Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sondheim Weekend

Listening to: NPR's stream of the new Follies CD (Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, et al). I've only ever heard the truncated 1971 recording, so this is a revelation for me!  Reading the Follies chapter in Finishing the Hat, one can come away with the impression that this is the strongest set of lyrics that have ever been written for an American musical, due to Sondheim's dead-on pastiche of all of the lyric writers who came before him, plus his own inimitable genius.

Reading: Look, I Made a Hat, volume 2 of Sondheim's collected lyrics, which came out on Tuesday.  It is just as full of odd, interesting insights as Volume 1 and is going to have an equally prized place on my bookshelf.  I brought it to a Thanksgiving party of theater people on Thursday, where it was a big hit. As a friend of mine says, "The only thing better than having these books by Sondheim is if we also had a book by Shakespeare titled How I Wrote My Plays."


Ring Round the Moon, the Jean Anouilh/Christopher Fry play that Sondheim and Hal Prince wished to adapt into a musical. When they were unable to obtain the rights, they adapted Smiles of a Summer Night instead -- it has a similar theme of romantic entanglements at a European country house.

I found Ring Round the Moon completely delightful. Its witty aphorisms made me laugh out loud several times, and I love the idea of having one actor play the identical twins Hugo and Frederic. (You'll recall that the one-actor-playing-twins was my favorite part of my experience working with Un-Scripted Theatre last summer!)

My copy, above, is an adorable 1950 edition, I believe the first American edition, which I found at Readers Café and Bookstore. Why do I never hear anyone talk about this used bookstore? It has some amazing items (I once saw a 1910 edition of Playboy of the Western World there!) and the proceeds go to a good cause.

Speaking of supporting a good cause: In 1981, Stephen Sondheim founded Young Playwrights Inc., to foster the work of American playwrights 18 and under. In 2006, I won their National Competition with my first play, Deus ex Machina.  And last week, the Young Playwrights office, on Fifth Avenue in New York City (right across from Lord & Taylor) was gutted by a fire.

This news is very sad, especially because Young Playwrights, like many arts nonprofits, always seemed to be a bit of a shoestring organization and, I know, was having difficulties in our current economic climate. (Young Playwrights used to present full productions of the plays that won the contest, but they have not been able to do that for several years.)  As they rebuild, they are taking donations through PayPal.

In order to thank them for the amazing two weeks that they gave me five years ago (a workshop of my play in New York, tickets to 10 shows, a downtown hotel room with a balcony...) and to support them in their rebuilding efforts, I'm going to give Young Playwrights some money this holiday season. Would you consider doing the same?

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