The one thing you should see this week (and it’s happening tonight)
This week’s pick: An Evening with Stephen Sondheim
We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sondheim rocks. (Well, not so much rocks as tersely swells, but you see where I’m going.) It’s not that I don’t hear the arguments against the American composer and lyricist—namely that his songs are unhummable and that he himself is a bit of a prig—it’s mostly that I don’t care. Blame it on an early childhood viewing of Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd, which suddenly made eating heaping servings of my grandmother’s tourtière a grimly exciting activity.
The man behind Follies, A Little Night Music and Assassins (my personal favourite) is in town for one night only—tonight—to talk about his half-century in the theatre. At 80, he’s being fêted with revivals galore; he’s even had a Broadway building renamed after him. But one of the most exciting projects to come out of his year-long birthday party is the newly released Finishing the Hat—Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, the first of a two-volume set. Number two, which traces the second half of his career, is due out next year. A behind-the-scenes peek at his creative process, it’s a wonderful book filled with production photographs, handwritten lyrics (complete with dissections in the margins) and insights into the industry that made him famous (don’t get him started on jukebox musicals).
Sondheim is celebrating the launch—and the upcoming Mirvish-by-way-of-Stratford production of his early work, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—with a sit-down dish session with National Post theatre critic Robert Cushman. Likely talking points, if the book is any indication: he hates fellow lyricist Lorenz Hart (calling him “lazy”), loves Oscar Hammerstein II (though even his mentor doesn’t escape unscathed) and proves to be, while not his own harshest critic, certainly an astute one (West Side Story’s overblown lyrics now embarrass him). Sondheim is an exacting presence in his own tale, passing over every detail with a jaundiced fine-tooth comb—an unsurprising trait, given his body of work. A window into the complexities of Sondheim, the book demonstrates his ability to look at his creations as imperfect yet ever evolving. “Finishing the Hat,” from Sunday in the Park with George, is a song about, well, finishing a hat, which acts as a physical stand-in for the creative process and the obsessive demands of capital ‘a’ art. It’s also a little a bit about Dot, the woman that the titular painter, Georges Seurat, loves. But this is Sondheim—it’s never really just about the love, even when it’s a love song.
The details: Dec. 6. $22–$69. Princess of Wales Theatre, 416-872-1212, mirvish.com.