October 9, 2008

Stephen Sondheim Has More ‘Story’ to Tell

By Elysa Gardner

It wasn't Stephen Sondheim's idea to name the new box set commemorating his career The Story So Far ...

"I didn't really think about it," says Sondheim, who at 78 has been writing words and music for more than a half-century. "But now that you mention it, it makes me extremely self-conscious. I guess people expect me to write more."

And musical theater's greatest living artist is accommodating them. Preview performances of his new musical, Road Show, begin Oct. 28 off-Broadway. "It's surprisingly topical suddenly," Sondheim says, " because it's all about enterprise."

The show focuses on the Mizner brothers, legendary figures in the Florida real-estate boom and bust of the 1920s. "That was a precursor of the market collapse that led to the Great Depression," says librettist John Weidman.

A workshop for a version of the musical, called Wise Guys, was held in the halcyon days of 1999. After being renamed Gold and re-renamed Bounce, it was staged in Chicago and Washington in 2003 to mixed reviews.

The journey to Road Show involved "cutting some songs and restoring some," Weidman says. "There are new songs as well." Two Bounce numbers are on The Story So Far..., which producer Didier Deutsch describes more as an extended sampler than a comprehensive collection.

"Certain tracks obviously had to be there," says Deutsch, such as Send in the Clowns, probably Sondheim's best-known tune, and songs from West Side Story and Gypsy.

All the Broadway shows -- Follies, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George, to name a few -- are represented. There are selections from earlier and lesser-known works, film scores and television specials.

Sondheim also contributed demos of songs that never came to fruition. "Very few people have heard the incidental music from The Enclave," a 1973 play by Arthur Laurents.

The rarities also include Sondheim singing Sondheim. "I'm someone who loves to listen to Harold Arlen or Cole Porter sing his songs, so I don't mind having my own stuff on there."

Fans will no doubt lament the omission of a favorite song or two or three. "We were limited in playing time," Deutsch says. "I wouldn't discount the idea of another box set."

Certainly, Sondheim isn't ready to have his legacy set in stone. "You don't write your book about van Gogh while he's still painting," he says. "And I'm not comparing myself to van Gogh. The time to take an overview is after the artist dies." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>