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Becoming Stephen Sondheim:

Anyone Can Whistle, A Pray by Blecht, Company, and Sunday in the Park with George

by

Lara E. Housez

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Supervised by Professor Kim H. Kowalke

Department of Musicology

Eastman School of Music

University of Rochester
Rochester, New York

2013
ii

To the joyful arrival of my son,

Jack Nathan Daniel Hambly


iii

Biographical Sketch

Lara E. Housez was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1980. From 1999 to 2002, she attended

Western University (London, Ontario) and graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Honors

Music History degree. She pursued research in musical theater and, two years later,

finished an M.A. degree in Musicology. In September 2004, she enrolled in the Ph.D.

program in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, where

her graduate study was supported by a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and

Humanities Research Council of Canada (2005-08). She also held a musicology

department research assistantship (2004-05) and graduate teaching assistantships (2004-

07). After achieving Ph.D. candidacy, she worked as House Manager of Centrepointe

Theatre (2007-09) and sang professionally in the Grammy Award-nominated choir, the

Elora Festival Singers (2010-11). Her dissertation research was funded in part by a Dena

Epstein Award for research in American music from the Music Library Association

(2009) and travel grants from the Eastman Professional Development Committee (2007,

2008, 2009), American Musicological Society (2008), and Society for American Music

(2008, 2010, 2011). Ms. Housez has read papers on her preliminary findings at the

national meetings of the American Musicological Society (2009), Canadian University

Music Society (2005), Society for American Music (2004, 2008, 2010, 2011), Song,

Stage, and Screen III and V (2008, 2010), and the New York State St. Lawrence and

Midwest Chapters of the AMS, where she received the Indiana University Press Award

for the Best Student Paper (2004). Her publications include entries for the second edition
iv

of The Grove Dictionary of American Music and a book review in Notes. She has taught

at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester and is currently

instructing music courses at McMaster University. Professor Kim H. Kowalke advised

her dissertation work.


v

Acknowledgments

This dissertation represents the culmination of work that began more than a decade ago

when I attended my first national conference of the American Musicological Society in

Columbus, Ohio. I had no idea that a serendipitous meeting with a prominent scholar

would lead me to commute from London, Ontario to Rochester, New York, where I

attended a graduate seminar in American musical theater at the Eastman School of

Music, and later to relocate to Rochester for further graduate study.

Professor Kim H. Kowalke, who taught that class, encouraged my first steps and

guided me through the completion of my dissertation. He has served extraordinarily as an

advisor; his insightful comments, careful criticism, and the model of his own excellence

in scholarship have pushed me as a scholar and writer and improved this dissertation

immeasurably. I also wish to thank Professor Ralph P. Locke for encouraging me long

before my research took shape and for his keen editorial eye. And I am grateful to

Professor Paul Burgett for his infectious enthusiasm and support.

Generous financial support from several sources enabled the completion of this

project. I extend my appreciation to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research

Council of Canada, Music Library Association, Musicology Department of the Eastman

School of Music, and the Eastman Professional Development Committee.

For essential research assistance, I am indebted to Mark Eden Horowitz at the

Library of Congress, who answered many questions, shared notes from an interview that

he conducted with Mr. Sondheim, and offered various pearls of wisdom along the way;
vi

and the reference staffs of the Library of Congress, New York Public Library for the

Performing Arts, Wisconsin Historical Society, and Sibley Music Library.

I appreciate the efforts of so many of my colleagues, mentors, and friends that it is

impossible to express my appreciation to all. So I will limit myself here to thanking

Katherine Axtell, Stephen Banfield, Cristina Fava, Cindy L. Kim, John Laing, Paul Laird,

Jim Lovensheimer, bruce mcclung, Carol Oja, Peter Purin, Joan Rubin, David Savran,

Marie Sumner Lott, Steve Swayne, and Graham Wood, who offered intellectual and

moral support during the gestation of this project.

I am grateful to Steve Clar, Paul Epstein of the Leonard Bernstein Office, Jennifer

Fedyszyn of the Hal Leonard Corporation, Sean Patrick Flahaven, Rick Pappas,

Christopher Pennington of the Jerome Robbins Foundation and The Robbins Rights

Trust, Troy Schreck of Alfred Music, and Dave Stein of the Kurt Weill Foundation for

Music for their assistance and permission to consult and reproduce materials for this

dissertation. Thanks too to Peter Stoller for sharing his thoughts on A Pray by Blecht.

And I thank Stephen Sondheim and John Guare for giving me the precious gifts of their

time.

Words hardly suffice to thank those who remain: William Renwick, whose

support as a friend and mentor extended to engraving the musical examples in this

dissertation; Janice Crawford, whose loving care for my son Jack enabled me to work

without a shred of doubt that he was in the best of hands that werent mine; my family,

whose unconditional love and support helped me complete this project; my sister, Bettina

Allen, who took me to see Cats and Les Misrables and sparked my love of musical
vii

theater; and my mother, Brita Housez, who brought me to The Phantom of the Opera,

who drove me to Rochester for that first seminar so long ago, who provided the best

companionship on research trips and at conferences far and wide, who babysat a lot, and

whose steadfast support helped me through it all, thank you.

I extend my most heartfelt thanks to Nathan, my husband, whose love sustains me

and whose strength and guidance got me across the finish line.

Dundas, Ontario

10 August 2013
viii

Abstract

This dissertation investigates four of Stephen Sondheims projects in order to construct

an account of how he became Sondheim: three from the 1960s, a crucial period when a

sea change was underway for the American musical theater, as a mirror of American

culture, and for Sondheim, who was then struggling to find his bearings with different

collaborators; and one from the 1980s, when his creative partnership with Harold Prince

ended and Sondheim reinvented himself in the world of workshops, non-profit theaters,

Off-Broadway collaborators, and minimalist productions. Each chapter utilizes a

combination of traditional musicological approaches and other models of research and

critique to form multi-dimensional readings. Chapters 1 and 2, the most document-

oriented, chronicle the evolution of the scripts and scores of Anyone Can Whistle (1964)

and A Pray by Blecht (1968, abandoned). Chapters 3 and 4 offer interpretative and

analytical accounts of Company (1970) and Sunday in the Park with George (1984).

Across the study topics include pastiche as commentary and characterization, self-

reflexivity and other metadramatic devices, rhetorical figures, Gestus, motivic coherence

(in music and lyrics), tonal trajectory, contrapuntal techniques, song forms, musico-

dramatic analysis, text-music relationships, numeric symbolism, color theory, set theory,

and minimalism.

Chapter 1 describes seven experiments that Sondheim and Arthur Laurents

conducted in writing their flop. This chapter identifies sources of influence, including

Milton Babbitt, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Weill, whose roles in shaping Sondheims work
ix

subsequent chapters address. Chapter 2 pushes into the spotlight one of Sondheims least-

known assignments, writing lyrics for A Pray by Blecht, a musical adaptation of Brechts

Lehrstck, The Exception and the Rule. The primary source material suggests that the

showSondheims most direct and sustained exposure to the theater of Brechtshaped

aspects of the composer-lyricists later output, including, as chapter 3 examines,

Companys fractured structure. Chapter 4 returns to Babbitt and demonstrates how

Sondheim drew on Babbitts notion of architectonics in Sunday in the Park with

George. Finally, the epilogue offers a reading of the trajectory of Sondheims career that

departs from his own construction of becoming Sondheim and suggests topics for

future exploration.
x

Contributors and Funding Sources

This work was supervised by a dissertation committee consisting of Kim H. Kowalke

(advisor) and Ralph P. Locke, Professors of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music,

and Paul Burgett, Professor of Music, Adjunct, in the College Music Department at the

University of Rochester. The student completed all of the work independently. Graduate

study was supported by a dissertation fellowship from the Social Sciences and

Humanities Research Council of Canada and a Dena Epstein Award from the Music

Library Association.
xi

Table of Contents

Biographical Sketch iii

Acknowledgments v

Abstract viii

Contributors and Funding Sources x

Table of Contents xi

List of Musical Examples xiv

List of Tables xvi

List of Figures xvii

Permissions xx

Introduction 1

Studying Saint Sondheim 1

Relevant Scholarship 15

Primary Source Materials 22

Chapter 1: Anyone Can Whistle: Stepping Stone or Misstep? 26

Experiment #1: Write a Musical with an Original Book 27

Experiment #2: Structure a Musical in Three Acts 30

Experiment #3: Cast Actors with No Experience Performing in a Broadway


Musical 35

Experiment #4: Use Unconventional Generic Labels 42

Experiment #5: Caption Scenes with Titles and Use other Metadramatic
Devices 57
xii

Experiment #6: Employ Pastiche as Commentary and Characterization 64

Experiment #7: Extend Musical Numbers 93

Epilogue 118

Chapter 2: How a Play by Brecht Almost Became a Musical by Robbins,


Bernstein, Sondheim, and Guare 122

Prologue (Marches) 157

The Race Through the Desert 160

Han 168

Little Secret 174

The Suspicion Song (Hm) 176

Coolies Dilemma 191

Urga Marches 198

In There 200

Coolies Prayer and Merchants Paranoia Song 207

I:7 213

I:8 217

Final scene 217

Epilogue 219

Chapter 3: Metadramatic Aspects of Company 222

Fractured Forms 234

Pastiche as Fracture 269


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Chapter 4: Chromoluminarism: The Musical 294

Design 298

Symmetry 304

Tension 315

Composition 317

Harmony 331

So many possibilities 354

Epilogue 361

Becoming Stephen Sondheim 361

Selected Bibliography 371


xiv

List of Musical Examples

Example 1.1: Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner, Love Life, I, Womens Club Blues,
mm. 194-211 67

Example 1.2: Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I,
Opening: Im Like the Bluebird, mm. 30-38 72

Example 1.3: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Me and My Town,
mm. 1-10 74

Example 1.4: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Me and My Town,
mm. 56-63 75

Example 1.5: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, II, Theres A Parade In
Town, mm. 189-200 85

Example 1.6: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Simple, mm. 8-15 97

Example 1.7: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Prelude, mm. 1-8 107

Example 2.1: Excerpt from I:7, The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by Blecht 215

Example 3.1: Sondheim and George Furth, Company, II:2, Poor Baby, mm. 1-2 253

Example 3.2: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:2, Poor Baby (theme),
mm. 11-12 254

Example 3.3: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:4, Being Alive, mm. 112-17 267

Example 3.4: Sondheim and Furth, Company, I:6, Getting Married Today,
mm. 1-4 274

Example 3.5: Harry Woods, Side By Side, mm. 21-28 284

Example 3.6: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:1, Side By Side By Side,
mm. 13-20 286

Example 4.1: Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, I,
Color and Light, mm. 50-55 333

Example 4.2: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II,
Eulogies, m. 13 339
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Example 4.3: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II,
Move On, mm. 118-32 348

Example 4.4: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, I,
We Do Not Belong Together, mm. 89-97 351

Example 4.5a: Igor Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, I, mm. 12-21 353

Example 4.5b: Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, I, mm. 47-52 353

Example 4.6: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II,
Putting It Together (XI), mm. 1-7 357

Example 4.7: John Adams, China Gates, mm. 1-15 358


xvi

List of Tables

Table 1.1: Tentative Production Schedule for Anyone Can Whistle, 3 January 1964
(WHS-KBP 2/6) 40

Table 1.2: Musical Design of Anyone Can Whistle 71

Table 1.3: Musical Layout of The Cookie Chase, Anyone Can Whistle 91

Table 2.1: Layout of Brechts The Exception and the Rule 127

Table 2.2: Production Schedule for A Pray by Blecht, 5 August 1968


(NYPL-JRC 93/4) 136

Table 2.3: Lyricists of A Pray by Blechts Titled Numbers 152

Table 2.4: Musical Design of A Pray by Blecht, ca. September-October 1968 154

Table 3.1: Musical Design of Company 237

Table 4.1: Seven Pairs of Musical Numbers and Sequences in Sunday in the Park
with George 305

Table 4.2: Statements of Motives in Sunday in the Park with George 311

Table 4.3: Tonal Relationships in Sunday in the Park with George 316

Table 4.4a: The Look Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George 321

Table 4.4b: The See Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George 323

Table 4.4c: The Sunday Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George 327

Table 4.5a: Working Motive in Sunday in the Park with George 334

Table 4.5b: Gossiping Motive in Sunday in the Park with George 335

Table 4.6: Series for Sunday in the Park with George with Characters 338

Table 4.7: Proportional Design in Putting It Together (XI), Sunday in the Park
with George 359

Table 5.1: Sondheims Multi-Show Bookwriters and Their Output 367

Table 5.2: Sondheims Other Multi-Show Collaborators and Their Output 368
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List of Figures

Figure 1.1: Sample Credits for Side Show, ca. August-September 1963
(WHS-KBP 1/20) 38

Figure 1.2a: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 13 43

Figure 1.2b: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 15 44

Figure 1.2c: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 17 45

Figure 1.2d: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 19 46

Figure 1.2e: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 20 47

Figure 1.3a: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 1 49

Figure 1.3b: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 21 50

Figure 1.3c: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 23 51

Figure 1.3d: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 25 52

Figure 1.3e: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 27 53

Figure 1.4: Anyone Can Whistle Souvenir Program, Majestic, p. 2 (section) 55

Figure 1.5: Sondheim, Holograph Lyric Sketch for Simple, Anyone Can Whistle, I
(WHS-SSP 2/3) 98

Figure 1.6: Sondheim and Laurents, Typescript Draft for Simple, Side Show, I
(WHS-SSP 1/3, p. 50) 100

Figure 1.7: Sondheim, Sketch of Green Finch and Linnet Bird, Sweeney Todd 105

Figure 1.8: Anyone Can Whistle Display Ad 118

Figure 1.9: Letter from Bloomgarden to the Company of Anyone Can Whistle,
10 April 1964 (WHS-KBP 1/27) 119

