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Happy Birthday to Stephen Sondheim

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The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington

by Ellen Wexler

When West Side Story premiered in the summer of 1957, Felicia Montealegre wanted to be in Washington.

Felicia, wife of composer Leonard Bernstein, had come down with the flu while on a trip to Chile and was missing the August 19 premiere of Bernstein’s show at The National Theatre. A contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side, the show was scheduled to open in Washington for a three-week pre-Broadway tryout.
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West Side Story : Geniuses at Work

By Dennis Razze

“The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning.”

This was the opening line of Walter Kerr’s review of the opening night performance of West Side Story published in the New York Herald Tribune on September 27, 1957. To Kerr, the impact of the musical was as if an atomic bomb dropped on Manhattan—West Side Story certainly changed the American musical forever.
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William Shakespeare: a quintessentially American author
From Abraham Lincoln’s White House readings to Hollywood westerns and West Side Story, Shakespeare’s plays are an integral part of the American dream. So how did this icon of Englishness become a US phenomenon

Robert McCrum

Perhaps the apotheosis of the marriage between Shakespeare and the new world occurs with West Side Story. The most famous 20th-century musical adaptation of Shakespeare began in 1949 when a friend of the director Jerome Robbins was offered the part of Romeo in a stage production and began puzzling about bringing the role to life. Robbins’s reaction, however, was more Shakespearean. “I said to myself: ‘There’s a wonderful idea here,’” he later recalled. Having begun to work on a story of ill-fated lovers and gang violence, Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and the librettist Arthur Laurents. Eventually the young Stephen Sondheim came on board to write the lyrics.
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As previously reported by BroadwayWorld, Stephen Sondheim, the elder statesman of American musical theatre and undoubtedly the most important Broadway composer/lyricist of the second half of the 20th Century, ventured to London recently to be the guest of Artistic Director Rufus Norris for a 40 minute public chat at the National's Olivier Theatre.

Some of the remarks made at that time by the celebrated lyricist for WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, and composer/lyricist for heralded works such as COMPANY, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS suggested that the "financially fragile" nature of commercial theatre restricts the variety of musicals that get produced.

"I wish there were more of a supermarket of musicals - different kinds of musicals," he noted.

A video of the entire interview has now been posted, where Sondheim tells of being mentored in writing musicals by Oscar Hammerstein II and details his creative process in partnering with his playwright collaborators.

http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/VIDEO-Stephen-Sondheim-Discusses-His-Early-Career-Creative-Process-and-More-at-Londons-National-20160406
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Happy Birthday to Stephen Sondheim

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Finishing the hat : collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim

p. 26 The second regret was that many of the lyrics in "West Side Story" suffer from a self-conscious effort to be what Lenny deemed "poetic". I had originally been hired to be a co-lyricist with him, and I knew from the start that I was getting into a collaboration with someone whose idea of poetic lyric writing was the antithesis of mine-but Oscar had given me such confidence that I naively thought I could prevail. The collaboration was a delight in every way except for the lyrical result. Lenny was supportive but insistent, and I was just insecure enough to accede and present him with lines like "Today the world was just an address" and "I have a love," these sung by street kids on the pavements of New York City. He especially liked "Tonight there will be no morning star": granted, Tony is supposed to be a dreamy character, but it's unlikely he's even seen a morning star (you don't see stars in Manhattan except at the Planetarium), much less that he would be inclined to use it as an image. Lenny kept encouraging me to come up with these maunderings, but by the time we got around to "Something's Coming" late in rehearsals, I had rebuilt enough confidence over two years of collaboration to insist on the kind of imagery I though Tony should be using-baseball, for example, rather than the night over Manhattan.



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From the PBS series "Shakespeare Uncovered" episode on Romeo and Juliet there are a number of West Side Story scenes as well as a brief but nice interview with Stephen Sondheim.
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Stephen Sondheim, Meryl Streep, Alvin Ailey and More Honored With 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom; Ceremony Set for the White House This Month!

President Barack Obama named nineteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, "I look forward to presenting these nineteen bold, inspiring Americans with our Nation's highest civilian honor. From activists who fought for change to artists who explored the furthest reaches of our imagination; from scientists who kept America on the cutting edge to public servants who help write new chapters in our American story, these citizens have made extraordinary contributions to our country and the world."
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Behind The Scenes Of WEST SIDE STORY Original Recording With Sondheim & More

by Pat Cerasaro

A fascinating behind the scenes look at the legendary original cast of the iconic Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical WEST SIDE STORY recording the show's classic cast album in 1957 is now available to view.

