The Wonderful Stephen Sondheim in Conversation That Wasn’t Quite


Stephen Sondheim not getting conversant tonight

Last night, I made a trip down to Orange County. Dined with my sister, her husband, our (and mom’s) close friend Michael. And went to see Stephen Sondheim in Conversation… well… almost.

Stephen Sondheim was scheduled to appear live at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa… but, due to massive snowstorms blanketing New York City, he wasn’t able to fly to California.

And, sans Sondheim, it all turned out really well. 

That day I’d been humming and singing to myself this lyric from the song Finishing the Hat in the musical Sunday in the Park with George:

And how you’re always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick
Or the dog or the light,
How the kind of woman willing to wait’s
Not the kind that you want to find waiting

While on Amtrak southbound, I read through the book Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. Then, at the door, an usher urged us to “make sure to read the sign” which read… no Sondheim tonight.

The evening opened with a couple minutes of live phone call with Sondheim. The host, Michael A. Kerker, among a couple questions, asked Sondheim if he was every happy with his writing. Sondheim replied in the negative and said that he wasn’t aware of any writer who was entirely satisfied with their work… then added at least not any good writer. It was fun to hear Sondheim’s voice live… even he was only stage in the presence of an empty chair.

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic evening all in all: an apparently hastily assembled revue of Sondheim songs, performed masterfully by Christine Ebersole and Brian Stokes Mitchell, accompanied wonderfully on piano by Tedd Firth. A sort of mini-Side by Side by Sondheim. At various points, Kerker told back stories and anecdotes, and briefly interviewed the singers about what makes Sondheim’s work so appealing.

It was a treat to hear renditions of Everybody Says Don’tAnyone Can Whistle, Sorry Grateful, Send in the Clowns, I’m Still Here, Pretty WomenThe Ladies Who Lunch, Barcelona, and others, with a rousing conclusion of A Little Priest.

And, hopefully, I will get a chance to hear Sondheim in conversation when it gets rescheduled.

Thanks, Michael, for making the arrangements for getting me to yesterday’s performance, and thanks, mom, for introducing me to and inundating me with Sondheim’s great works.


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