Figure 2.1: Poster Mock-up (NYPL-JRC 92/13) 139

Figure 2.2a: Clark Jones, Sketch of Set Design for A Pray by Blecht
(NYPL-JRC 93/4, p. 1) 147
xviii

Figure 2.2b: Jones, Sketch of Set Design for A Pray by Blecht


(NYPL-JRC 93/4, p. 2) 148

Figure 2.3: Leonard Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/
A Pray by Blecht, I, Prologue (Marches), mm. 1-24
(DLC-LBC 13/12, p. 1) 159

Figure 2.4: Layout with the Musical Structure of The Race Through the Desert 164

Figure 2.5: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:1, The Race Through the Desert, mm. 64-82, with lyrics by
Sondheim (DLC-LBC 13/12, p. 3) 166

Figure 2.6: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:2, Han, mm. 24-58, with lyrics by Sondheim
(DLC-LBC 12/9, p. 2) 172

Figure 2.7: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:3, The Suspicion Song, mm. 1-19, with lyrics by Sondheim
(DLC-LBC 12/12, p. 1) 188

Figure 2.8: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:3, Coolies Dilemma, mm. 1-8, with lyrics by Jerry Leiber
(DLC-LBC 12/5, p. 1) 196

Figure 2.9: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:5, In There, mm. 1-18, with lyrics by Sondheim
(DLC-LBC 13/2, p. 1) 202

Figure 2.10: Letter from Sondheim to Bernstein and John Guare (DLC-LBC 13/2) 205

Figure 2.11: Layout with the Musical Structure of Coolies Prayer and
Merchants Paranoia Song 209

Figure 3.1: Relationships between Characters in Company 226

Figure 3.2: Sondheim, Notes for Company 228

Figure 3.3: Layout of the Opening of I:2 with the Musical Structure of
The Little Things You Do Together, Company 241

Figure 3.4: Layout of I:4 with Im on my way to Urga,


The Exception and the Rule, Bertolt Brecht 243
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Figure 3.5: Layout of the Opening of II:2 with the Musical Structure of
Lullaby, Street Scene, Weill and Elmer Rice 245

Figure 3.6: Layout of I:5 with the Musical Structure of Another Hundred People,
Company 247

Figure 3.7: Layout of the Opening of II:2 with the Musical Structure of Poor Baby,
Company 252

Figure 3.8: Sondheim, Lyric Draft for Being Alive, Company 261

Figure 3.9: Layout with the Musical Structure of Being Alive, Company 263

Figure 3.10: Layout with the Musical Structure of Getting Married Today,
Company 279

Figure 4.1: Georges Seurat, Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte


(1884-86), Oil on canvas, 81 x 121 in. (207.5 x 308.1 cm), Helen Birch
Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224, The Art Institute of Chicago 296

Figure 4.2: Character Doublings in Acts I and II of Sunday in the Park with George 301

Figure 4.3: First Statements of Motives in Sunday in the Park with George 309

Figure 4.4: Isaac Newtons Color Wheel, Opticks, 1704 313

Figure 4.5: Large-Scale Harmonic Structure of Sunday in the Park with George 317

Figure 4.6: The Normal Forms of the Working and Gossiping Motives 336

Figure 4.7: Sondheim, Tone Rows for Sunday in the Park with George 337

Figure 4.8: Tone Row employed in Eulogies with Hexachordal and


Tetrachordal Relationships 340
xx

Permissions

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE


Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM
1964 (Renewed) BURTHEN MUSIC COMPANY, INC.
All Rights Administered by CHAPPELL & CO., INC. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission

COMPANY
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music
LLC and Rilting Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

Music of excerpts from The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by Blecht
by Leonard Bernstein
Amberson Holdings LLC.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher
Reprinted with permission

Lyrics of excerpts from The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by Blecht
by Stephen Sondheim
1968 Burthen Music Co. Inc. (ASCAP)
All rights administered by Chappell & Co., Inc. All rights reserved
Reprinted with permission

LOVE LIFE
Music by Kurt Weill and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Reprinted with the permission of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, New York
All rights reserved

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP.
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
1

Introduction

Studying Saint Sondheim

God.
I mean, the mans a
God!
Wrote the score to
Sweeney Todd,
With a nod,
To de Sade
Well, hes odd.
Well, hes
God!

Smart!
The lyrics are so smart!
And the music has such heart!
It has heart?
Well, in part.
Lets not start
Call it art.
No, call it
God! 1

When I began my dissertation research, I had hoped to have the opportunity to interview

Stephen Sondheim in order to incorporate into my project his insights. That chance to

meet my dissertation topic face to face arrived sooner than expected. Late one Saturday

afternoon, during a research trip at the New Public Library for the Performing Arts, I

1
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments,
Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany (New York: Knopf, 2011),
333.
2

worked my way through an exhibit on Jerome Robbins. From the corner of my eye, I

recognized a man studying a photograph hanging on the wall: it was Sondheim. With

mixed feelings of delight and angst, I knew that I had to approach him and make the most

of this serendipitous situation. I introduced myself and exclaimed enthusiastically, Im

writing my dissertation on you! He responded, Oh, dear . . . In spite of this, I asked if I

might write him a letter with questions pertaining to my research. He consented, and I left

the exhibit feeling like a lottery winner.

I wasted no time sending said letter to Sondheim, and, soon thereafter, I retrieved

from my mailbox his response, typewritten and signed on Stephen Sondheim letterhead.

A telephone-call interview followed and then a trip to his brownstone in Turtle Bay

where, seated at his dining room table surrounded by antique games and puzzles, I

studied a selection of his music and lyrics from various stages in the creative process.

Having access to these personal papers informed my understanding of Sondheims work

habits and the genesis of some of his musicals.

Over the course of his career, Sondheim has granted hundreds of interviews, and

many have been reproduced in the secondary literature. In 2002, as part of the Sondheim

Celebration of six productions at the Kennedy Center, Sondheim appeared in front of a

live audience for an onstage interview with New York Times theater critic and essayist

Frank Rich. This was the first of a series of such public events, including a veritable

national tour to dozens of states (and a few provinces) and usually billed as A

Conversation with Sondheim. The word conversation, however, is somewhat

misleading; these are hardly informal exchanges. Similarities between transcripts suggest
3

that the performances are all but scripted. The Sondheim interview has become

something akin to a theatrical genre with its star, loose script, and replacements

(sometimes Sean Patrick Flahaven or other theater aficionados have taken Richs place).

In 2003, in conjunction with the Sondheim Celebration, Mark Eden Horowitz

published an extensive collection of interviews with Sondheim. 2 Sondheim on Music:

Major Decisions and Minor Details focuses almost exclusively on his work as a

composer. Among the topics discussed are Sondheims working methods, formal aspects

of his scores, motivic coherence, and a pre-compositional technique that he refers to as

long-line reduction. The insights into and musical examples from various stages in the

creative process will no doubt serve as starting points for many future scholarly inquiries.

The Sondheim interview reached its zenith with the eightieth-birthday celebratory

Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim (2010), conceived and directed by James

Lapine. In this commemorative scrapbook on the life, times, and career of you-know-

who, Sondheim himself becomes the star as subject and virtual host, projected onto

multiple plasma screens. Archival footage and newly taped interviews complement live

performances of Sondheim songs, including one newly composed number, the tongue-in-

cheek second-act opener, God. 3

Writing a dissertation about so revered a living figure is both a blessing and a

curse. If the individual under scrutiny continues to produce new work, findings, or

2
Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Major Decisions and Minor Details (Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow, 2003). Seven years later, Horowitz added to the second edition transcripts of two more
interviews. Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Major Decisions and Minor Details, 2nd ed.
(Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2010).
3
The idea for God came from James Kaplan, The Cult of Stephen Sondheim, New York Magazine (4
April 1994): 48-54.
4

writings, the diligent scholar must then take into account these latest materials within the

context of her subjects lifework. Although Sondheim maintains an active role as a

collaborative dramatist writing for American musical theater (he is currently working

with David Ives on a new show tentatively titled All Together Now), his most recent stage

works lie outside the scope of this dissertation. But Sondheims own writinghis books

and articles on his training, mentors, collaborators, influences, and tastesdemands

attention. In 2010 and 2011, Sondheim published his collected lyrics in two volumes

(1954-1980 and 1981-2011). 4 As the books lengthy subtitles suggest, Sondheim

annotated his lyrics with instructions for effective lyric writing, descriptions of the

dramatic implications of some lyrics, analyses and critiques of his lyrics and the lyrics of

others, photographs of lyric sketches and drafts with explanations of shorthand,

chronicles of the origins of his projects, and Broadway lore. These two monographs are

the latest and most substantive writings authored by Sondheim. 5

Sondheims books, articles, and interviews have functioned as a double-edged

sword for the study of his career. They offer insider information and a unique

perspective of the inner workings of this artists mind. They also shed light on the mixed

4
Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81) with Attendant Comments, Principles,
Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010) and Look, I Made a Hat. See also
Larry Stempel, reviews of The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, ed. Amy Asch and Finishing the
Hat and Look, I Made a Hat, by Stephen Sondheim, Journal of the Society for American Music 7/2 (May
2013): 197-203.
5
Starting in 1974, Sondheim published articles on the creative process, lyric writing, the nature of
collaboration, and the future of musical theater. See Stephen Sondheim, The Musical Theater: A Talk with
Stephen Sondheim, Dramatists Guild Quarterly 15/3 (Fall 1978): 6-29, Stephen Sondheim in a Q & A
Session, Dramatists Guild Quarterly 28/1 (Spring 1991): 8-15; continued in Dramatists Guild Quarterly
28/2 (Summer 1991): 10-17; Theater Lyrics, Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers on Theater, ed. Otis
Guernsey Jr. (New York: Dodd and Mead, 1974), 61-97; and Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince, On
Collaboration between Authors and Directors, Dramatists Guild Quarterly 16/2 (Summer 1979): 14-34.
5

motives at play when a creator has a hand in shaping his own reception and legacy. Few,

if any, commentators have dared to doubt, debate, or deconstruct Sondheims narrative or

interpretations. Most, including a number of scholars, have adopted a journalistic

approach, merely explicating Sondheim, or using his remarks to answer their own

questions, as if only SondheimSaint Sondheimcan reveal the truth. These sorts of

superficial analyses leave readers wondering why they didnt just pick up Sondheims

own scriptures.

From a young age, Sondheim commented on his own contributions to the

American musical theater and predicted the trajectory of his career as he, in essence,

became Stephen Sondheimseveral times over. On 6 March 1960, the New York Times

published an article that focused on the twenty-nine-year-old up-and-comer. Fresh from

his experience as the lyricist of West Side Story (1957) with Jerome Robbins, Leonard

Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents, and Gypsy (1959) with Jule Styne and Laurents,

Sondheim was eager to establish himself as a Broadway composer: Lyric writing, at

best, is a very limited artif it is an art at all, he explained. But composing music is

genuinely creative. And its much more fun. 6 In 1960, Broadways theatergoers had yet

to hear music by Sondheim, with the exception of the title song that he had written in

1956 for Cheryl Crawfords production of N. Richard Nashs play, The Girls of Summer.

The Times piece focused on Sondheims passion for composition and chronicled his

formal musical training at George School and Williams College and private composition

6
John S. Wilson, Sondheim: Lyricist and Composer, New York Times, 6 March 1960, X4.
6

lessons with Milton Babbitt. Sondheim views himself not as a lyricist, the article

asserted, but as a composer. 7

Even if Sondheim had been satisfied in writing lyrics exclusively, he would have

faced the dilemma that all of the Golden Age greats would: the 1960s witnessed a sea

change in American culture and, concomitantly, musical theater, and in Sondheims

career in particular. A wide variety of artists attempted to reinvent American cultural

identity in the midst of mounting social, political, and economic tension and to find ways

to reflect and deepen the contemporary understanding of issues that were shaping the

times: the American civil rights movement; the mounting opposition to the Vietnam War;

the problems of social conformism; the rise of womens liberation; the general loosening

of sexual constraints, often referred to as the sexual revolution; public questioning of

the social stigma attached to homosexuality; and the growing abuse of narcotics or

psychedelic drugs.

The American musical underwent rigorous change and experimentation as its

practitioners redefined the art form. West Side Story and Gypsy may have earned

Sondheim a spot on Broadway, but he recognized that these marked the end of an era, not

the beginning of a new one: for West Side Story, the culmination of the integration of

dance into the musical play that had begun with Oklahoma! and On the Town; and for

Gypsy, as he has said, the last great book musical following the structure of the Rodgers

and Hammerstein well-integrated musical play. 8 As the new decade arrived, a different

7
Wilson, Sondheim: Lyricist and Composer.
8
Craig Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 2nd ed., updated (New York: Da Capo, 1994), 59.
7

generation of practitioners had to address, reflect, and articulate the seismic shift in

cultural sensibilities that was underway in the United States.

Several new names began to appear (or appear with greater frequency) on

marquees on Broadway (and Off-Broadway): Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (She

Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree); Cy Coleman (Little Me, Sweet Charity),

Sherman Edwards (1776); Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame); John Kander and Fred

Ebb (Flora, The Red Menace; Cabaret; Zorba); Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion (Man of La

Mancha); Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, and James Rado (Hair); Bob Merrill

(Carnival!, Funny Girl); Stuart Ostrow (The Apple Tree, 1776); Harold Prince (She Loves

Me; Fiddler on the Roof; Flora, The Red Menace; Its a BirdIts a PlaneIts

Superman; Cabaret; Zorba); Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones (The Fantasticks); and

Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Its a BirdIts a PlaneIts

Superman). Some of these artists expanded the generic boundaries with darker stories or

shows with no story at all, unusual dramatic structures, fresh source material, rock music,

and new technologies.

