A composer and a gentleman: Canadian theatre artists remember Stephen Sondheim


Stephen Sondheim’s recent death has sparked tributes and memories from all over the world. The American composer, who died on November 26 at the age of 91, is widely considered one of the most influential artists of the late 20th century.

But what are his connections with Canadian artists and playwrights? The star gathered five people who knew him to remember the man and his work:

Richard Ozunian

Retired Toronto Star theater critic, director and playwright

“The first time I met him was in 1993 when I met him (composer) Gary Kolisha in Toronto. Sometimes the meetings with Stephen were fraught and sometimes it was beautiful. This one started off fraught and ended beautifully. Over the years I’ve been ostensibly talking to him about an interview topic, but we After that we expand it … We will talk about life and art, on top of the subject in question.”

The song I thought of when I heard he died is ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of’ by Anyone Can Whistle: ‘It was great to know you / It’s not really over. / Crazy Business This, this, the life we ​​live / We can’t complain about the time we’re given / With so little to be sure in this world / We’ve had a moment. I think it’s his greatest song.”

Tom Allison

Actor and Director

“I fell in love with Sondheim through ‘A Little Night Music’ as a teenager… I actually met him at the Harbourfront World Leaders Festival in 2001… I was playing Emcee in a production of ‘Cabaret’ at the Calgary Theater, and they had an alternative me so I could fly to Toronto and sing “Hat Ending” by Sondheim…singing for him was the most extraordinary thing I could imagine.”

“Sondheim is the most humble then exciting material to be a part of…When you really find out what he’s doing, he’s been giving great thought to anything you could possibly imagine…You gladly try to keep up with what he’s written and where he’s taking you…He seems to be able to Thinking in five different directions at once.”

The song that’s been in my head today is from ‘Sunday in the Park With George ‘: Whatever you do / Let it come from you / Then it will be new / Give us more to see. ”

Robert Cushman

Retired theater critic

“It was around 1970… The ‘company’ opened in New York and then it was advertised in London… I knocked on the door of the legendary Manhattan house and he greeted me politely. We talked… It was less showy than I expected and was quite challenging… We met again in London while Company was in rehearsal. On three separate occasions we sat in the back of the booths at Her Majesty’s Theater and talked and it was much more relaxing. I got far more from it than I was originally able to achieve.”

“He can be incredibly warm in some of his correspondence. He had wonderful heavy note cards which I had the pleasure of receiving. And he was always very quick to respond to letters or emails… I asked him about it once and he said it was something he learned from His father: “This is the mark of a gentleman. You always reply to your correspondence.”

‘Waiting for the girls upstairs’ from ‘Follies’…We have a two stage door Johnnies are now middle aged, they remember when they were guys waiting for the Follies girls to come down so they could take them on a date…” Clicking heels on steel and cement/Pick up Laughs floating through the hatch / God damn hours I’ve ever spent / I was waiting for the girls upstairs. The way you go from all these details to character, perfect use of the slang word.”

Leslie Arden

Composer, poet and songwriter

“That was in 1989, I think. (Producer) Cameron Mackintosh set up a chair in Oxford for Steve to give a six-month master class to professional writers. A friend of mine, David Malik, was on “Les Mis” and Cameron Mackintosh came to the show to check out That… That night, David gave Cassette (of my music) to Cameron Mackintosh and said, “You might be interested to hear what Canadians write. The next morning I got a call from my agent saying, “How fast can you get to London?”

“I felt he was tougher on me than anyone else. One day I gathered up my courage and asked him why, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s because you decided you wanted to be a writer. Others do other things too. They perform, they play the piano, they direct..’ I’ve made your decision, and I can’t do anything to dissuade you from it. So I don’t have to waste time, I can get to this point.”

He would say too much with too little…in ‘Into the Woods,’ early on, Cinderella sings, ‘I wish.’ And this keeps coming back and back…three-quarters of the way through chapter 2, when everything goes wrong. , Little Red Riding Hood lost her mother, and turned to Cinderella singing, “I wish.” And Cinderella says, “I know. Oh my God.”

“The most important thing he taught us is not to underestimate your audience. Musical theater audiences are more intelligent, educated, and discerning than most people give credit for, and if you don’t do your best they’ll know…it was enough to put me on the path to becoming a better writer.”

Adam Brazier

Actor, Director and Artistic Director Charlottetown Festival

“I auditioned for a Broadway revival of ‘Into the Woods.'” The call said, ‘We want you to sing something to Sondheim in the context of Prince’s music’ on that show. So you immediately start looking at his canon of music, saying what it’s like…the kind From arrogance and bravery?…I sang, “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story”, but I sang like a prince. Then I got a call to come to New York and audition for him and (director) James Labin…when I walked on stage , went, “Ah! There’s that smart Canadian kid! ‘ And I said, ‘That’s all I need. I don’t care if I get the part. I’m good with that. “

“Just like Shakespeare, you can’t take it too rough. You do what is written…I have often found the hardest part in Sondheim to be saying, ‘I will trust that all of this is here.'”

There’s one from ‘Marry Me a Little’: She’s sitting at the Ritz with her mum holes / And she starts out in the pines for guts with village friends / But with Schlitz in her gloves at the Fitzroy Bar / She thinks of the Ritz so he’s very schizophrenic . This wordplay, it’s just…it’s humble.”

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