“It’s been a beautiful era,” Stephen Sondheim said of his work on Broadway in his final interview with Newsday. “Although I don’t do this well these days, I was lucky to be in a pop-song culture that just couldn’t be killed. The Beatles were in Japan, Elvis was still on the air, and now all of a sudden, like Puccini and Verdi were decades before them, I was like a star.”
Sondheim has been the baritone of Broadway, the music of other singers, the controversial force behind greats such as “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Company.” And just as all of his other musicals fall in step with one another, so too does his final interview (published Sept. 9 in Newsday), which was a dissection of “Company” and “West Side Story.” He became more and more talkative as the conversation moved along, so perhaps his assistant had been listening in.
He does not appear on screen. His interview with Jean Stapleton was conducted in person at the Blue Room of the Palm Springs home of the Broadway producer-director Hal Prince. Yes, Sondheim was sitting in the middle of the living room. And yes, he talked to (and signed) a few autographs.
The new HBO documentary “Sondheim on Sondheim” (which is also what you’d call Sondheim discussing Sondheim), is the final (and highly enjoyable) event for what had been an expansive 90-day TV event — a Sondheim retrospective shown on nine of the network’s key platforms, in conjunction with a book published by Simon & Schuster’s Dial Press.
Sondheim had been asking for much of that attention to his achievements since he announced in 2016 that the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where he’d started his career as a musical theater composer and lyricist in the late 1950s, would not be hosting a production of “Company” for three years. Sondheim said that he did not want the spotlight to be “crucial” to the work, which went on for more than 50 years on Broadway and in other theaters around the world.