Sondheim struggled both personally and professionally for most of the 1960s: he

began psychoanalysis in 1958; his long-term mentor and friend, Oscar Hammerstein II,

had died in 1960 without hearing a Sondheim score on the New York stage; and his

father would pass away in 1966. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

(1962), dedicated to Hammersteins memory, achieved a run of almost 1000

performances. It was Sondheims first show to win a Tony Award in the category of best

musical; George Abbott won as director; Zero Mostel took the top award for best actor;
8

Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart won as bookwriters; and Harold Prince, in his first solo

producing effort, also earned a Tony. But Sondheims music and lyrics were not even

nominated: his contributions went largely unheralded. Subsequently Sondheim himself

remarked tartly that the songs could be removed from the show and it wouldnt make a

difference. 9

Sondheim spent the remainder of the decade devoting his creative energy to a

string of dead ends and false starts. The first, Anyone Can Whistle (1964), reunited him

with Laurents, the only bookwriter with whom Sondheim has worked four times.

Sondheim tried to make a fresh start with this new musical. It was way ahead of its

time, he asserted, in that it was experimental. 10 With its original book, bookwriter

doubling as director, three-act structure, and trio of Broadway rookies in starring roles,

Anyone Can Whistle was ridden with practical and conceptual problems from its

inception and closed after nine performances. But, as Sondheims friend and recent

collaborator Shevelove stated, the failure taught him important lessons: Steve learned

more about the theater from Anyone Can Whistle than from any of the other shows. 11

With his Broadway career still such an unsteady affair, Sondheim reluctantly

agreed to step back and write lyrics only for Rodgerss music in Do I Hear a Waltz?

(1965). Everyone seemed to expect Broadways new Rodgers musical with

Hammersteins protg to achieve certain financial success, but it failed, in part, because

it relied on a formulaic approach out of step with the pervasive cultural shifts. Rodgers

9
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 68.
10
Ibid., 82.
11
Ibid., 95.
9

name helped keep the show open for several months, but Do I Hear a Waltz? ended with

the shortest run he had seen for twenty years (even quicker closures would follow later in

his career). Do I Hear a Waltz? adapted Laurentss 1952 play The Time of the Cuckoo,

and its creators forced it into the Rodgers and Hammerstein mold. I never thought the

play should be a musical, Sondheim would later admit. You take a successful property,

add songs to it, and put it on the stage. To adapt such properties is like the dinosaur

eating its own tail. 12

Eager to reinvent himself again as composer-lyricist, Sondheim turned to his

friend, playwright James Goldman, for a new idea for a musical. By the end of 1965,

Goldman had drafted a libretto and Sondheim had written five numbers for an original

musical, titled The Girls Upstairs. But it would take six years, a series of producers and

directors, more than a dozen drafts, and Princes direct input before the project would

reach the stage as Follies (1971). In the meantime, Sondheim worked on other projects

that either folded or flopped in quick succession. First, he and Goldman accepted an offer

to write a television musical for ABCs Stage 67, Evening Primrose, based on a short

story by John Collier. The lackluster result, four songs and incidental music, did little, if

anything, for Sondheims resume. He had to settle for yet more unfulfilling, ill-fated

work: assisting with the lyrics for Mary Rodgerss Off-Broadway revue The Mad Show

(1966) and the Jules Dassin-Manos Hadjidakis-Joe Darion musical Illya Darling (1967)

and penning a song for the unproduced film The Thing of It Is (1969). With the

encouragement of his friend, Gloria Steinem, one of the original writers for New York

12
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 100, 105.
10

magazine, Sondheim started working as a professional puzzle writer. On 8 April 1968,

New York published one of his cryptic crosswords in their inaugural issue. Over the next

twelve months, Sondheim contributed forty more crosswords, dodecahedrons, and other

brainteasers to the magazine. 13

Only in writing lyrics for an abortive project in 1968 did Sondheim approach the

level of experimentation in structure and style that he had set out for himself earlier that

decade with Anyone Can Whistle. In one sense, this new venture pushed Sondheim back

once again, as it forced him to return to the role of lyricist only within the company of the

West Side Story collective (except for Laurents). In another, however, it provided the

crucial missing link between Anyone Can Whistle and Companythe proverbial black

box in a period sometimes described as Sondheims dark decade. The group of

collaborators set out to adapt into a musical Bertolt Brechts Lehrstck from 1930, Die

Ausnahme und die Regel (The Exception and the Rule), a Marxist tract about class

struggle that hinged critically on negative societal preconceptions about the working-

class Coolie. Robbins planned to cast a Caucasian actor as the (apparently Western)

Merchant and Black actors as the (Asian) Guide and Coolie, thereby using contemporary

issues of race-as-class to illustrate and update Brechts points. Bookwriter John Guare

framed Brechts story by setting it in a television studio, where a cast was performing

The Exception and the Rulenow a television play-within-a-play. With two creators at

the peak of their powers and two promising up-and-coming talents, A Pray by Blecht

13
Sondheim described his affinity for British-style crosswords in an article accompanying his first foray
into professional puzzle writing: Stephen Sondheim, How to Do a Real Crossword Puzzle, New York, 8
April 1968.
11

aspired to be a big, albeit extremely unusual, Broadway show. But, after almost one year

of work, the group disbanded, and the musical never reached the stage.

Such a disappointing track record seemed likely to derail Sondheims career as

anything but a lyricist. By the end of the decade, he had to reassert himselfyet again

as composer-lyricist. That opportunity arrived in 1969, when Prince agreed to produce

and direct Company (1970), the first of six ambitious Prince-Sondheim musicals that self-

consciously adapted and re-functioned old forms and genres: Company (Brechtian

theater), Follies (1971, spectacle revue), A Little Night Music (1973, operetta), Pacific

Overtures (1976, Japanese kabuki), Sweeney Todd (1979, melodrama), and Merrily We

Roll Along (1981, musical comedy told in retrograde chronology). The fear of repeating

themselves or falling into any sort of formula seems to have become the duos primary

motivation.

This dissertation investigates four of Sondheims projects in order to construct an

account of how he became Sondheim several times over. He worked on the first three

projects with three different creative collectives in the 1960s: Anyone Can Whistle, A

Pray by Blecht, and Company, the last of which would mark the beginning of his reign as

preeminent collaborative dramatist and earn him his first two Tony Awards (for Best

Score and Lyrics). But Sondheim did not become Sondheim once and for all during the

1960s; the other crucial moment in his career took place when his partnership with Prince

ended and Sondheim considered quitting altogether a genre that to some was no longer

worth saving. The production system that had supported his work for a quarter of a

century had broken down. After the Prince spectaculars, Sondheim reinvented himself in
12

the world of workshops, non-profit theaters, Off-Broadway collaborators, and minimalist

productions. Sunday in the Park with George (1984), his first musical with playwright-

director James Lapine, is in this sense Sondheims new start, his Moving On. The show

began a series of pieces just as diverse as those with Prince, with the same mix of box

office success and failure, and equally praised for their craft and innovation: Into the

Woods (1987), Assassins (1991), Passion (1994), and Road Show (2008; formerly titled

Bounce, 2003; and Wise Guys, 1999). In the latter half of his career, Sondheim in essence

becomes to the megamusical of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alain Boublil, and Claude-

Michel Schnberg what Brecht and Weill had been to the theater in Germany in the

1920s, and what Weill was to Rodgers in the 1940s.

***

Over the past half century, Sondheims engaging treatment of provocative social

and cultural issues, rich musical scores, and dazzling lyrics have earned him an

unassailable position of prominence in historical narratives of the American musical

theater. Despite this distinction, however, musicologists have yet to bring a battery of

critical approaches to bear on his projects. This dissertation combines traditional

musicological methodologies and other models of research and critique to offer multi-

dimensional readings of four of Sondheims works. This study encourages further debate

about issues relevant to the discipline at large, such as authorship and authenticity within

a genre that has thrived on a maximally collaborative creative process; the nature of the
13

abstract text and production event; the perceived authority of what creators say; the

theater of Bertolt Brecht and Broadway as an aesthetic oxymoron; and the role of

musicals as vehicles for conveying images of and points of view about social, cultural,

and political history.

Four chapters and an epilogue comprise the body of this dissertation. Each

chapter highlights a distinctive issue and/or methodology. Chapters 1 and 2, the most

document-oriented of the chapters, chronicle the evolution of the scripts and scores of

Anyone Can Whistle and A Pray by Blecht. Chapters 3 and 4 offer interpretative and

analytical accounts of Company and Sunday in the Park with George. Across the study

topics include pastiche as commentary and characterization, self-reflexivity and other

metadramatic devices, rhetorical figures, Gestus, motivic coherence (in music and lyrics),

tonal trajectory, contrapuntal techniques, song forms, musico-dramatic analysis, text-

music relationships, numeric symbolism, color theory, set theory, and minimalism.

Although certain chapters address some of the same issues, this dissertation does not

attempt to trace the development of Sondheims style. That he has worked as a

collaborative dramatist with an ever-changing circle of co-creators trumps any traditional

notion of a progress narrative.

Chapter 1 starts in 1961, when Sondheim and Laurents set to work on a new

musical, which three years later would open on Broadway. Anyone Can Whistle provided

its creators with an important chance to test various unconventional techniques and

approaches in a Broadway productionan unthinkable luxury for todays novice writers.

This chapter describes seven experiments that the two collaborators conducted in
14

writing their flop and introduces questions about Sondheims training and influences that

it and subsequent chapters attempt to answer: how did Sondheims composition lessons

with Milton Babbitt shape his ambitions as a modernist maker of American musical

theater? What did Sondheim learn from him? Did Babbitt discuss with Sondheim the

reductive theories and graphing practices of Heinrich Schenker? What was the extent and

impact of Sondheims acquaintance with Brechtian theory and practice? How did that

exposure impact his subsequent works? And in what ways did Kurt Weills use of music

for metadramatic purposes resonate with Sondheim?

Chapter 2 pushes into the spotlight one of Sondheims least-known assignments,

writing lyrics for A Pray by Blecht. To devote a full chapter to an abandoned and as yet

unfinished project may seem an unusual choice. Without a definitive text or

culminating event, the work presents challenges of study far exceeding those of most

musicals. Drawing on materials scattered in three repositories (plus Sondheims home),

this chapter proceeds chronologically and pieces together the genesis of the script and

score. The projects nine completed numbers suggest that the showSondheims most

direct and sustained exposure to the theater of Brechtshaped aspects of the composer-

lyricists subsequent work. Although the Sondheim literature has previously noted

Brechts thumbprint on Sondheims next musical, his breakthrough artistic and

commercial achievement, Company, the specific source of that influence has yet to be

examined.

In Chapter 3, I turn to Company and the role of interruption for metadramatic

effect as further evidence of Brechtian and Weillian techniques in practice. This chapter
15

unfolds in two parts: the first uses formal analyses to draw structural parallels to specific

examples from Brecht and Weills output, and the other focuses on Sondheims use of

pastiche as commentary, another Weillian trademark and marker of Sondheims style.

Whereas Sondheims previous collaborators, Laurents, Robbins, Bernstein, Guare, and

others, would fall away as suitable creative partners, Companys producer-director Prince

would play a large role in helping Sondheim emerge as a composer-lyricist and establish

himself as the leading musical dramatist of his generation.

Chapter 4 returns to Babbitt and demonstrates how Sondheim drew on Babbitts

notion of architectonics in Sunday in the Park with George. An intricate web of

character doublings, dramatic reflections, and musical and textual motives evokes

Georges Seurats principle of chromoluminarism and helps construct a structural

scaffold that encompasses motivic unity, numeric symbolism, set theory, and

minimalism. Finally, the epilogue offers a reading of the trajectory of Sondheims career

that departs from his own construction of becoming Sondheim and suggests topics for

future exploration.

Relevant Scholarship

Over the past thirty years, research on the American musical and its creators has

grown exponentially and shows no signs of slowing down. Primarily American scholars

and critics with a variety of backgrounds have produced a dizzying array of textbooks,

encyclopedias, annotated bibliographies, historical surveys, social and cultural studies,

biographies, and coffee-table books. And the commercial appeal of the artists
16

themselvescomposers, lyricists, bookwriters, producers, directors, choreographers, and

performershas sustained a steady stream of autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories,

and other anecdotal sources. Most authors have painted hagiographic portraits of their

subjects and works, with little, if any, attention to primary source materials, musical

analysis, or sociopolitical issues. Those who write about Sondheim, in particular, often

suffer from the compulsive need to overstate the titanic importance of Sondheim to

American musical theater. His most ardent devotees even make him seem immune to

criticism. When Sondheim has a financial failure, its always someone elses fault:

Anyone Can Whistles shortcomings stemmed from Laurentss book, Merrily We Roll

Alongs from Furths book and Princes casting, and Pacific Overtures and Sweeney

Todds from Princes staging. Despite Sondheims attempts to poke fun at his God-like

status, this sort of unbridled enthusiasm and lionization is counterproductive and

undermines genuine valuation of his works. 14

Most of the literature on Sondheims oeuvre unfolds in a conventional life-and-

works narrative. Craig Zadans candid, behind-the-scenes book, first published in 1974,

was the earliest major study to adopt this format. 15 Beginning with Sondheims

apprenticeship, Zadan tells a familiar story of professional and personal growth, pieced

together as an oral history based on first-hand interviews with Sondheim, his

collaborators, colleagues, and performers. Theater critic Martin Gottfried tells a similar

14
For other reviews of the Sondheim literature, see Geoffrey Block, Reading Musicals, review of Making
Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical, by Andrea Most, Journal of Musicology 12/4 (Fall 2004):
579-600 and Steve Swayne, Sondheim: An American Composer Only a British Musicologist Can Love?,
reviews of Sondheims Broadway Musicals, by Stephen Banfield and other studies about Sondheim,
Indiana Theory Review 21 (Spring-Fall 2000): 231-53.
15
Zadan, Sondheim & Co.
17

story of Sondheims creative life in his extravagant coffee-table book, Sondheim. 16

Originally published in 1993, Gottfrieds monograph surveys all of Sondheims major

projects, from West Side Story to Wise Guys (which would later become Road Show).

Gottfried complements his brief commentaries with generous quotations from interviews,

lyrics, and a host of glossy photographs.

