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One day in the house with Steve

15 0 4

You know that scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where the clouds part and God speaks to an overwhelmed King Arthur and his gaze-averting knights? That’s how I felt when I first spoke to Stephen Sondheim, who has died this week aged 91. I was in my early twenties, working at a cable television channel and quietly developing a book about my late mentor, the great theater critic Jack Tinker. Jack had written extensively on Sondheim, and I dreamed of getting some comments from the great man. I had read in that morning’s Evening Standard that he was in London, and a friend tipped me off that he always stayed at the Savoy Hotel. I called the Savoy and was given a fax number to message, which I did, and frankly I thought that would be that. Why? Because, come on, this was Sondheim.

For those who love musical theater, Sondheim was more than a man, he was a genre. He was the evolutionary tissue that transformed musicals from the more simplistic, folksy tales of Richard Rodgers and Sondheim’s own mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, into contemporary, sophisticated dramas that mixed the social and musical textures of the modern age – as colors on his compositional palette. And even that doesn’t do it. In a lifetime that stretched past the Broadway musical’s acknowledged golden era, past the days of almost all the great showmakers, many of whom he knew; past Bernstein, past Hart, Weill, Loesser, Porter, Coleman, Lerner and Loewe, he was almost the only one left. He was certainly the only one with the sheer number of beloved shows that he gave to us. Sondheim was a titan, an enormous granite face on the Mount Rushmore of musical theater. Perhaps the greatest creative force on the world stage. Such a creator that to a theater fan it sometimes felt like he was almost the Creator, capital C.

So when my phone rang in the middle of a busy open-plan office, and a casual, slightly gravelly voice at the end of the phone said, “This is Steve Sondheim,” it was, well, a shock. Around me bustled everyone doing everything we did every day and here I was working on this secret project and suddenly God was on the line. As it happened, God was very nice and helpful and sent me a piece of writing for my book. It took me a few days to get over that one.

My next encounter with God, who insisted on being called Steve, was at his house in Manhattan a few years later. I was in town and had asked for........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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