The Play Is the Sing: Longtime Stephen Sondheim Collaborator Paul Gemignani on “The Shakespeare of Music”-News etc., Musicals, Profiles No Comments »
By Dennis Polkow
“You know, you should start thinking about symphonic suites from your shows because you’re going to need them someday,” conductor and longtime Stephen Sondheim collaborator Paul Gemignani recalls telling Sondheim early on. “He knew that we would need them, but he would not sit down and write them.”
Sondheim, whose initial success was as a lyricist with Leonard Bernstein in “West Side Story” and Jule Styne in “Gypsy,” composed his own music to go with his own lyrics in “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum.” From that show on—with the exception of writing lyrics for Richard Rodgers’ “Do I Hear A Waltz?” after the death of Rodgers’ partner and Sondheim’s mentor Oscar Hammerstein II—Sondheim would be the composer and lyricist for a string of shows that managed to revolutionize the Broadway musical.
“He’s one of these people that comes along every so often, like a Gershwin or a Rodgers, someone you can learn a lot from if you’re a composer or if you’re a musician like me. And in this man’s case, not only is he a musician, but he’s a poet. That, to me, makes him very unique.”
Despite his reputation as a lyricist, Gemignani insists that Sondheim’s musical prowess is no less formidable. “I started out with him where people said, ‘He writes great lyrics, but he can’t write a melody.’ Are you kidding me? He is a dramatist who writes to character completely. If you listen to all these musicals he wrote, tell me that the same man wrote ‘Company’ that wrote ‘Into the Woods.’ Tell me that that same man who wrote ‘Follies’ wrote ‘Pacific Overtures.’ They don’t even sound alike. That is the most unique thing about him. It’s like he’s the Shakespeare of music. Read the rest of this entry »