Starting in the 1980s, authors from a spectrum of disciplines, including English

literature, gender studies, theatre history, film studies, and musicology have attempted to

fill the gaps. In 1984, theater historian Joanne Gordon wrote one of the first dissertations

on Sondheim. 17 Unabashedly enthusiastic, Gordon trumpets Sondheims achievements

year-by-year and show-by-show, without conducting genuine critical analysis. Her

occasional attempts to make a musical point, for example, are handicapped by a lack of

specificity and nuance. In 1990, Gordon reworked her dissertation as a book and, in the

1992 revised edition, she expanded her overview to include Sunday in the Park with

George, Into the Woods, and Assassins. 18 Gordon has since served as editor of Stephen

Sondheim: A Casebook, a collection of fourteen essays by mostly English and theater

specialists. 19 None of the authors engages primary-source material, and most seem ill-

informed about the history and repertoire of the American musical theater. And, with

virtually no discussion of the music in Sondheims musicals, the book creates a distorted

16
Martin Gottfried, Sondheim, enlarged and updated ed. (New York: Abrams, 2000).
17
Joanne Gordon, The American Musical Stops Singing and Finds its Voice: A Study of the Work of
Stephen Sondheim (Ph.D., diss, University of California, Los Angeles, 1984).
18
Joanne Gordon, Art Isnt Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1990). A revised edition appeared as Art Isnt Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim
(New York: Da Capo, 1992).
19
Joanne Gordon, ed., Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook (New York: Garland, 1997).
18

picture of Sondheim as little more than a lyricist and collaborative playwright. In

contrast, the twelve essays in Sandor Goodharts anthology of 2000 demonstrate new

directions for Sondheim scholarship, but most of the authors still ignore Sondheims

music and rely almost exclusively on extended quotation of familiar song lyrics and

passages of dialogue. 20 Some of the authors seem to ascribe to Sondheim full authorship

of the shows being discussed.

Meryle Secrests biography of Sondheim, published in 1998, attempts to cover

every stage of Sondheims life, from his difficult upbringing with an absentee father and

incestuous mother to his latest projects. 21 Secrest relies heavily on Zadans text and adds

details from marathon interviews conducted with Sondheim and numerous other sources.

Sondheim claims to revere teachers (Teaching . . . is the noblest profession on

earth), 22 but he seems to revile scholars:

Horowitz: One question came to me from a musicologist.


Sondheim: My stomach is tightening as you say that . . . but go on. 23

Indeed, when Sondheim learned that I had chosen him as the subject of my dissertation,

his reluctant response (Oh, dear . . .) conveyed a sense of skepticism. Nevertheless,

despite his aversion to scholarly inquiry of his life and works, Sondheim has become

almost a hero in the ivory tower. Since 1978, more than fifty MA, MM, DMA, and Ph.D.

20
Sandor Goodhart, ed., Reading Stephen Sondheim: A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Garland,
2000).
21
Meryle Secrest, Stephen Sondheim: A Life (New York: Knopf, 1998).
22
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 168.
23
Ibid., 219.
19

theses have addressed aspects of his output. 24 Most of these monographs, however,

neglect to engage the music and so offer limited transferable theoretical frameworks to

musicologists. Exceptions include those by Steve Swayne, Stephen Blair Wilson, and

Peter Charles Landis Purin, whose dissertations use multiple methodologies to unpack

Sondheims style, or Sondheims voices, a turn of phrase that two of the authors

employ. 25 Swayne takes into account the music, lyrics, and aspects of the drama of four

musicals in his exploration of musical style, particularly Sondheims use of pastiche.

Wilson conducts a thorough musical analysis of Company and A Little Night Music in a

sort of vacuum without sustained reference to the book or drama. And Purin applies to

fourteen of Sondheims scores various music-theoretical methodologies to summarize the

key components of his signature style, including elements of melody, harmony,

accompaniment, and relationships between music and drama.

Dissertations on other musical-theatre topics provide additional models of

research: bruce d. mcclungs American Dreams: Analyzing Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin

24
See ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, search Stephen Sondheim, 2013. Several dissertations, written
for degrees in musicology and other fields, have offered models for my own work: Michael Charles
Adams, The Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim: Form and Function (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University,
1980); Dan J. Cartmell, Stephen Sondheim and the Concept Musical (Ph.D. diss., University of
California, Santa Barbara, 1983); Lee Frederick Orchard, Stephen Sondheim and the Disintegration of the
American Dream: A Study of the Work of Stephen Sondheim from Company to Sunday in the Park with
George (Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 1988); Eugene Robert Huber, Stephen Sondheim and Harold
Prince: Collaborative Contributions to the Development of the Modern Concept Musical, 1970-1981
(Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1990); Robert Paul Urbinati, Treatment of Character in the Lyrics of
Stephen Sondheim: A Little Night Music and Pacific Overtures (Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 1994);
and Laura Hanson, Elements of Modernism in the Musicals of Stephen Sondheim (Ph.D. diss., New
York University, 2001).
25
Stephen Blair Wilson, Motivic, Rhythmic, and Harmonic Procedures in Stephen Sondheims Company
and A Little Night Music (Ph.D. diss., Ball State University, 1983); Steve Swayne, Hearing Sondheims
Voices (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1999); and Peter Charles Landis Purin, Ive a
voice, Ive a voice: Determining Stephen Sondheims Compositional Style Through Music-Theoretical
Analysis of His Theater Works (Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 2011).
20

and Kurt Weills Lady in the Dark; 26 Graham Woods The Development of Song

Forms in the Broadway and Hollywood Musicals of Richard Rodgers, 1919-1943; 27

Andrea Mosts We Know We Belong to the Land: Jews and the American Musical

Theater; 28 Jim Lovensheimers The Musico-Dramatic Evolution of Rodgers and

Hammersteins South Pacific, 29 Elizabeth A. Wells West Side Story(s): Changing

Perspectives on an American Musical, 30 Todd R. Deckers Black/White Encounters on

the American Stage and Screen (1924-2005), 31 and Katherine Leigh Axtells Maiden

Voyage: The Genesis and Reception of Show Boat, 1926-1932. 32

A clear sign of Sondheims arrival as an accepted subject of academic inquiry

came in 1998, when he became the only figure in the American musical theater to enjoy a

full four-paper session devoted to his works at the national meeting of the American

26
bruce d. mcclung, American Dreams: Analyzing Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weills Lady in the
Dark (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1994). See also his award-winning Lady in the
Dark: Biography of a Musical (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
27
Graham Wood, The Development of Song Forms in the Broadway and Hollywood Musicals of Richard
Rodgers, 1919-1943 (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 2000).
28
Andrea Most, We Know We Belong to the Land: Jews and the American Musical Theater (Ph.D.
diss., Brandeis, 2001). See also her Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2004).
29
Jim Lovensheimer, The Musico-Dramatic Evolution of Rodgers and Hammersteins South Pacific
(Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 2003). See also his South Pacific: Paradise Rewritten (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2010).
30
Elizabeth A. Wells, West Side Story(s): Changing Perspectives on an American Musical (Ph.D. diss.,
University of Rochester, 2003). See also her West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American
Musical (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011).
31
Todd R. Decker, Black/White Encounters on the American Stage and Screen (1924-2005) (Ph.D. diss.,
University of Michigan, 2007). See also his Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
32
Katherine Leigh Axtell, Maiden Voyage: The Genesis and Reception of Show Boat, 1926-1932 (Ph.D.
diss., University of Rochester, 2009).
21

Musicological Society. 33 Although there now exists what Richard Taruskin has called a

Sondheim industry, genuine scholarship is not yet a generation old. My own approach

to Sondheim builds on ideas expressed most convincingly and methods employed most

extensively in two book-length studies on the music in Sondheims musicals: Stephen

Banfields Sondheims Broadway Musicals and Swaynes How Sondheim Found His

Sound. 34 Published in 1993, Banfields landmark study is one of the first to apply

familiar musicological tools (e.g., comparison of sketches to the finished product) to the

genre. He constructs a nuanced account of the history of ten musicals for which

Sondheim wrote music and lyrics (all except Passion, Assassins, and Road Show) that

interweaves historical and analytical methods with contextual and interpretative readings.

Such analysis, Geoffrey Block notes, commonplace in studies in the classical

tradition, is virtually unprecedented in the literature on Broadway. 35

In 2005, Swayne published a monograph with a more interpretive approach to the

development of Sondheims musical and dramatic language. Swayne untangles the many

influences and experiences that shaped Sondheims work in the 1940s and 50s: his

training as a pianist, theorist, and composer; his appreciation of classical music and the

songs of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood; his life in the theater, onstage,

backstage, and in the pit; and his passion for film. Swayne concentrates on Sondheims

numbers from Dick Tracy, Sunday in the Park with George, and various Sondheim-

33
This paper session, entitled Sondheim, took place at the 1998 meeting in Boston, MA.
34
Stephen Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) and
Steve Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
35
Geoffrey Block, review of Stephen Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, Journal of the Royal
Musical Association 121/1 (1996): 125.
22

Prince collaborations to illustrate how aspects of Sondheims style existed early in his

career and how they came together in these more mature works. Swaynes selectivity

leaves the reader to test the authors conclusions elsewhere.

Primary Source Materials

To study virtually any piece of musical theater, researchers must rely on a cluster

of sources from the genesis, production, and reception processes, including sketches,

draft, fair, and final copies of words and music; scripts; annotated scores and instrumental

parts; set designs; playbills and program books; press clippings; photographs; audio and

video recordings; box office statements and business records; correspondence; diaries;

and interviews. Many materials have not survived, and some are inaccessible,

inconsistent, and incomplete. Compiling the text (or multiple texts) of a musical is

complicated by the larger issue of identifying the social product within the context of a

culminating event (or multiple events). The surviving texts, in other words, rarely

communicate precisely what was rehearsed or performed at any given moment. Nor do

they usually or adequately differentiate the contributions of one artist from anothers. The

dynamic process of collaboration camouflages the origin of ideas, which makes it

virtually impossible to assign authorship to specific aspects of the work based on the

texts alone. With an authorial web reaching beyond the creative circle to encompass the

financial interests of producers, backers, and audiences, even musical decisions may not

necessarily be traceable back to the composer, orchestrator, or arranger.


23

The only published versions of the music and texts of the four projects under

consideration are the piano-vocal scores and scripts for Anyone Can Whistle (Hal

Leonard and Random House), Company (Hal Leonard and Theatre Communications

Group, Inc.), and Sunday in the Park with George (Alfred Music and Applause Theatre

Book Publishers). The completion of this dissertation necessitated extensive research into

primary source materials. In tracing the genesis of Anyone Can Whistle, I drew on

archival materials from two collections housed in Madisons Wisconsin Historical

Society: the Stephen Sondheim Papers, which holds music and lyrics, manuscripts,

scripts and drafts, and correspondence from Sondheims early career (1946-65), and the

Kermit Bloomgarden Papers, which contains business records and production files of

Anyone Can Whistles producer. 36

Materials for A Pray by Blecht are as yet unpublished, with the exception of

Sondheims lyrics and the play on which the show is based, Brechts The Exception and

the Rule. For this chapter, I studied materials in the Leonard Bernstein Collection of the

Library of Congress and Jerome Robbins Papers of the New York Library for the

Performing Arts (NYPL). The former holds annotated piano-vocal scores and

instrumental parts, lyrics and dialogue sketches, correspondence, and notes. At the latter,

I accessed correspondence, production materials, scripts, lyrics, photocopies of musical

materials, and a demo audio recording of some of the creators singing through a working

36
Archival materials cited in the text of this dissertation, including the Stephen Sondheim Papers (SSP) and
Kermit Bloomgarden Papers (KBP) of the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS), Leonard Bernstein
Collection (LBC) of the Library of Congress (DLC), and Jerome Robbins Papers (JRP) of the New York
Library for the Performing Arts (NYPL), are identified by sigla formulated as Library-Collection x/y
where x and y denote box and folder numbers. WHS-SSP 1/2, for example, refers to documents housed in
the Wisconsin Historical Societys Stephen Sondheim Papers and catalogued in box 1, folder 2.
24

score shortly before they abandoned the project. The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the

NYPL also houses the Betty Comden Papers, which contains photocopies of piano-vocal

scores from A Pray by Blecht. Comdens involvement as one of the creative forces

behind By Bernstein, a 1975 revue that featured two numbers from the Blecht score,

explains why her papers include these scores. The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive

(TOFT), a subdivision of the NYPLs Billy Rose Theatre Division and the primary public

repository for film footage of all Broadway, Off-Broadway, and major regional theater

productions of musicals, started to build its collection only after 1970 but nevertheless

offers fascinating documentation of productions of Company and Sunday in the Park with

George.

Commercially available audio and video recordings include cast albums of Anyoe

Can Whistle, Company, and Sunday in the Park with George and studio recordings of

cast members, other singers, and even Sondheim himself performing numbers from these

and other shows. 37 In addition to Companys seven recordings (including one sung in

Portuguese and another in German), a video chronicles the making of the original cast

album and features interviews with Sondheim, Prince, and several other members of the

production team and cast. 38 Other audio-visual resources include two commercially

37
Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, Original Cast Recording, Herbert Greene,
music dir., Columbia Broadway Masterworks, SK 86860, 2003; Stephen Sondheim and George Furth,
Company, Original Cast Recording, Harold Hastings, music dir., Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy SK
65283, 1970, reissued 1998; Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George,
Original Cast Recording, Paul Gemignani, music dir., RCA RCD1-5042, 1984; and Stephen Sondheim and
James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, London Cast Recording, Caroline Humphris, music dir.,
PS Classics PS-640, 2006.
38
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Original Cast Album - Company, dir. D. A. Pennebaker (1970;
New York: BMG Music, 1992), DVD.
25

available video recordings of star-studded productions of Company and one of Sunday in

the Park with George. 39

My dissertation research benefited greatly from access to Sondheims personal

archives, including music and lyric sketches for the Blecht project and Company, and

from interviews with Sondheim and Guare. 40 These documents, particularly with regard

to A Pray by Blecht, helped me to piece together an account of the genesis of the show

and to contextualize it within the development of Sondheims career.

