Dec 302010

Stephen Sond­heim appeared on ABC’s ‘Night­line’ on Tues­day night, and dur­ing the inter­view, the theater legend dis­closed that he found the words to his 1957 mas­ter­piece  ‘West Side Story’, writ­ten with Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bern­stein — are you ready for this? — “embar­rass­ing.” What?

Most of the lyr­ics were sort of … they were very self-conscious. Bern­stein wanted the songs to be … heavy, what he called ‘poetic,’ and my idea of poetry and his idea of poetry are polar oppos­ites. I don’t mean that they are ter­rible, I just mean they’re so self-conscious.”

There is one bad song in par­tic­u­lar that stands out for Sond­heim, one that Jack Nich­olson turned into a hil­ari­ous par­ody in the film, ‘Anger Man­age­ment,’ as many oth­ers have done.

West Side 0011 Its alarming how charming I feel.   Stephen Sondheim calls his West Side Story lyrics embarrassing
Image via Wiki­pe­dia

’”I’m fond of quot­ing ‘I Feel Pretty’. The street girl is singing, ‘It’s alarm­ing how charm­ing I feel.’ … I just put my head under my wing and pre­tend I’m not there.”

Long­time fans of Sond­heim, who turned 80 this year, may have heard many of the anec­dotes he men­tions on the “Night­line” seg­ment and in his new (and first) book, “Fin­ish­ing the Hat.” But it’s still fun hear­ing insights from that mod­est guy behind such land­mark music­als as “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Gypsy” and “Into the Woods.” Like the fact that he writes lying down. Or that he’d like to rewrite some of his clas­sic songs.

Art needs sur­prise; oth­er­wise, it doesn’t hold an audience’s atten­tion. Theater needs sur­prise,” he said. “So I like to sur­prise myself, and I want to sur­prise an audience.”

There’s even a Broad­way theater named after him. Earlier this year, the Henry Miller Theater on West 43rd Street in New York City became the Stephen Sond­heim Theater, another event in his career that the com­poser was some­what uncom­fort­able with.

“Embar­rass­ing. Thrill­ing but embar­rass­ing,” Sond­heim said. “First of all, I’ve never been fond of my name. ‘Sond­heim’ … doesn’t sing.”

Per­haps it was no sur­prise that Sond­heim saved his most bit­ing words for crit­ics who review his shows (not always kindly):

I think it’s the only one of the arts that is mostly reviewed by ignora­muses, people who know noth­ing about what they’re writ­ing about.”

Ouch! Well, no one can say Sond­heim doesn’t have a way with words. After all, he is the man who wrote “Send in the Clowns.”

via Stephen Sond­heim calls his ‘West Side Story’ lyr­ics ‘embar­rass­ing’ | Cul­ture Mon­ster | Los Angeles Times

 Its alarming how charming I feel.   Stephen Sondheim calls his West Side Story lyrics embarrassing

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