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Countdown: Happy birthday, Stephen Sondheim!

On Monday 22 March 2010, American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim turns 80. Around the world and throughout this year, numerous productions, concerts, retrospectives and other events are taking place to celebrate the milestone.

On Whatsonstage.com, on the day itself, we’ll kick off our own “Happy birthday, Stephen!” week by launching a brand new, three-part podcast from regular Whatsonstage.com Radio contributor Edward Seckerson, who is also a writer, broadcaster and Sondheim aficionado. Commissioned by Josef Weinberger Ltd, IN GOOD COMPANY is a unique collage of intimate conversations between Seckerson and some of Sondheim’s closest colleagues and collaborators. Listeners will be able to share their experiences, their recollections, and their often very personal insights into what makes this man such a colossus in the world of musical theatre.

The IN GOOD COMPANY interviewees are: Michael Cerveris, Ted Chapin, Barbara Cook, Daniel Evans, Maria Friedman, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Cameron Mackintosh, Julia McKenzie, Hal Prince, Jonathan Tunick and John Weidman.

Putting it together

In previewing Monday’s birthday airing of the podcasts, Seckerson says: “Since receiving the commission from Josef Weinberger, this project has been two years in the making. Tracking down and tying down such a busy and illustrious group of interviewees was never going to be easy. And the list could have kept growing had not time called a halt.

“The brief was initially to produce an 80th birthday gift for Steve – a few friends and collaborators paying their respects. But with each conversation (and roughly nine hours of material was recorded), it became clearer and clearer that Sondheim fans all over the world would relish being privy to material that was initially intended for his ears only. That’s what makes what you will hear over some two-and-half hours so special.

These are the personal ruminations of a cast of characters who’ve played a big part in Sondheim’s creative process – both in the preparation and realisation. There are others, of course, many others. This could have been a three-week not a three-podcast event. The conversations took place in apartments, in dressing rooms, in offices, both in London and New York.

There was a gale blowing down Riverside Drive when I dropped in on Barbara Cook; Patti LuPone was prostrate backstage after another gruelling performance as Mama Rose berating amateur photographers in the front stalls; Jonathan Tunick was multi-tasking as ever, emailing scoring sheets whilst talking about them; for producer/director Hal Prince, it was another day at the office – all that was missing was the cigar; Cameron Mackintosh called me back into his office having remembered a good one-liner as I was leaving: ‘You know what’s going to happen,’ Steve once said to him, ‘I’ll get the cachet and you’ll get the cash.’

“I need to thank Thomas O’Connor for his tireless work in setting all these interviews up and my brilliant producer Bill Lloyd for his technical and mental wizardry. We have the kind of telepathy which comes of working together on BBC Radio 3’s Stage & Screen for six years. Lastly, John Schofield and Sean Gray at Josef Weinberger for making it all happen.”

Birthday tributes

During Sondheim’s birthday week here on Whatsonstage.com, in addition to the podcasts and a schedule of key anniversary events, we’ll be publishing tributes from other industry professionals about Sondheim and what he has meant to them and the theatre world at large. (If this applies to you, please email us your thoughts.) We invite theatregoers to add their own birthday wishes and opinions via the User Comments facility at the bottom of this page.


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