39
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Ral Esparza in Company: A Musical Comedy, dir. John Doyle
(Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2010), DVD; Stephen Sondheims Company with the New York
Philharmonic, dir. Lonny Price (Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2012), DVD; and Stephen
Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, originally directed for the Broadway stage
by James Lapine, directed for television by Terry Hughes (Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2003),
DVD.
40
Although the Wisconsin Historical Society houses materials from the early stages of his career,
Sondheim has agreed to bequeath the rest of his manuscripts to the Library of Congress. Horowitz,
Sondheim on Music, vii.
26

Chapter 1

Anyone Can Whistle: Stepping Stone or Misstep?

On 5 October 1961, seven months before A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the

Forum would open on Broadway, the New York Times announced that Stephen Sondheim

and Arthur Laurents planned to collaborate on a new musical entitled The Natives Are

Restless for the winter of 1962: The narrative and staging will be Mr. Laurents

handiwork; music and lyrics that of Stephen Sondheim . . . Although the title might

indicate otherwise, it is indigenous in content and contemporary in scope. 1 No further

news about the show seems to have been published until 21 May 1962, when, in the New

York Herald-Tribune, Laurents explained: This will be something very different in

musicals, very strange and zany. It will be contemporary, satirical and kind of far-out. 2

During the previous decade, Sondheim and Laurents had worked together on West Side

Story, Gypsy, and a comedy by Laurents with incidental music by Sondheim, Invitation

to a March, but they had yet to collaborate on a musical with both music and lyrics by

Sondheim and without the experience of such seasoned veterans as Leonard Bernstein,

Jule Styne, or Jerome Robbins to guide them through the process. Until the premiere, two

years later on 4 April 1964, Sondheim devoted his energy almost exclusively to the new

project, which the authors later would rename The Nut Show, then Side Show, and

1
Sam Zolotow, Mystery Planned by Paul Gregory, New York Times, 5 October 1961, 40.
2
Arthur Laurents, as quoted in New York Herald-Tribune, 21 May 1962.
27

finally Anyone Can Whistle. This period marked a crucial stage in Sondheims career,

when his previous experiences equipped him with various musical, textual, and theatrical

tools and afforded him the license to experiment. It was way ahead of its time,

Sondheim asserted, in that it was experimental. 3 He used this new opportunity to test

unusual narrative structures, dramatic devices, musical styles, forms, and techniques; to

break rules; to stretch generic boundaries; to subvert conventions; and to write his most

ambitious score before Follies. This chapter investigates the triumphs and tribulations

that emerged from Sondheims efforts writing Whistle and how this experience

contributed to his artistic transformation and opened up an array of possibilities for his

future creative endeavors.

Experiment #1: Write a Musical with an Original Book

Unlike the majority of bookwriters during the Golden Age of Broadway who had

begun the creative process with an extant work as a source for a new musical, Laurents

authored an original book, and an unorthodox one at that. Of course, Whistle was neither

the first original book musical nor the last. 4 When it premiered on Broadway, two of the

other fourteen musicals that opened in that 1963-64 season had original books: Rick

Besoyans The Student Gypsy, or The Prince of Liederkranz, a lackluster follow-up to his

3
Craig Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 2nd ed., updated (New York: Da Capo, 1994), 82.
4
Earlier original book musicals include: Finians Rainbow (1947), Allegro (1947), Love Life (1948), The
Music Man (1957), Bye Bye Birdie (1960), Do Re Mi (1960), Milk and Honey (1961), and No Strings
(1962).
28

popular operetta spoof, Little Mary Sunshine, and Betty Comden and Adolph Greens star

vehicle for Carol Burnett, Fade Out Fade In, with music by Styne. 5

Writing an original musical scores a higher artistic degree of difficulty than

adapting a source. Short stories, novels, memoirs, films, and other source materials, from

a practical standpoint, supply a narrative, characters, and themes that, in the case of

legitimate plays, authors have already conceived with the resources and limitations of the

stage in mind. Moreover, with such a property comes the knowledge of how the public

responded to its previous incarnations. In other words, the new author is aware of some

of the strengths and weaknesses of the material before he even begins to write.

Adaptations often appeal to prospective investors too because they can pose a smaller

financial risk: audiences may be more likely to buy tickets to a show derived from a

familiar property than an unfamiliar one. It should come as no surprise then that, as Oscar

Hammersteins protg, Sondheim was allowed to author his own musical only after the

experience of adapting three other properties. Hammerstein advised that writing an

original musical presented more challenges and required the expertise of a seasoned

author.

That Sondheim continued to favor writing musicals based on properties suggests

that he recognized the challenges of working on an original script. 6 Before Whistle, most

5
The Student Gypsy, or The Prince of Liederkranz disappointed audiences and critics alike and closed after
sixteen performances, and Fade Out Fade In received mixed reviews and played for 271. Richard C.
Norton, A Chronology of American Theater, volume 3: 1952-2001 (New York: Oxford University Press,
2002), 146-47, 161. The total number of new Broadway musicals in the 1963-64 season includes musical
comedies, musical plays, and musicals and excludes revivals, musical revues, entertainments, and
productions at New York City Center.
6
In fact, only two of Sondheims later projects, Follies and Sunday in the Park with George, started
without a traditional narrative source. The idea for the former began with a newspaper clipping announcing
29

of Sondheims theatrical productions had adapted plays or memoirs. Saturday Night

developed from a play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein; West Side Story started with

Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet; Gypsy drew on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee; and

Forum derived from the plays of Plautus. The inclination to author an original book for

Whistle likely came from Laurents, whose plays, by the early 1960s, had been produced

and published; one, Home of the Brave, which had made a big splash on Broadway, had

also been made into a major motion picture.

In addition to his role as bookwriter of Whistle, Laurents decided to take the

reigns as director, a dual duty that he had first performed four years earlier for his play

Invitation to a March. While many authors of straight plays have successfully crossed

over to direct their own work, few bookwriters in the New York commercial musical

theater have taken on added duties as directors, and even fewer have done so effectively.

In fact, over the past seventy-five years, George Abbott, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart,

Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, Abe Burrows, and Sondheims later collaborator,

James Lapine, remain among the very few bookwriters to achieve success doubling as

directors. David Merrick, the entrepreneur behind Fanny, Gypsy, Do Re Mi, Carnival!,

Oliver!, and other musicals, had originally shown interest in producing Whistle but only

on the condition that Laurents not direct it. Merrick turned his attention elsewhere when

Laurents insisted on doubling as author and director, a decision that would prove

problematic. With the benefit of hindsight, Sondheim observed:

a reunion of showgirls from the Ziegfeld Follies. The latter took as its points of departure aspects of
Georges Seurats biography and painting, Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte.
30

The blessing of a writer serving as his own director is that one vision emerges,
there being no outsider to contradict him. The curse, inevitably, is that the
vision may turn out to be myopic, there being no outsider to contradict him.
So it was with Anyone Can Whistle. There was no one to challenge Arthur
[Laurents] and me but ourselves. We had the courage, but not the
perspective. 7

Whistles fanciful story is set in a small American boomtown gone bust where

two interlaced plotlines take place. The first focuses on Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper

and her corrupt cronies, Comptroller Schub, Treasurer Cooley, and Chief Magruder, who

concoct a miraclehealing water gushing from a rockin an attempt to attract tourists,

save the town from bankruptcy, and line their own pockets. As they had hoped,

townspeople and pilgrims, offering gifts and money, flock to the latter-day Lourdes, and

prosperity returns to the town. The second narrative centers on the romantic pair, J.

Bowden Hapgood and Fay Apple. The two make an unlikely couple: he is a free-spirited

psychiatric patient (masquerading as the psychiatrists new assistant), and she is a no-

nonsense nurse at the asylum, which the locals refer to as the Cookie Jar (and the

patients, as Cookies). Fay exposes the fraudulent scheme orchestrated by Cora and her

henchmen and falls in love with Hapgood.

Experiment #2: Structure a Musical in Three Acts

In how many acts did the original production of Whistle unfold? Various and

varying accounts of Whistles layout have created confusion about even the most basic

organization of the show. In his A Chronology of American Theater, Richard C. Norton

7
Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81) with Attendant Comments, Principles,
Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010), 112.
31

divides the show into two acts, and the current rental script and score, available through

Music Theatre International, follow a similar two-part structure. 8 Other secondary

sources and surviving materials, however, suggest that the first production likely adhered

to a different format. Reviews of the premiere printed in the Daily News, New York

Times, and New York Herald-Tribune include specific references to moments in the third

act. 9 The pre-Broadway and Broadway programs, respectively for tryouts at the Forrest

Theatre in Philadelphia and opening night at the Majestic Theatre in New York (which,

albeit, would have been prepared several days in advance and therefore might not have

accurately reflected what was performed on opening night), list three acts. Furthermore,

the script and score, as first published in 1965 and 1968, unfold in a three-act layout. 10

Archival materials reveal that Laurents intended from the very early stages of

development to parse Whistle into three acts. The earliest known typescript draft of the

book, then provisionally titled The Nut Show and dated 1 September 1962, contains

two of three acts. 11 Laurents added a third act to subsequent typescript drafts from 14

June and 1 November 1963, which appear to be the earliest extant complete books of the
8
Norton, A Chronology of American Theater, vol. 3, 158. In late 2002, Laurents restructured Whistle into
two acts. The revised Broadway version was first presented at Bridewell Theatre, London, UK (8
January-15 February 2003) and Matrix Theatre, Los Angeles, CA (21 February-3 April 2003).
9
John Chapman, Anyone Can Whistle Is a Far Out Musical That Stumbles Over Book, New York Daily
News, 6 April 1964, 48; Walter Kerr, Kerr Reviews The Seagull and Anyone Can Whistle, New York
Herald-Tribune, 6 April 1964, 22; and Howard Taubman, Musical at Majestic Is About Madness, New
York Times, 6 April 1964, 36.
10
Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, Anyone Can Whistle (New York: Random House, 1965) and
Anyone Can Whistle (New York: Burthen Music and Chappell, 1968).
11
Four typescript drafts of the book for Anyone Can Whistle are held in the Stephen Sondheim Papers
(1946-65) at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin, MI (WHS). Materials in this collection are
identified by sigla formulated as WHS-SSP x/y where x and y denote box and folder numbers. Contents
of the Kermit Bloomgarden Papers (1938-77), which contains a photocopy of one of these books, are
identified similarly as WHS-KBP x/y. Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, The Nut Show
(typescript draft, 1 September 1962), WHS-SSP 1/3.
32

musical. 12 Structuring the show into three acts made the show highly unusualfor

Sondheim and, with such rare exceptions as The Most Happy Fella, The Apple Tree, and,

later, the dance revue Fosse, for the bulk of postwar American musicals. In fact, Whistle

was the last new Broadway book musical produced in three acts. Perhaps Laurents hoped

that the tripartite structure would prepare patrons for a different theatrical experience and

would elevate Whistle beyond the generic confines of a traditional Broadway musical to a

more legitimate form of theater for which three-act layouts were more common.

Sondheim recalled eliminating one number (There Wont Be Trumpets) and an

intermission in an attempt in the final weeks before Whistles premiere to reduce the

lengthy running time by approximately twenty minutes. But the complicated costume and

set changes that would have arisen from this rearrangement forced the authors to revert to

the three-act layout and trim what they could (including the song). As Sondheim

remembers, It improved the show. But not enough. 13

With a three-act structure, Whistle required three act-opening numbers and three

act finales instead of two and two. Sondheim and Laurents, assisted by Herbert Rosss

abundant and inventive choreography, for which he earned Whistles only Tony Award

nomination, succeeded (in part) in writing creative bookends for the first act (Me and

My Town and Simple), but they failed to compose equally compelling numbers for

the other key points of the evening. Sondheim has since commented on the problems of

writing musicals with multiple acts: Once youve broken the mood, people go out onto
12
Both Home of the Brave (1945) and Invitation to a March (1960) consist of three acts. Arthur Laurents
and Stephen Sondheim, Side Show (typescript draft, 14 June 1963), WHS-SSP 1/3; Arthur Laurents and
Stephen Sondheim, Anyone Can Whistle (typescript draft, 1 November 1963), WHS-SSP 1/3.
13
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 120.
33

the street and see the neon lights and are smoking their cigarettes, and you hear chatter

about Well, are we going to get home in time for the babysitter? Its very hard to get

back in the mood . . . An intermission can be dangerous. 14 Two intermissions, of course,

have frequently been fatal. The difficulty of composing six strong musical numbers for

Whistle and breaking the mood for two intermissions may have motivated Sondheim to

follow a two-act (or even single act) format in his subsequent compositions.

