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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?

Wallman2
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#1
Posted: 2/18/20 at 1:13am

Does anyone find it strange that Sondheim in his 60 Minutes interview (Overtime) talks about the validity of the reinterpretation of theatre works, especially the current  West Side Story and bringing it into the 21st Century when he wrote a diatribe against the revised Diane Paulus-Suzi Lori Parks production of "Porgy and Bess" without having seen it, arguing for the original's preservation.  Does anyone remember the mini cause celebre that resulted...I had heard the company was up in arms as there hadn't as yet been any performances of that production.   Did Sondheim ever go?:

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#2
Posted: 2/18/20 at 1:37am

Are you sure about the Porgy and Bess situation?   Sondheim seems very open to reinterpretation of his own work, witness the gender changes in the forthcoming "Company".  Why would he criticize a reproduction of another artist's work when it is being reimagined?   I much preferred the streamlined 21st century Broadway "Porgy and Bess" to the sometimes lugubrious and overwritten folk opera presented in its entirety.  

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#3
Posted: 2/18/20 at 1:46am

I don’t know for sure as I haven’t read Sondheim’s letter, but I think his criticism is more due to them making alterations to an opera to change it into a musical. I also know that he was upset about the title The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess as he thought it downplayed DuBose Heyward’s work.
Again, maybe I’m missing the mark, but I think Sondheim is fine with something like the new West Side Story because it’s reimagining it but is still staying true to the original text. The controversial removal of I Feel Pretty and the Somewhere Ballet could be seen as a less noticeable change than the cutting and altering of Porgy and Bess’ music to create spoken word portions. Also, I think Sondheim (especially since he’s often critical of his own work) may be more willing to accept changes to his work than that of others.
And maybe he’s just changed his mind about Porgy and Bess. I don’t know. I’m just a big Sondheim fan and trying to see if I can get why he thinks these might be different cases.

Edit: after looking a little bit into it, it looks like that revival also changed some music besides just cutting singing and adding talking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s part of why Sondheim was upset. He’s written a few numbers that are considered optional in performances for his show, so I don’t think cutting of numbers that are seen as unnecessary (as someone who doesn’t like the cutting of I Feel Pretty, I’ll acknowledge outside of giving Maria her big solo, the song’s not really necessary), but altering music for a classic score may be seen as too much for him to stomach. Again, I haven’t read his letter, so I can’t be sure about all this.

Updated On: 2/18/20 at 01:46 AM
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#4
Posted: 2/18/20 at 2:46am

Porgy and Bess is an opera; not a musical. The Gershwin Estate, made up of the talentless branch of the family, tried for years to turn it into a musical  I have seen the opera live plus several broadcasts and each time was moved.

Here is a brief summary of Sondheim's letter.  The link to the NY Times does not work. http://www.playbill.com/article/stephen-sondheim-comments-on-broadway-bound-porgy-and-bess-revisions-com-181671

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#5
Posted: 2/18/20 at 3:54am

"Sondheim, who has revisited structural moments within several of his own works along with his collaborators after their initial productions (and approved of re-imaginings like those of John Doyle), pointed out that he was not attempting to stifle the creativity of directors who wish to bring "fresh perspective" to classic works, but was concerned with "wholesale rewriting," especially when the creators themselves are no longer here to speak for their original intent."

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#6
Posted: 2/18/20 at 8:09am

I recall this was commonly misconstrued at the time, as well. His criticisms were very specific and not a blanketed criticism against revising a classic.

In addition to what qolbinau noted, if you go back and read the letter (and if one didn't, why ask or comment, since it's all right there), he took umbrage with them saying they needed to "fix" it. Hell, he loves Audra but he even took her to task for saying Bess' part was underwritten or thin. He correctly noted it didn't need to be fixed, and there have been many very successful Besses over the many years, who did just fine with the material.

He also didn't like that they were changing the name to The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, erasing the contributions of half the writing team.

It should be noted that in his books, Sondheim says Dubose Heywards' lyrics are among his favorites. So, there was likely a degree of protectiveness watching the estate of the other collaborators openly criticize the work of one of the late collaborators, while slapping their name on the title.

Note with the changes in WSS, no one is saying 'I Feel Pretty" is trash or the book needs to be fixed. They're just doing a new version of it.

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#7
Posted: 2/18/20 at 9:09am
His letter re: P&B is still available on the NY Times and is worth a read. His criticism had to do with the attitude the creatives (and Audra) took toward the original material and their viewpoint that it was a flawed piece which they were fixing to finally make “work.”.
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#9
Posted: 2/18/20 at 9:47am

Please remember that Sondheim's criticisms of P&B came before even the A.R.T. production, when nobody had seen it; it was a knee-jerk reaction to a very premature feature article that Pat Healy wrote, and the way that the creative team spoke of the work. The final product ultimately wasn't as drastically different as some of us had feared.

It's also a matter of Sondheim being a living author of his work and overseeing the interpretations himself (on WSS, Company, and other revisals).....of course, I doubt Van Hove & Rudin would get away with this production if Laurents, Bernstein, or Robbins were still around (though maybe Laurents would have cut I Feel Pretty), but that's a whole other matter.

Updated On: 2/18/20 at 09:47 AM
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#10
Posted: 2/18/20 at 10:12am
Sondheim is an arrogant hypocrite. For me, his cruel comments about Lady Gaga (which he later tried to clumsily retract) are unforgivable and unnecessary.

