Never Done: Stephen Sondheim and Tony Kushner in conversation
Tshuve: Paperwhite narcissus are blooming and fragrant on the kitchen table
I had been looking forward to it for weeks. Months, actually. My favorite playwright talking with one of the greatest lyricists of all time. Produced by the Public Theater. It was one of those events I live in New York for. Until it happened. Sure, Kushner was charming and funny. And Sondheim was honest and obliging. But it was not, as it was billed, two masters of the theater talking about their craft. It was ... dare I say this about these two heroes of mine? ... actually quite banal.
I have head Tony Kushner speak many times, and have met him many times as well. I think he is brilliant, insightful, and warm, with an uncanny ability to be as brilliant as he is without making other people feel less so. I adore that trait in people, and know very few who embody it. I have never seen Stephen Sondheim speak, and I have never met him, so I really didn't know what to expect out of him. Except that I did expect something, because the billing and the introduction both indicated that the two men would be discussing their craft.
Instead, Tony interviewed Stephen about his book. Sondheim recently released his book called Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes. Kushner had read it, and prompted Sondheim to tell anecdotes from the book, which while sometimes entertaining, are ... in the book. Which we can read. Which wasn't what I went there to hear.
When I start a new blog post, I often don't know where I'm headed. Today I find myself in the middle, feeling strange that I am criticizing this conversation between two artists I respect so deeply, and unclear about what I want to say about it. I just remembered that I wrote some things down during the Kushner-Sondheim conversation, which means that there must have been something I found interesting enough to write down. So I went to get the paper where I took notes, and amazingly, perfectly ... what I wrote down was that Sondheim did give one piece of technique advice. He said that since song form is so short, your job as a lyricist is to be surprising, but not too dense -- because people have to get it the first (and often only) time they hear it. He then went on to say that he usually writes the last thought -- or line -- of the song he is writing at the bottom of the page, so he can see where he is heading.
I should just end there, right? And make it seem like I planned it.