Sondheim and Laurents struggled to find a producer willing to mount their

musical. Almost two years passed before Kermit Bloomgarden, of Music Man fame,

signed a contract on 1 June 1963 and agreed to raise $350,000 to produce the show, then

titled Side Show, on Broadway. 15 Further assistance arrived on Christmas Eve, when

the New York Times announced that Robert Fryer, Lawrence Carr, and John Herman

would help Bloomgarden produce the show. 16 On 4 January 1964, the Times added

Broadway novice Diana Shumlin (then Diana Krasny) to the roster of producers, and, on

5 February, Arlene Sellers signed on as an associate producer. 17

Even with the commitment of these producers, Sondheim and Laurents could not

get their project off the ground without the support of other investors. In letters to

Bloomgarden, reluctant investors called the show too far out, too way out, and too

14
Stephen Sondheim, The Musical Theater: A Talk with Stephen Sondheim, Dramatists Guild Quarterly
15/3 (Fall 1978): 21.
15
WHS-KBP 1/24-25.
16
Sam Zolotow, Zizi Jeanmarie to Return Here With Spectacle Show in 1965, New York Times, 24
December 1963, 7.
17
Louis Calta, Regional Troupes Obtain Fair Lady: Thousands of Amateur and Stock Productions Due,
New York Times, 4 January 1964, 14; Letter to Kermit Bloomgarden, 5 February 1964, WHS-KBP 1/25.
34

avant garde for their taste. 18 Perhaps Laurentss most recent endeavorsas author and

director of Invitation to a March and as director of Harold Rome and Jerome Weidmans

musical, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, starring the previously-unknown nineteen-year-

old Barbara Streisandalso discouraged investors, as both shows had lost money. 19 The

lack of success in raising money kept the creators from focusing on their musical and

distressed Sondheim to such an extent that Laurents, in a letter to the producer, pleaded

with Bloomgarden to shield Sondheim from the monetary woes:

I beg you not to mention money problems or any difficulties to Steve


anymore. It depresses him terribly and makes it terribly difficult for
him to work . . . It is damn hard to concentrate . . . when all the
atmosphere is filled with gloom and forebodings about Will the show
get the money to go on? . . . Spare [Sondheim] the gory details. 20

Nevertheless, during the summer and fall of 1963, when the authors should have been

writing and revising the script and score, Sondheim, often performing alone, would spend

hours presenting portions of the musical to dozens of prospective financial backers in the

hopes of raising money for the new musical. 21 With thirty-three backers auditions, he

helped cajole support from 115 investors. As Bloomgardens records document, some

financiers contributed as little as $250, while others, including Irving Berlin, Richard

18
WHS-KBP 2/1.
19
The Preliminary Prospectus, prepared in Bloomgardens office and distributed to potential investors,
states that both shows garnered mixed reviews and lost money. Preliminary Prospectus, 31 October 1963,
WHS-KBP 2/1. Invitation to a March ran from 29 October 1960 to 4 February 1961 for a total of 113
performances, and I Can Get It For You Wholesale played from 22 March to 8 December 1962 for 300
performances.
20
Letter from Arthur Laurents to Kermit Bloomgarden, undated, WHS-KBP 1/27.
21
Arthur Laurents, Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood (New York: Knopf, 2000),
326.
35

Rodgers, and Sondheims father Herbert pledged more substantial amounts: $7,000;

$3,500; and $1,750, respectively. 22

Experiment #3: Cast Actors with No Experience Performing in a Broadway Musical

If the narrative and layout of Whistle were unconventional, then so was

Sondheims and Laurentss decision to cast three actors with more experience on the

small and silver screens than the musical stage. Sondheim recalls Laurentss original

intentions to cast as Fay Streisand, whom he prided in having discovered for I Can Get

It For You Wholesale. 23 Laurentss choice helps explain why, in early typescript drafts of

the script, Fays surname was Cohen, a choice that perplexed Bloomgarden. 24 Before the

show was cast, he had advised: The use of the name Cohen is a kind of red herring and I

feel uncomfortable about it. If you want a common name, you could use something like

Smith. 25 Streisand never auditioned for the role of Fay and instead played Fanny Brice

in the hit musical, Funny Girl, which opened on Broadway less than two weeks before

Whistle.

It is not clear when the collaborators started casting, but, archival sources show

that by August 1963 the creative team had considered several women for the role of

Cora, including Beatrice Arthur (The Threepenny Opera, Plain and Fancy, Seventh

Heaven), Kaye Ballard (Golden Apple, Carnival!), Nanette Fabray (Lets Face It!, By

22
WHS-KBP 7a; WHS-KBP 1/23.
23
Stephen Sondheim, telephone interview by Mark Eden Horowitz, 30 March 2010, Washington, DC,
transcript of notes.
24
WHS-SSP 1/3.
25
Kermit Bloomgarden, K.B. Notes, 3 June 1963, WHS-KBP 2/2.
36

Jupiter, My Dear Public, Jackpot, Bloomer Girl, High Button Shoes, Love Life, Arms and

the Girl, Make a Wish, Mr. President), Celeste Holm (Oklahoma!, Bloomer Girl, The

King and I, and Laurentss play Invitation to a March), Ginger Rogers (Top Speed, Girl

Crazy), and Elaine Stritch (Angel in the Wings, Call Me Madam, Pal Joey [revival], On

Your Toes [revival], Goldilocks, Sail Away) and for Fay, Rita Gardner (A Family Affair,

Pal Joey [revival]), Betty Johnson, Lisa Kirk (Allegro; Kiss Me, Kate), Shari Lewis,

Karen Morrow, and Jo Wilder (She Loves Me). 26

On 10 July 1963, Dorothy Kilgallen announced in her syndicated column the

names of two female stars who were being sought for the major roles in the forthcoming

Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim musical: British character actress Angela Lansbury

for Cora and motion picture starlet Lee Remick for Fay. 27 Lansbury recalls that when she

had finished reading a draft of Laurentss script, she was unable to make heads or tails

of it. Cautiously optimistic, she remembers thinking, It must be good, because these

guys wrote it. 28 Two months later, on 4 September, the New York Times confirmed

Kilgallens earlier report:

Side Show will mark the musical debut on Broadway for both actresses.
Miss Remicks stage experience has been confined to summer stock. Miss
Lansbury was last seen here three years ago in [the play] A Taste of Honey.
. . . The musical will have its premiere at the Forest [sic] Theater in
Philadelphia on Feb. 29. It will open in New York during the week of March
23. 29

26
WHS-KBP 1/22.
27
Dorothy Kilgallen, Liz Making Plans to Come Home, Washington Post, 10 July 1963, D5.
28
Martin Gottfried, Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury (New York: Little
Brown and Company, 1999), 136-37.
29
Two Stars Plan Their Debut on Musical Stage, New York Times, 4 September 1963, 33.
37

Sondheim, Laurents, and Bloomgarden also considered performers with little or

no experience on Broadway for the role of Hapgood. Film and television stars Dana

Andrews, Joseph Campanella, and Robert Loggia, game show hosts Merv Griffin and

Hal March, and singer Johnny Desmond were among those mentioned in surviving

casting notes. 30 On 19 July 1963, Bloomgarden tried unsuccessfully to persuade Wagon

Train star Robert Horton to audition for the part. In a letter to the television heartthrob,

Bloomgarden stated prophetically: Its an unusual play with rare style and originality,

and with Sondheims score it should make musical history. 31 Horton declined and, later

that year, disappointed some critics and audiences in his Broadway musical debut as

Starbuck in 110 in the Shade. The creative team, as Sondheim remembers, then pursued

Australian film and television actor Keith Michell, who had recently gained experience

on the Broadway stage in Irma La Douce and The Rehearsal. Michell was interested in

the role, but a billing dispute involving all three leading actors kept him from signing a

contract. He had expected to share top billing with Lansbury and Remick, and he refused

to accept second billing. 32 (Figure 1.1 reproduces two drafts of the credits.)

30
WHS-KBP 1/22.
31
Letter from Kermit Bloomgarden to Robert Horton, 19 July 1963, WHS-KBP 1/27.
32
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 87.
38

Figure 1.1: Sample Credits for Side Show, ca. August-September 1963
(WHS-KBP 1/20)

Lee Angela
Remick Lansbury

Keith Mitchell [sic]

in

Side Show

Lee Angela Keith


Remick Lansbury Mitchell [sic]

in

Side Show

When he could not resolve the conflict with Michell, Bloomgarden shifted his attentions

to Hollywood leading man Harry Guardino and arranged for Ross to hear a preliminary

audition during a trip to California. On 17 October 1963, Ross sent an enthusiastic

telegram to Bloomgarden: Have just heard Harry Guardino sing he is absolutely

sensational. 33 By early November, Guardino had agreed to do the show. 34 One month

later, on 4 December, the New York Times made public the news that Guardino, who

was last seen here with Kim Stanley in [the play] Natural Affection, had become the

male star of Side Show. 35 Later that month, on 18 December, the title of the musical

33
Telegram from Herbert Ross to Kermit Bloomgarden, 17 October 1963, WHS-KBP 1/27.
34
Letter from Kermit Bloomgarden to Mrs. Howard Cullman, 4 November 1963, WHS-KBP 2/1.
35
WHS-KBP 1/26; Sam Zolotow, Broadway Faces New Pay Dispute, New York Times, 4 December
1963, 56.
39

changed to Anyone Can Whistle, borrowed from Fays first solo number. 36 The New York

Times revealed the new title, and, in the days that followed, other newspapers made

similar announcements. 37

Work began, Lansbury recounted, with the rehearsal pianist pounding away at

the scarred upright in the tradition-soaked Variety Arts rehearsal studio on West 46th

Street. 38 During the five-week rehearsal period (15 January-21 February), Remick,

Lansbury, and Guardino began to feel the impact of their rigorous schedule (see table

1.1).

36
The last known document that names Side Show as the title of the musical was an employment
contract, dated 18 December 1963, for William and Jean Eckart who replaced the original scenic designer,
Ming Cho Lee. WHS-KBP 1/25.
37
Ann Harding to Star, New York Times, 18 December 1963, 46; Philip K. Scheuer, Hollywood, Europe
Blend Called Future, Los Angeles Times, 20 December 1963, D9; Zolotow, Zizi Jeanmarie to Return
Here, 7.
38
Gottfried, Balancing Act, 138.
40

Table 1.1: Tentative Production Schedule for Anyone Can Whistle,


3 January 1964 (WHS-KBP 2/6)

1) Rehearsals begin (Majestic)


Dancers 15 January [W]
Singers 20 January [M]
Principals 20 January [M]

2) Load-out of New York 21 February [F]

3) Take-in Philadelphia (Forrest) 23 February [Su]


Light 25 February [Tu]

4) Orchestra reading 24-25 February [M-Tu]

5) Company leaves for Philadelphia 25 February [Tu]

6) Company with orchestra 25 February [Tu]

7) Company in theatre and onstage 26-28 February [W-F]

8) Preview 8:30pm 29 February [Sa]

9) Open Philadelphia (Forrest) 8:00pm 2 March [M]


Matinees Thursday and Saturday

10) Play through 21 March [Sa]

11) Take-in New York 22 March [Su]


Light 23 March [M]

12) Previews 24-25 March [Tu-W]

13) Open New York (Majestic) 26 March [Th]


Matinees Wednesday and Saturday
41

The strange, unconventional vocal technique advocated by the shows musical director,

Herbert Greene, was also starting to take its toll on the inexperienced singers. Using his

fingers, Greene would apply pressure to the singers larynx in order, he believed, to

relieve tension. Trying to sing while he had his fingers on your throat, Lansbury

observed, was like being strangled. 39

Realizing that the cast needed more time to polish and improve their

performances, Bloomgarden decided to extend the preview period in New York from two

shows (on 24 and 25 March) to twelve (from 24 March to 2 April) and postpone the

premiere from 26 March to 4 April. But the cast continued to struggle: Remick suffered

from an abscessed throat, and then Guardino lost his voice. 40 At the opening tryout in

Philadelphia, a fire broke out in the ladies room and filled the theater with smoke. And, a

few performances later, a West Side Story veteran, dancer Tucker Smith, while executing

some new steps during a ballet in the second act, fell into the orchestra pit and landed on

a string player who subsequently died from his injuries. The cast and creators had barely

recovered from this particularly bad omen when, twelve days before opening in New

York, failing health forced supporting actor, Henry Lascoe, to leave the show. He died

five months later from a heart attack. 41 Laurents recalls, We were just killing them

off. 42

39
Gottfried, Balancing Act, 140.
40
Dorothy Kilgallen, Lees Illness Dampens Whistle, New York Journal-American, 25 February 1964,
15.
41
In a letter written twelve days before opening night, Henry Lascoe asked Bloomgarden to release him
from his contract due to a bronchial ailment. Letter from Henry Lascoe to Kermit Bloomgarden, 23
March 1964, WHS-KBP 1/26.
42
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 85.
42

Experiment #4: Use Unconventional Generic Labels

On 2 March 1963, patrons arrived at the Forrest Theatre for the first tryout

performance with little knowledge of the string of difficulties that Whistle had already

endured. The program showed no signs of the rocky road the musical had traveled or the

troubles Sondheim and Laurents had experienced in finding adequate financial support

(only Bloomgarden and Krasny were credited as producers and Sellers as associate

producer). 43 Instead it offered important clues to the unusual tone and layout of the show.

In the center of the booklets, among advertisements for goods and services, post-theatre

dining and entertainment venues, and forthcoming performances, information vital to the

production occupied five pages (Figures 1.2a, b, c, d, and e reproduce photocopies of

pages 13, 15, 17, 19, and 20.) 44

43
In January or February 1964, producers Robert Fryer, Lawrence Carr, and John Herman abandoned their
roles as producers of Whistle. It remains unclear as to the reasons for their departure.
44
WHS-KBP 2/3.
43

Figure 1.2a: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 13


44

Figure 1.2b: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 15


45

Figure 1.2c: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 17


46

Figure 1.2d: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 19


47

Figure 1.2e: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, p. 20


48

Although Remick and Lansbury had refused to share top billing with Michell,

they agreed to do so with Guardino. In the pre-Broadway and Broadway playbills, the

names of all three stars were billed above the title, with Remick and Lansburys names

above Guardinos. (Compare selected pages of the pre-Broadway program reproduced in

figure 1.2 with pages 1, 21, 23, 25, and 27 of the Broadway program duplicated in figure

1.3a, b, c, d, and e.) 45

45
Sarah B. Roberts, Adventures in Playbills, Anyone Can Whistle,
http://playbillocd2.blogspot.com/2009/01/anyone-can-whistle-1964-majestic.html.
49

Figure 1.3a: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 1


50

Figure 1.3b: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 21


51

Figure 1.3c: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 23


52

Figure 1.3d: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 25


53

Figure 1.3e: Anyone Can Whistle Program, Majestic Theatre, p. 27


54

Immediately below the names of the stars, in tiny lettering dwarfed by the surrounding

text, the program read In a New Musical. In the splashy Whistle souvenir program

(figure 1.4 reproduces a section of page 2), which would have been available to New

York patrons, the musical was subtitled a wild new musical.


