A Conversation With Stephen Sondheim: On Lyrics, On Cast Albums, On Weekends in the Country

By Kenneth Jones
24 Nov 2011

Cole Porter

I love that you mention verses in the new book. Introductory verses in songs have now become a rich part of the storytelling, rather than just lyrical palate cleansers or delights, as in the old days.
SS: Right.

Cole Porter was certainly a master at them.
SS: Well, everybody was a master at them. Verses allow the composers free reign to write in any form that they wanted, they didn't have to stick to the AABA 32-bar form. Verses allowed you to play around, so a lot of the verses that people wrote in the '20s and '30s are very imaginative.

Yes. And also practical, in that they just prepared an audience to shut up.
SS: I don't know — they just prepared the audience to get ready for the tune. They didn't want to come right in with a big tune, they wanted to get the audience to get in the mood, and then, "All right, now we're gonna sing a big tune for ya."

Can I throw a Cole Porter verse at you?
SS: Sure.

"It's not that you're fairer than a lot of girls just as pleasin'/That I doff my hat as a worshipper at your shrine/It's not that you're rarer than asparagus out of season/No, my darling, this is the reason why you've got to be mine."
SS: Yeah, well, you like the asparagus line, I can see.

It's the verse to "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To."
SS: Oh! That makes sense.

I'm just trying to impress you, Steve.
SS: That's O.K. There are a lot of verses I don't know. I didn't know that one.

Before I let you go, the old question: Are you working on something new?
SS: No. Well, I'm nibbling, I'm nibbling at a couple of things. The book has taken up my concentration for the last three years and so when I finally handed in the last of it about a month ago, I thought I'd sort of scout around and talk to a couple of my collaborators and see if we could come up with something — see if we can resuscitate a couple of ideas from the shallow drawer on my desk. But just get back to the piano is the point, I miss writing music.

Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.