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Stephen Sondheim: 'Giving Young People A Hearing' Will Increase The Variety of Broadway Musicals

"Commercial theatre is so financially fragile," Stephen Sondheim remarked to an audience at London's National Theatre on Friday night. "I wish there were more of a supermarket of musicals - different kinds of musicals."

The elder statesman of American musical theatre, undoubtedly the most important Broadway composer/lyricist of the second half of the 20th Century, was the guest of Artistic Director Rufus Norris for a 45 minute public chat at the National's Olivier Theatre.

As reported by The Stage, the celebrated lyricist for WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, and composer/lyricist for heralded works such as COMPANY, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS, has suggested that the "financially fragile" nature of commercial theatre restricts the variety of musicals that get produced.

As soon as one type of show is successful, he explained, producers rush to replicate it.

"What happens is: once the first jukebox musical became popular, a lot of jukebox musicals [were made]. I understand why, but it would be nice to have other kinds of musicals."

"In New York, anyway, you can find a good deal of that variety Off-Broadway," he notes.

"Broadway tends to - as with the West End - have certain kinds of musicals that prove popular, and then when they don't prove popular they disappear, and another takes over."

"Giving young people a hearing," he suggests, would help develop a greater variety of works.

"It's the same thing with all art forms, which is: young people need means of getting their work heard, or paintings on the wall, or shows on the stage."

"The big thing about the theatre, as opposed to the other art forms, is that it has to be performed. It has to be tried out in front of an audience, it doesn't exist in the library when you write it. So young writers and middle-aged writers and some old writers need a place where their work can be heard. If that were going on, that would be great."

When asked if British audiences respond differently to his musicals than Americans do, he replied, "Of course British audiences are different from Americans: they listen."

"You have many centuries of being interested in the language. That's true, and not as true as the United States. And when you care about the language like I do, it's so much more gratifying."

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From This Author Michael Dale