55

Figure 1.4: Anyone Can Whistle Souvenir Program, Majestic, p. 2 (section)


56

Newspaper announcements leading up to the premiere described Whistle as a wild new

musical, which would have puzzled anyone familiar with Broadways conventional

generic identities. 46 Whitney Bolton used the word wild to capture the spirit of Whistle

in a column about upcoming tryouts in Philadelphia. The article, entitled Lee Remick

says that Whistle is wild, cleverly traces the writers exchanges with members of the

creative team, cast, and crew, who all use the same adjective to describe the new show,

wild. Remick, Bolton writes, told him, Its wild. Its the only way I know to describe

it. Wild.47 The souvenir programs novel billing, with its alliterative connection to the

title, may have been intended simply to capture the attention of audiences and the media.

But, with its original book, three-act structure, and three Broadway novices, the

distinctive branding also delivered an important message to theatergoers: expect

something out of the ordinary. And, to 1960s audiences, characterizing the musical with

modern-day slanganother unexpected choicemay have also evoked an urban

landscape and vernacular tone.

Given that the Whistle souvenir program credits actor Henry Lascoe as

Comptroller Schub and the Broadway playbill lists his replacement, Gabriel Dell, it

seems likely that the contents of the former were determined before that of the latter. The

unfamiliar branding, a wild new musical, was thus reserved for the souvenir program

and the more conventional subtitle, a new musical, was used for the playbills, which

reached a wider audience.


46
Kay Baker, Footlight Focus, unknown periodical, 30 January 1964, reproduced in Clippings,
WHS-KBP, reel 2.
47
Whitney Bolton, Lee Remick says that Whistle is wild, Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 February 1964,
reproduced in Clippings, WHS-KBP, reel 2.
57

Whistle has sometimes been referred to as a musical fable, a term that has been

used for Gypsy and Frank Loessers musical fable of Broadway, Guys and Dolls.

Whistle was first described as such in the published script. Despite widespread adoption

of the label in secondary sources, the 2003 re-release of the Broadway cast recording

restored the original subtitle (a wild new musical) from the souvenir program. 48

Experiment #5: Caption Scenes with Titles and Use other Metadramatic Devices

Following the cast credits, the Whistle programs read: The action takes place in a

not too distant town. The time is now. The next section, labeled Musical Numbers,

presented a list of scene captions, song titles, and the names of the performers in each

musical number. Unlike conventional programs with numbered scenes, Whistles titled

layout prevented audiences from seeing at a glance the precise number of conventional

scenes or settings. They could, however, still discern the amount of material in each

act: four titled scenes and five numbers in Act I; four scenes, six numbers, and one ballet

in Act II; and four scenes and four numbers in Act III. Instead of merely describing the

settings, Whistles titles, similar to chapter headings in literature or titles in silent films,

communicated information about character, situation, and theme; commented on the

action; or characterized the content of the scenes. Each one consisted of the definite

article and a noun (The Town, The Miracle, The Cookies, The Interrogation,

The Conspiracy, The Release, and so forth).

48
Richard Ridge, Liner Notes, Anyone Can Whistle, Original Cast Recording, Herbert Greene, music dir.,
Columbia Broadway Masterworks SK 86860, 2003, p. 5.
58

None of the typescript drafts of the script contains scene titles; each source

unfolds in seamless dialogue divided only into numbered acts. And Sondheims and

Laurentss sketches, correspondence, and notes do not refer to scene titles. Of Whistles

surviving materials only the playbills and published piano-vocal score preserve the

experimental titles. A Synopsis of Scenes, which prefaces the score, retains many of

the titles but reduces the number of scenes in Act I from four to three and alters the

names and arrangements of some scenes in Acts II and III. In 1965, when the script was

published, it eliminated the titles. Sondheim cannot now recall why: I dont know why

they dont appear in the script . . . We always intended them. 49

The Broadway playbill stepped even further away from tradition by subdividing

structurally two principal musical numbers: Dont Ballet (Act II) was separated into six

numbered variations, and The Cookie Chase (III) was divided into six numbered

waltzes and three other titled sections (Pas De Deux, Gallop, and Finale). No other

instance of this approach in the playbills of other musicals comes to mind (though there

may be some); if Whistle is not unique in this regard, it is very unusual.

The scene titles in Whistles playbills might suggest the precedent if not influence

of Bertolt Brecht, whose plays often called for texts, images, or scene-setting titles to be

displayed on signs, placards, and banners or projected onto screens. These messages

would complement the action with subtext, additional text, or commentary as

counterpoint. Brecht used such self-consciously theatrical devices to wrench

theatergoers out of the reality of the narrative, to disengage their emotional

49
Sondheim, telephone interview by Horowitz.
59

involvement, and to encourage reflection upon issues raised by text, character, or

dramatic situationto engage the audience members brains, not only their hearts. The

use of titles and screens challenged the audience member to participate in what Brecht, as

early as 1931, described as an exercise in complex seeing, alternating between

watching and reading or experiencing both simultaneously. 50 In The Threepenny Opera,

Brecht accompanied each scene with scene-setting titles, including, from scene 1: The

Merchant J. J. Peachum has opened a shop in which the poorest of the poor may achieve

an appearance designed to melt the hardest of hearts. 51 Although Whistles descriptive

titles appeared only in the program, they may have generated moments of estrangement

for those in the audience who integrated the acts of watching and reading, two separate

modes of processing visual stimuli.

Whistle opens with a more explicit nod to the metadramatic techniques that have

come to be associated with Brecht. Addressing the audience directly, the voice of an

(uncredited) offstage narrator describes our setting: the main square of a town and

heralds the arrival of our heroine (Remick), who wont be along for eleven minutes.

As a group of disheveled people assembles on the stage, the omniscient narrator

continues, These are some of the citizens of the town. Believe it or not, they once looked

as good as you. (I, 3, 4) 52 The you to whom the narrator refers, we assume, is us, in

50
Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. and trans. John Willett (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1992), 43-44. See Joy H. Calico, Brecht at the Opera (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2008), 152-55.
51
Libretto of Marc Blitzsteins American adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt
Weill, rental only from The Rodgers & Hammerstein Theatre Library, New York City, I:1.
52
Quotations from the script will not have footnotes, but will be directly followed by a parenthetical note
indicating the act and page number. Refer to Laurents and Sondheim, Anyone Can Whistle.
60

the audience. The narrators remarks, balanced somewhat by references to conventional

components of drama, location, and character, create a critical distance between the

audience and the story. The telling of this information clumsily maneuvers the spectators

into a position from which intended meaning (the recognition and interpretation of

intertextual references, for example) can transpire. The ballad singer, who performs The

Ballad of Mack the Knife for the audience at the opening of Threepenny Opera,

generates a similar effect. Sondheim experimented with such metadramatic solutions to

narrative problems again in Pacific Overtures and Assassins with John Weidman and Into

the Woods with James Lapine. Just as the Narrator disappears in Into the Woods (as the

giants next meal) and the Balladeer abandons his chronicle before the end of Assassins,

so the voice in Whistle vanishes and never returns. 53 The narrators unexplained

absenceafter just three pages of the scriptconfounds his or her already tenuous role.

Throughout his career, Sondheim has not only discouraged suggestions of

Brechtian influence on his compositions, but also expressed his dislike for the theater of

Brecht. In an early interview, he said, I hate Brechtall of Brecht. 54 Sondheim and

Brecht may seem incompatible. On the one hand, Sondheim writes for a commercial

forum traditionally noted for its ability to suspend reality and spellbind its audiences

within a world of song, dance, and spectacle. Brechts name, on the other hand, is

53
In an attempt to maintain continuity and generate surprise, the Narrator, played by Tom Aldredge,
returned as the Mysterious Man in the original Broadway production of Into the Woods. Sondheim dealt
with a similar situation differently in Assassins. In the original Off-Broadway production, Sondheim and
Weidman considered using the same actor to play the roles of the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald but
they ultimately decided against it. In most productions, including the original 2004 Broadway production,
however, a single actor takes on both parts.
54
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 115.
61

associated with the notion of deliberately breaking such enchantments. The cornerstones

of his epic theater (radical separation of the elements, gestic acting, and

Verfremdungseffekt) share little with the Golden Age American musical or the

capitalist economic system that sustained it. Several studies, nevertheless, suggest that

Brechts ideas have had an enormous influence on the post-1960 American theater, even

though productions of his plays in the New York commercial theaters have only rarely

fared well. 55 In 1933, for example, Threepenny Opera lasted only thirteen performances

on Broadway. It was not seen again in New York for more than three decadesnot until

Marc Blitzsteins highly adapted version ran Off-Broadway for 2,611 performances,

surpassing even Oklahoma!. Today, Threepenny Opera remains the perennial attendance

frontrunner in German theaters, but, in the United States, works by Brecht continue to

occupy only a relatively small niche. Yet Brecht has had an enormous influence on New

York commercial and regional theater. During the past fifty years, his ideas have spilled

over from the American theater in general into the American musical theater in

particularespecially in the areas of conception, staging, and didactic thrust.

Sondheims earliest experiments with scene-setting titles, narrative frameworks,

and other metadramatic devices in Whistle followed upon an invitation in 1960 when,

after a performance of Gypsy, Brechts son Stefan, who had undertaken the

55
See, for example, Bertolt Brecht, Broadway the hard way: Sein Exil in den USA, 1941-1947 (Leipzig:
Suhrkamp, 1994); Scott McMillin, The Musical as Drama: A Study of the Principles and Conventions
behind the Musical Shows from Kern to Sondheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 25-30;
Christine Kiebuzinska, Brecht and the Problem of Influence, in A Bertolt Brecht Reference Companion,
ed. Siegfried Mews (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997), 49; Michael Patterson, Brechts Legacy, in The
Cambridge Companion to Brecht, ed. Peter Thomson and Glendyr Sacks (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), 273-85; Carl Weber, Brecht and the American Theater, in A Bertolt Brecht
Reference Companion, ed. Siegfried Mews (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997), 346; and J. Chris Westgate,
ed., Brecht, Broadway, and United States Theatre (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2007).
62

administration of English-language rights after his fathers death in 1956, pitched an idea

to Sondheim. Stefan hoped Sondheim would take over from an ousted Marc Blitzstein

the task of translating and adapting the three-act epic opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt

Mahagonny, as a successor to the long-running Off-Broadway production of The

Threepenny Opera (a performance of which Sondheim recalls attending). Stefan asked

Threepennys producer-director, Carmen Capalbo, to persuade the lyricist of the still-

running Gypsy to adapt Mahagonny, with music by Kurt Weill, for the American

premiere production. Capalbo recalled:

So I went after Stephen. And we met, I gave him a big pitch, and he was
flabbergasted. He had not, at that time, ever heard of it. He wrestled with
it a long time, decided he had to talk to Arthur Laurents and Oscar
Hammerstein, and finally said, Look, I dont think this is for me. 56

But, in 2008, when I asked Sondheim about his involvement in the Mahagonny project,

he offered a slightly different version:

I read it. I know enough German to know that the problem with translating
Brecht is you have to be super simple. The fact is I just didnt much like the
piece so I didnt see much point of working on it. I didnt work on it at all. 57

Three years later, Sondheim wrote:

The only work of Brechts I had ever seen had been [The Threepenny Opera],
translated by Marc Blitzstein. I had enjoyed it, mostly because of Kurt Weills
spiky and wholly original music, but Mahagonny struck me as ham-handed
satirical comment, and the more I read Brechts plays in the interest of
research, the less I liked them. I found the stagecraft intriguing, and

56
Carmen Capalbo: An Oral History Interview with Donald Spoto, 23 March 1986, Weill-Lenya
Research Center [Ser. 60/4-5]. With an adaptation by playwright and librettist Arnold Weinstein, The Rise
and Fall of the City of Mahagonny reached the American stage on 28 April 1970, when it ran Off-
Broadway at the Anderson Theatre.
57
Stephen Sondheim, telephone interview conducted by the author, 16 September 2008, Ottawa, ON, MP3
recording.
63

sometimes the stories as well, but the cartoonish characters and polemic
dialogue were, for me, insufferably simplistic. 58

Whistle, nevertheless, seems to have provided Sondheim with an opportunity to test some

of the metadramatic techniques that had rubbed off from his brush with Brecht and Weill.

The most obvious connection between Brecht and American musical theater, of

course, is Weill, who had moved from Berlin to Broadway, hardly missing a step, and

brought to bear his experience with the Brechtian theory that he had helped to put into

practice. When asked about Weills music, Sondheim has said: I dont like it . . . Like

those fruity chords with added sixths. They make me come over all queasy. 59 However,

Sondheims exposure to the music of Weill, most of whose scores Sondheim would have

heard in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, seems to have left a significant mark on the

young composer. Whereas Weills musical language may not have provided an appealing

model for Sondheim, Weills use of music for metadramatic purposes seems to have

resonated with Sondheim. Weills examples of pastiche as characterization,

contextualization, and commentary, in particular, opened up a variety of horizons for

Sondheim.