Sondheim is pictured offering advice and notes alongside notable producer Goddard Lieberson, while stars Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence sip tea in between takes in some of the shots.

Then, there is the dynamite diva herself, the one and only Chita Rivera, visibly moved by the rapturous music.

Plus, Larry Kert hits the floor of the studio to really get down while recording "Cool".

Cool, indeed!
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To realize his impact, go back to 1957's "West Side Story." The film has footage of beautiful performances, including one of Larry Kert, a young performer who finds his confidence while performing "Something's Coming." Though "West Side Story" earned rave reviews, Sondheim was overlooked. To help Sondheim get noticed, Leonard Bernstein — who wrote the music — offered to remove his name from the lyrics and adjust the royalties. "Oh, who cares about royalties?" Sondheim quotes his younger self in the film. "If only someone put a gag in my mouth."


http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20131209/entlife/712099997/
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SIX BY SONDHEIM


Everybody has problems. Nobody goes through life unscathed, and I think if you write about those things, you're going to touch people," says Stephen Sondheim in SIX BY SONDHEIM, an intimate and candid look at the life and art of the legendary composer-lyricist. Since his Broadway debut at age 27 as the lyricist for "West Side Story," Sondheim has redefined musical theatre over the course of a six-decade career through such groundbreaking works as "Company," "Sweeney Todd" and "Sunday in the Park with George."

Directed by Tony Award-winner and frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, SIX BY SONDHEIM is a highly personal profile of a great American artist as revealed through the creation and performance of six of his iconic songs. Told primarily in Sondheim's own words, this feature documentary weaves together dozens of interviews with the composer, rarely seen archival material spanning more than half a century (including newly discoveRed Footage of Ethel Merman performing "Gypsy") and re-stagings of three songs produced especially for the film. Executive produced by James Lapine and Frank Rich, the exclusive HBO presentation debuts MONDAY, DEC. 9 (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT).
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Sneak Peek at Stephen Sondheim on PBS NEWSHOUR, Set to Air 9/8

Master composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will appear on September 8th on the new edition of PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND. Below, check out a new sneak peek at Sondheim's interview with PBS' chief correspondent for arts, culture, and society Jeffrey Brown.

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Stephen Sondheim awarded Edward MacDowall Medal for lifetime achievement

by Associated Press

Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is being awarded one of the top honors in the arts world: the Edward MacDowell Medal for lifetime achievement.

The award is being presented Sunday at the MacDowell Colony, the prestigious retreat for artists, writers, and composers in Peterborough, N.H. This is the first time the medal has been awarded for achievement in musical theater. Past recipients include Robert Frost and Georgia O’Keefe.

In a statement when the award was announced, Sondheim called the medal a “sort of homecoming,” noting that as a child he used to play compositions by Edward MacDowell, for whom the prize is named.

Sondheim has won more Tony Awards than any other composer. His hit musicals include Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd.

http://news-briefs.ew.com/2013/08/11/stephen-sondheim-lifetime-achievement-award/
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Audra McDonald, Jeremy Jordan, Darren Criss & More Set for Upcoming Stephen Sondheim HBO Documentary; Directed by James Lapine

HBO has announced a series of documentaries for this fall including SIX BY SONDHEIM, an intimate look at the prolific career of the renowned Broadway lyricist and composer.

The film will follow Sondheim's life and work, highlighting his experiences writing six of his most celebrated songs: "Something's Coming," "Opening Doors," "Send in the Clowns," "I'm Still Here," "Being Alive" and "Sunday." Told primarily by Sondheim himself, it draws on his extensive personal archive and dozens of interviews from all stages of his career, underscoring his honesty and passion for his art.

New performances by such stars as Audra McDonald, Jarvis Cocker, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, America Ferrera and Sondheim himself have been produced exclusively for the feature documentary. The film, airing December 9, will be directed by Tony winner James Lapine, with musical segments directed by Todd Haynes, Autumn de Wilde and James Lapine.

http://broadwayworld.com/article/Audra-McDonald-Jeremy-Jordan-More-Set-for-Upcoming-Stephen-Sondheim-HBO-Documentary-Directed-by-James-Lapine-20130726

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