April Fools: Sondheim's New List: 'Songs I Wish I Had Never Written'
(The following column was first posted on BroadwayWorld.com without the "April Fools" disclaimer in its headline.)
Back in the year 2000, approaching his 70th birthday, Stephen Sondheim was interviewed by Frank Rich for The New York Times Magazine. The cover story included a list of over fifty songs the great Broadway composer/lyricist had compiled for a concert in his honor to be held later that year by the Library of Congress: Songs I Wish I'd Written (At Least In Part).
As part of a new feature story, next Sunday's New York Times Magazine will include a follow-up list by Sondheim, Songs I Wish I Had Never Written.
"Everybody keeps asking me about 'I Feel Pretty'", Sondheim says in the Times feature. "I made a mistake years ago by letting it be known that, looking back on them now, I'm a little embarrassed about some of my lyrics for West Side Story, especially that line, 'It's alarming how charming I feel.' She's a high school kid from Puerto Rico and I had her sounding like Noel Coward. Well, ever since then people have been asking me if there were any other songs I wish I hadn't written. So I figured, I'm seventy-six now. It's time to go back and re-evaluate. Not all the songs on the list are bad songs, but even some of the good ones weren't worth the aggravation they caused."
Here are some selections from the fifty-five Songs I Wish I Had Never Written, along with Stephen Sondheim's comments on why they were included:
"Little Lamb" from Gypsy: I never expected this one to actually be in the show, but Jule Styne kept insisting on a solo for Sandra Church, who played Louise. He was a little sweet on her, you know. There was really no logical spot in the story for her character to have a solo, but Jule kept pushing for one, so Arthur Laurents said I should just keep writing bad lyrics until he got tired of the whole thing. So that night I thought of the worst idea I could put on paper; a list song with animal names. The audience came to see her take her clothes off and she's singing about a little lamb and a little fish. But Jule liked it! He threatened legal action if Arthur took it out. So we were stuck with it.
"Putting It Together" from Sunday In The Park With George: I was a little too clever for my own good with this one. When you hear the lyric out of the context of the show, the way Barbra Streisand recorded it, it sounds like this upbeat ode to the creative process. But the joke is that when it's performed in Act II of Sunday In the Park With George it's really about all the ass-kissing and schmoozing an artist has to do in order to get his work funded. The trouble is that relatively few people have ever stayed for Act II of Sunday In The Park With George.
"Send In The Clowns" from A Little Night Music: For the next eight and a half years I kept on being introduced at all these parties and social functions as "Stephen Sondheim, the man who wrote 'Send In The Clowns.'" Then I wrote Merrily We Roll Along and they stopped inviting me.
"Giants In The Sky" from Into The Woods: Fellas, a bit of advice. If you're over eighteen you should not be singing this song at auditions. Really. Go back to "Corner of the Sky" or something.
"Another Hundred People" from Company: About a year ago I was walking down Grove Street trying to get a cab on Seventh Avenue. It was a Friday night around two or two-thirty in the morning. And it's pretty quiet outside except for this hideous sound coming out of this one building. I can't really describe it. It was like shrieks and screams, howling and ranting. Just awful. So I peek inside a window and I see what must have been seventy-five, eighty people crammed into this little bar. I'm sure they were all drunk or pretty close to it, and they're gathered around a piano singing "Another Hundred People", each in their own key, their own tempo. And I said to myself, "You're responsible for this. This is all your doing."
There are fifty other songs on the list, including "Do I Hear A Waltz?" ("Waltzing with her cat?") and the entire score of Passion ("There really is such a thing as being too artistic.").
What's next for Stephen Sondheim? "Well, there's always the possibility we'll come up with another new title for Bounce, but until then I'm having fun making these lists. I'm working on a new one called Songs I'm Glad I Didn't Write. Hey, I don't worry about offending other people in the business anymore. I'm Stephen Sondheim, baby!
BroadwayWorld.com wishes its readers a very happy April Fools Day.
Photo by Walter McBride