the 1997 production of Saturday Night; a 1954 episode (written by Sondheim) of the sitcom "Topper," starring Robert Sterling, his wife Anne Jeffreys and Leo G. Carroll; "In an Early Winter," a 1959 Sondheim teleplay, starring Kim Hunter and Pat Hingle; and "Evening Primrose," the 1966 Sondheim-James Goldman musical written for TV, starring Anthony Perkins, Charmain Carr and Dorothy Stickney.

March 29-April 3, (hereafter, the starting dates in L.A. are always a day later than New York), "West Side Story Revisited," 175 minutes. Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence perform the balcony scene in a 1958 sequence from "The Ed Sullivan Show"; a 1958 episode of "Look Up and Live," featuring Kert, Lawrence, Jerome Robbins and Mickey Calin (later Michael Callan); a 1961 episode of "The American Musical Theatre," with Sondheim, Martha Wright and host Earl Wrightson; and the 1985 "Great Performances" episode, "Bernstein Conducts West Side Story."

April 5-10, "Everything's Coming Up Gypsy," 160 minutes. It features home movies made during rehearsals of the original production; Ethel Merman's appearance on a 1965 talk show, hosted by Gypsy Rose Lee; and the 1993 TV version of the Sondheim-Jule Styne-Arthur Laurents musical, starring Bette Midler.

April 12-17, "A Waltz . . . and a Master Class," 120 minutes. Barbara Cook, in a 2002 "NewsHour" segment, discusses Sondheim and sings "Send in the Clowns" and "Anyone Can Whistle"; Zero Mostel sings "Comedy Tonight" at the 1971 Tonys; a 1965 edition of "The American Musical Theatre" with Richard Rodgers, Elizabeth Allen and Sergio Franchi (co-stars of Do I Hear a Waltz); a 1965 "Camera Three," with Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and designer Beni Montresor; and the 1984 "South Bank Show" entitled "Sondheim: A Master Class."

April 19-24, "In Comes Company," 200 minutes. Carol Burnett, Eileen Farrell and Marilyn Horne sing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy"; the 1970 DA Pennebaker documentary about the session of the Sondheim-George Furth musical; and Sam Mendes' 1996 Donmar Warehouse London production of Company, starring Adrian Lester as Bobby.

April 26-May 1, "Follies," 170 minutes. Alexis Smith sings "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" at the 1975 Tony Awards; Yvonne DeCarlo does "I'm Still Here"; a clip from a 1977 "Saturday Night Live" features a rendition of "Broadway Baby" by Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman; a 1971 "David Frost Show" has Sondheim, librettist James Goldman, Harold Prince and the original Follies leads; and the 1985 PBS "Great Performances" presentation of Follies in Concert, starring Lee Remick, Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, Mandy Patinkin, George Hearn and Phyllis Newman.

May 3-8, "Night Music and June Moon," 170 minutes. D'Jamin Bartlett singing "The Miller's Son"; Glynis Johns and Len Cariou perform "Send in the Clowns" from 1982's "The Best of Broadway"; a 45-minute sequence form Britain's "Pebble Mill" devoted to the 1996 Royal National Theatre production of the Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical, starring Judi Dench; filmmaker Hart Perry's 1973 13-minute "Sondheim: A Musical Tribute," concerning the one-night Broadway benefit, and his TV commercial for A Little Night Music; and the 1974 "Theater in America: June Moon," starring Jack Cassidy and Susan Sarandon, and featuring Sondheim's acting debut.

May 10-15, "Pacific Overtures and the Creative Process," 160 minutes. Sondheim and librettist John Weidman appear on a 1976 "Camera Three" episode, "Anatomy of a Song," which features cast members performing "Someone in a Tree"; a 1984 Sondheim interview for "The MacNeil/Lehrer Hour," in which he discusses the creative process; and the complete 1976 Japanese-TV presentation of Pacific Overtures, which never aired in the U.S.

May 17-22, "Side by Side . . . The South Bank Show," 190 minutes. Two 1977 episodes of "The Mike Douglas Show" that were devoted to Side by Side by Sondheim; 1977's "Previn and the Pittsburgh: Stephen Sondheim," featuring Millicent Martin, Julia McKenzie and David Kernan; and a 1980 "South Bank Show: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Scenes from the Making of a Musical," with Denis Quilley, Sheila Hancock, Harold Prince and Sondheim, who talks about writing the songs "The Worst Pies in London" and "God, That's Good." May 24-29, "Exclusively Sweeney," 145 minutes. Included are a 1979 TV commercial for Sweeney Todd, and the 1982 telecast of the musical, starring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn.

May 31-June 5, "Sundays with George," 200 minutes. The 1990 BBC "Omnibus" documentary, "Sunday in the Park. . .with Stephen," which focuses on Sondheim as a visiting professor at Oxford and the Royal National Theatre production of Sunday in the Park with George; the 1986 "American Playhouse" presentation of the Sondheim-James Lapine musical, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.

June 7-12, "60 Minutes. . .Into the Woods," 170 minutes. A 1988 Sondheim "60 Minutes" interview with Diane Sawyer, and the 1991 "American Playhouse" presentation of the Sondheim-Lapine musical, starring Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien.

June 14-19, "A Ballad and Passion," 185 minutes. Henry Goodman and Anthony Barclay perform "The Ballad of Guiteau" from the 1992 London production of Assassins, on the 1993 Olivier Awards; a 1994 "Charlie Rose" interview, in which Sondheim discusses his relationships with his mother, his mentor Oscar Hammerstein, and Passion; the 1996 "American Playhouse" presentation of the Sondheim-Lapine musical, starring Donna Murphy, Jere Shea and Marin Mazzie.

June 21-26, "Celebrating Sondheim . . . Inside the Actors Studio," 150 minutes. A 1992 Sondheim tribute at Carnegie Hall includes performances by Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Glenn Close, Betty Buckley, Madeline Kahn and Patti LuPone; a 1995 edition of the James Lipton interview show has the host asking Sondheim his favorite curse word, and features performances by Liz Callaway and Jim Walton.

June 28-July 3, "Stop the Presses," 120 minutes. The 2004 "Times Talks" with Sondheim and Barbara Cook is paired with the 2000 German documentary (in English) that features musical clips and comments from (among others) Elaine Stritch, Milton Babbitt, Paul Gemignani, Arthur Laurents, Harold Prince and the subject himself.

The Museum of Television & Radio is throwing quite a party, and all are invited to attend.

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I'm sure that everyone wishes Stephen Sondheim a Happy 75, and many more productive years to follow. We can never fully thank him for the lyrics and music that have enriched the musical theatre and our lives.

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Michael Buckley also writes for TheaterMania.com, and is the author of the book "Between Takes (Interviews with Hollywood Legends)," to be published later this year.