Friday, 2 April 2010

stephen sondheim's childhood neighbour

I hadn’t time to stay and do the usual chat with BBC tea because I had to race off and see a rough cut on Stephen Sondheim who is in the South Bank Show Revisited series. Since I talked to him a few years ago, he has allowed a biography to be written about him in which he spoke about his childhood. It was extraordinary and I felt permitted to ask him about it. Extraordinary not only in its detail of divorced family etc, but in the luck of his mother buying a farmhouse near Oscar Hammerstein, who had a son the age of the then 12-year-old Sondheim who became his best friend and whose father (Oscar Hammerstein) became a father figure to Sondheim. Sondheim said, “If Oscar had been a geologist, I would have been a geologist”. But Oscar took up the boy who wrote his first musical by the age of fifteen and informed him: “this is the worst and most terrible thing I’ve ever read in my life and I’m going to tell you why”. Sondheim then recounted what Hammerstein had told him over the next few hours and said that in that afternoon he learned more about musicals than most people get to know in a lifetime.
- from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter, 29 March