He is, however, an absolute genius and I worship his body of work.
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#11
Posted: 2/18/20 at 11:40am

It is worth remembering that (a) Sondheim's opinions on this sort of thing are entitled to no more deference than anyone else gets, (b) he is a very old man, (c) one characteristic of aging can be that we edit ourselves less, and (d) he seems, in this video and elsewhere, to be very present, which is a wonderful thing.  

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#12
Posted: 2/18/20 at 4:27pm
In many of the interviews I’ve seen of him over the years, he’s always, to me at least, came off rather humble. Specially since there are so many who put his work and him on a pedestal. So I will say that even at his current age, he may be old, but his mental faculties are far from gone. You only have to listen to the song “God” that he wrote for Sondheim on Sondheim to realize his self deprecating humor in terms of what people think of him and his work
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#13
Posted: 2/18/20 at 4:44pm

Mmm, he doesn't really speak that highly of himself. But it is clear he is passionate about the artform, and in particular he is somewhat a surrogate of Oscar Hammerstein himself and was literally 'In the room when it happened' for many of these historic shows, so of course it makes sense that he might feel a little protective over it. His comments about Lady Gaga are probably still even true - it was the versatility of her singing that everyone was impressed with. 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#14
Posted: 2/18/20 at 11:16pm

A Director said: "Porgy and Bess is an opera; not a musical. The Gershwin Estate, made up of the talentless branch of the family, tried for years to turn it into a musical I have seen the opera live plus several broadcasts and each time was moved.

Here is a brief summary of Sondheim's letter. The link to the NY Times does not work.http://www.playbill.com/article/stephen-sondheim-comments-on-broadway-bound-porgy-and-bess-revisions-com-181671
"

(Emphasis added.) Now, wait a minute. The authors themselves cut much of the recitative and replaced it with spoken dialogue at the request of the Theatre Guild, the producer of the original production. The full "opera" version wasn't seen until years later.

So P&B has been produced in more operatic and more musical-play forms throughout its life; I don't think those labels tell us much. (That said, I prefer the full out opera form a la the Houston Grand Opera production that played Broadway in the 1970s and the current hit version at the Met.)

As I recall Sondheim's letter, he was responding to the condescending remarks of the revival team to the media. The elevation of the Gershwins to the title over Heyward, who invented the story and wrote a novel and play version before the musical adaptation bothered Sondheim, as it should have. There were also silly comments from the revival team such as "We're changing the key of 'Summertime' because a high soprano would wake the baby." Somebody needed to call them out and Sondheim has the status to do it.

(I will admit I initially resisted the change of Porgy from a paraplegic to a cripple with a cane; but it works beautifully in the current Met revival--at least up to the very end when I sort of missed Porgy's goat dragging his ass "up north".)

Updated On: 2/18/20 at 11:16 PM
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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#15
Posted: 2/18/20 at 11:58pm

Hmm. Stephen Sondheim was the lyricist of WSS and is the composer/lyricist of the upcoming Company. Creators have a right to tinkle with their own works, even though sometimes I think Sondheim is his own worst editor. 

But Sondheim is also a musical theater fan and he's allowed to express his opinions on various revivals like any other MT fan ... like the people on this board. I did not know his partner is only 36 though. Yikes. 

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#16
Posted: 2/19/20 at 12:07am

I read the letter again last night and I think this is the key distinction between that situation and this revival of his own, co-authored work:

"[T]here is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting. Nor am I judging this production in advance, only the attitude of its creators toward the piece and the audience."

Whether or not Sondheim's take ended up being "fair" or "accurate" I cannot say––I'm more familiar with Paulus' production than the original, full opera, for better or worse––but I think these qualifications that he makes to his critique are really important to emphasize.

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#17
Posted: 2/19/20 at 2:27am

As for Porgy, "Bring my goat!" does not equal "Where's my cane?"  Big and unjustified change of the original.

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#18
Posted: 2/19/20 at 10:28am

NoName3 said: "As for Porgy, "Bring my goat!" does not equal "Where's my cane?" Big and unjustified change of the original."

Without any elaboration, this is meaningless. It also happens to be untrue, but that's another matter.

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#19
Posted: 2/19/20 at 7:56pm

I'm not even sure what NoName meant to write, Hogan.

In the Met production, Porgy has a cart, but it is propelled by his better leg rather than a goat. He seems to use it only when he goes out of town, however, and relies on a heavy, leg brace and one or (sometimes) two canes when at home. I found it quite successful in conveying Porgy's "weakness" and explaining why he has no woman.

I admit I missed the final image of the goat cart: I never believe there is any way Porgy is going to find Bess in New York City, which is what makes the hopeful ending so tragic. The goat cart seems particularly fragile.

In the Met production Porgy simply limps toward the way out of town. If I had never seen the goat cart, I wouldn't have missed it. But a man who can walk can board a train or hitchhike: Porgy doesn't seem quite so delusional as in traditional productions. But this is a minor quibble re a production I loved.

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SONDHEIM HYPOCRISY?#20
Posted: 2/19/20 at 11:10pm

When you are 89 you get a free pass to say what the hell you want and do what the hell you want, as long as it doesn't kill someone.  And even then, mercy will be shown.