-His acerbic tone when he’s interviewed
-The variety of worlds that he writes about – and then finds the styles to write them in
-That entertainment can be clever and being clever is delicious
-The wordplay, even though sometimes it reads better than it sings
-That you feel “this is true, I agree with this” when you read his lyrics and really take the time to consider them
-The opportunities provided by the shows that he has written – they can be interpreted in so many ways, directors can make their own points with them – but nonetheless he (and Weidman, Laurents, Prince, Furth, Lapine etc) always leaves you with his point
-How moving his work is
-The range of song ideas he has come up with
-If Lloyd Webber was the crush that made me realise “I like musicals”, then Sondheim was who made me think “I’m in love”
-How considerate he always is in sharing the credit with his bookwriters and directors
-That almost every lyric he has written feels both effortless and 100% the best thing he could come up with
-That he is always the flag we can wave when people bag musicals as having no depth (there’s tons more writers and shows of course, but Sondheim is pretty much a checkmate)
-How glorious it is to properly learn and sing his music (not that I sing anymore – but I still remember how proud I was to pull off the Now/Later/Soon trio)
-How influential he still is (would there be a Next to Normal/Spring Awakening etc without him?)
-That Pacific Overtures is quite pleasant as background dinner music (most musicals demand you get up and dance, or become emotionally involved with their journey)
I met Sondheim once at a Q&A at the Sydney Opera House. He was charming (though quite sick with flu) and told a lot of the stories I’d devoured in print/online elsewhere. But then he opened the floor and I nervously put mine forward –
Me: How do you know what song to write for a scene/moment?
Sondheim: If I knew that, life would be a lot easier. (Laugh from audience, nervous titter from me). I think that a song should always surprise an audience – come at an unexpected place, be sung by the character you don’t expect, be about something you never thought of.
I liked that advice very much.