58
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments,
Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany (New York: Knopf, 2011),
310.
59
Stephen Sondheim, interview conducted by Steve Swayne, December 2003, New York City, NY,
transcript.
64

Experiment #6: Employ Pastiche as Commentary and Characterization

Sondheim reminisces, [Whistle] started a technique for me which Ive used a lot

since . . . namely, the use of traditional musical comedy language to make points. 60 He

refers to this technique of composition as pastichemusic self-consciously composed in

the style or manner of a composer, era, or genre. Pastiche operates on two levels: a

foreground and background. Linda Hutcheon explains, [Pastiche] requires that the

decoder construct a second meaning through inferences about the surface statements and

supplement the foreground with acknowledgment and knowledge of a background

context. 61 Instead of simply adhering to the ubiquitous practice of utilizing or adapting

popular musical styles and idioms in musicals, Sondheim, like Weill, uses pastiche

provocatively as commentary and for characterization. With the skill of a master

craftsman, Sondheim draws on an expressive vocabulary of familiar musical idioms,

forms, and performance styles with specific associations and contexts as dramatic

commentary on character, text, and situation. He often invokes a conventional voice from

the past or present, from contemporary American popular music to nineteenth-century

European dance idioms, to set up expectations that can then be dashed or twisted into

unconventional variations, acquiring meaning in contrast with the original frame of

reference. Sondheims manipulated musical styles and idioms, when identified and

categorized, provide a site for analysis that opens a window into understanding his

influences, his penchant for imitation, the eclecticism of his imitations, and the characters

60
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 82-83.
61
Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Urbana:
University of Chicago Press, 2000), 33-34.
65

who voice them. His reinventions invite listeners to re-hear the source as a borrowed

musical object, as though framed between quotation marks; to reconsider and reinterpret

the history of the Broadway musical; and to rethink the aesthetic of the musical and the

function of music within it. If the decoder does not notice, or cannot identify, an intended

reference, then he or she may nevertheless perceive that the imitation means something

within the context of the work as a wholeor least by virtue of the sometimes startling

contrasts of style from one number or section of a number to the next.

By 1964, pastiche and other forms of intertextuality in musical theater were new

neither to Sondheim, his forerunners, nor Broadway contemporaries. But few Broadway

composers enjoyed the success and scope of Sondheims stylistic imitations or matched

the contextual depth that he would bring to the practice. In fact, only Weill had saturated

his scores with pastiche to metadramatic effect. Despite his reluctance to acknowledge

any debt to Weill, Sondheim, when pressed, has singled out one show in particular that

he recalls seeing at the 46th Street Theater in 1948: Love Life has been a useful influence

on my own work. 62 What from Love Life did Sondheim find useful? [Employing]

vaudeville techniques to make a point and to relate somehow to human issues,

Sondheim explained. 63 Collaborating with Weill on the musical vaudeville were

bookwriter and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, fresh from his successful Brigadoon; producer

Cheryl Crawford who had worked on Weills musical comedy, One Touch of Venus, with

Love Lifes director Elia Kazan; and a young Michael Kidd as choreographer. Love Lifes

62
Stephen Sondheim, as quoted by Foster Hirsch, Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre,
expanded ed. (New York: Applause Theater and Cinema Books, 2005), 17-18.
63
Sondheim, interview by Swayne.
66

set designer, Boris Aronson, already a twenty-five-year Broadway veteran, would

conceive for Harold Prince the settings for Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Zorba as

well as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Pacific Overtures and thus provide a

direct link to Weill and Lerners concept musical. 64

Love Lifes narrative traces the lives of Sam and Susan Cooper from utopian New

England in 1791 to urban America in the 1940s. As time moves from the industrial

revolution of the early 1800s to the technological developments of the 1900s, the

physical appearance of the main characters remains the same. The circumstances of their

lives, however, change significantly. The gradual disintegration of the Coopers marriage

and family life is shown as a consequence or reflection of the industrial and economic

growth of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As the narrative reaches the 1890s,

Susan hosts a lively Womens Club meeting where she challenges her fellow suffragists

to vote, work, and pursue higher education. For Susans Womens Club Blues, Weill

invoked the blues idiom with guttural vocalisms, syncopations, blue tones, rhythmic

tension, and melodic uncertainty (see example 1.1).

64
See Kim H. Kowalke, Todays Invention, Tomorrows Clich: Love Life and the Concept Musical, in
dass alles auch htte anders kommen knnen: Beitrge zur Musikgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed.
Susanne Schaal-Gotthardt, Luitgard Schader, and Heinz-Jrgen Winkler (Frankfurt-on-Main: Schott,
2009), 175-93. Several of Boris Aronsons designs for Love Lifes original productions are reproduced in
Frank Rich and Lisa Aronson, The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (New York: Knopf, 1987), 86-94.
67

Example 1.1: Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner, Love Life, I, Womens Club Blues,
mm. 194-211
68
69
70

What starts as a rousing soapbox oration (We are gathered here because the world is

changing!) 65 soon becomes a burlesque striptease turn. Lerners lyrics grow increasingly

risqu (I toss and turn in bed alone at night, My body aching for the right to vote), 66

and the music moves from a slow blues tempo to a lively boogie. Several of Susans

comrades remove their dresses and perform an uninhibited dance dressed only in their

undergarments. After Susan has tried to incite change in the women, it seems strange to

watch them revert to dancing showgirls as if this were womens liberation. The

provocative language and seductive dance provide an unexpected vehicle for a song

about womens rights in post-World War II America.

Whereas in Love Life Weill employed a variety of familiar musical markers to

comment on contemporary issues, in Whistle, Sondheim limited himself to traditional

musical comedy as a way to relate to human issues. The next section of this chapter

will focus on how Sondheim used pastiche to paint an aural portrait of Cora, a modern-

day suffragette who runs the broken-down town in Whistle. With three big solos, one in

each act, plus substantial contributions to various ensemble numbers, Cora threatens to

overbalance the triumvirate of Whistles main characters without playing a significant

role in the development of the plot or interacting meaningfully with either Fay or

Hapgood. (See table 1.2 for a musical design of Whistle.)

65
Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner, Womens Club Blues, in Love Life: A Vaudeville, assembled by John
McGlinn and others, ca. 1990, p. 20, Weill-Lenya Research Center [Ser. 10/L8/7].
66
Weill and Lerner, Womens Club Blues, Love Life, 21-22.
71

Table 1.2: Musical Design of Anyone Can Whistle

The action takes place in a not too distant town. The time is now.

Act Descriptive Title Number Character(s)

The Town Overture Orchestra


Opening: Im Like the Bluebird Baby Joan and Cookies
Me and My Town Cora and the Boys
The Miracle Miracle Song Cora, Cooley, Townspeople, Tourists and
Pilgrims
The Interrogation Simple: (1) Grass is green, I am the master Hapgood, George and Company
I (2) Grass is green Hapgood, Cora, Schub, Cooley and Magruder
(3) A womans place June, John, Hapgood and Chorus
(4) You cant judge a book, The opposite, Simple, Grass is Cora, Martin, Hapgood and Chorus
green
(5) The opposite, Simple, Ours not to reason why Company
(6) Grass is blue, Hallelujah!, Grass is green, The opposite Company
Finale Act I Orchestra
The Celebration A-1 March Company
The Romance Come Play Wiz Me Fay, Hapgood and the Boys
II Anyone Can Whistle Fay
The Parade Theres A Parade in Town Cora
The Release Everybody Says Dont Hapgood
Dont Ballet Fay, Hapgood, Cookies and other characters
The Conspiracy Ive Got You to Lean On Cora, Schub, Cooley, Magruder and the Boys
The Confrontation See What It Gets You Fay
III The Cookie Chase The Cookie Chase Cora, Fay, Schub and Company
The Farewell With So Little to Be Sure Of Fay and Hapgood
The End Finale Orchestra
72

Opening: Im Like the Bluebird

Heralded by an enormous fanfare (I, 6), replete with brass flourishes, cymbal

crashes, timpani rolls, strong repetitive rhythms, rising broken chords, fortissimo and

sforzando, Cora makes her entrance, glittering madly, as the script reads, and carried

Cleopatra-style on a litter by four page boys. (I, 6) Members of the crowd throw rocks at

her and snarl, boo, and shout curses (see example 1.2).

Example 1.2: Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle,
Opening: Im Like the Bluebird, mm. 30-38
73

The fanfare provides an aural reminder of political strength and patriotism, but Sondheim

distorts the familiar gesture as a clue for the audience to interpret the music as pastiche

commentary instead of straightforward musical characterization. The contrast between

the elevated musical idiom and harsh harmonic language robs the fanfare of its traditional

ceremonial purpose as a harbinger accompanying the arrival of a military procession or

powerful person and creates an unsettling feeling. Together with the outlandish entrance,

doting entourage, and the crowds negative response, the music paints an unflattering

portrait of Cora as overconfident, overbearing, and out of touch before she has the

opportunity to speak for herself. The conflicted musical markers, heard near the

beginning of the show, warn the audience not to trust appearancesan important theme

in Whistleand suggest that Cora, despite her efforts to exude an image of sincerity and

success, may not deserve our affections.

Me and My Town

As Cora descends from the litter, with great hauteur (I, 6), she sings Me and

My Town, which unfolds with a twelve-measure opening verse and two statements of an

extended AABA thirty-two bar song form separated by a highly energetic Latin

American mambo at double tempo. The number begins as a pastiche of a bluesy torch

song in its use of the low vocal register (which descends to an E), blue notes,

syncopations, and slow harmonic rhythm (see example 1.3). 67

67
Sondheim returns to this song type in, most remarkably, Losing My Mind and Im Still Here from
Follies.
74

Example 1.3: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Me and My Town,
mm. 1-10
75

As the first statement of the slow, bluesy extended thirty-two bar song form concludes,

Cora, with the support of a quartet of singing and dancing chorus boys, utters crisp

rhythmically-notated speech, for a lively mambo with sparse chordal accompaniment,

shrieks of excitement (Ay-ay-ay!), maracas, bongos, and onstage handclapping (see

example 1.4).

Example 1.4: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Me and My Town,
mm. 56-63
76

The stage directions describe this second type of pastiche: Four Boys appear suddenly

out of nowhere: the number becomes a jazzy parody of a night-club number. (I, 7) At

the equivalent point in an early draft of the script (then titled Side Show), the reference

is more specific: the number becomes a jazzy parody of a Kay Thompson-and-the-

Williams-Brothers. (I, 7) This draft also instructs Coras boys to provide Hugh Martin

fill-ins. (I, 8) 68

Sondheim has acknowledged that he modeled Coras flamboyant performance

style on two songwriters and performers: entertainer and music arranger Kay Thompson,

who, in the 1940s and 50s, presented with the Williams Brothers quintessentially smart

and highly sought-after nightclub acts (which Sondheim remembers attending at The

Plaza), and on composer and vocal arranger Hugh Martin. 69 Sondheim explained:

Coras musical expressivity is based on Kay Thompson . . . [Her


arrangements] have a heartlessness that I thought was very useful for Cora.
They have also gaiety and pizzazz and a sophistication of harmonic language
and imagination and inventionand [are] completely bloodless. And that
seemed to me to be Cora. 70

68
Laurents and Sondheim, Side Show, I, p. 7, WHS-SSP 1/3.
69
See Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 82-84. For a discography of Kay Thompsons performances and a list of
her compositions, see Kay Thompson from Funny Face to Eloise, Discography and Compositions, by
Sam Irvin, last modified in 2012: http://www.kaythompsonwebsite.com. Thompsons godchild, Liza
Minnelli, recreated Thompsons nightclub act with the Williams Brothers as part of her 2009 Tony Award-
winning concert (for Best Special Theatrical Event), Lizas at the Palace With four back-up boys,
Minnelli performed Hello, Hello, Jubilee Time, and I Love a Violin (songs with music and lyrics by
Thompson), Basin Street Blues (music by Spencer Williams with a special lyric by Thompson), and
other numbers that Thompson and the Williams Brothers famously sang (Clap Yo Hands and Liza (All
The Cloudsll Roll Away). A two-CD set and DVD of highlights from the production were released: Liza
Minelli, Lizas at the Palace, produced by Phil Ramone, Hybrid/Sire B001NKWLDO, 2009, compact
disc and Lizas at the Palace, directed by Matthew Diamond, choreographed by Ron Field, recorded on
30 September and 1 October 2009 (Orland Park, IL: MPI Home Video, 2010), DVD. Other recordings of
Thompsons television appearances are available on YouTube.
70
Steve Swayne, Hearing Sondheims Voices (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1999),
337.
77

By the 1960s, Thompson and Martin had gained recognition for writing and, in

Thompsons case, performing musical arrangements that showcased the talents of a

female star, usually supported by a gaggle of chorus boys. Sondheim told Lansbury about

the inspiration for her role: Stephen wanted me to be Kay Thompson, Lansbury

remembers. It was real kind of whoop-tee-doo stuff. Totally Kay and the Williams

Brothers. 71 Lansbury had firsthand experience watching Thompson perform with the

Williams Brothers; she had seen their opening night performance at Ciros on Sunset

Boulevard in West Hollywood on 14 October 1947: It was unbelievable, Lansbury

rhapsodized. Ill never forget Kay coming out . . . Im telling you, it was some event. 72

Sondheim met Thompson for the first time in 1958, when Thompson, with her nose for

talent in the making, hired him to write an opening number (music and lyrics) for a

nightclub act that she was devising for movie starlet Ginger Rogers at the Havana Riviera

(The Night Is the Best Time of the Day). 73

The mambo section of Me and My Town bears a striking resemblance to

Thompsons and Roger Edenss A Great Lady Has an Interview, a ten-minute musical

sketch that Judy Garland performed in the 1946 film, Ziegfeld Follies. Garland spoofs a

movie star who performs exclusively in Oscar-winning dramas. A throng of male

reporters interviews her about an upcoming picture, a biography of the fictional

Madame Crematante (the fictional inventor of the safety pin). Me and My Town and

71
Angela Lansbury, as quoted by Sam Irvin, Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2010), 344.
72
Angela Lansbury in Irvin, Kay Thompson, 155.
73
Ginger Rogers, Ginger: My Story (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 340. See also Irvin, Kay
Thompson, 298, for Sondheims recollection of how he became involved in this assignment.
78

A Great Lady Has an Interview feature a central section in which both stars use

rhythmically-notated speech to recount their personal struggles: in the former, Cora

voices the difficulties of her own experiences as Mayoress and, in the latter, Garland

narrates the troubles of Madame Crematante. Both adoring audiences of chorus boys

accompany the womans story by handclapping the same repeated rhythm:

Sondheim recently admitted that Thompsons number may have served as a specific

model for Me and My Town. He explained, More than anything, I may have been

influenced by the number Madame Cremator [sic] that Thompson wrote for Judy

Garland, because of the way it used the boys in handclapping accompaniment. 74 Lyric

similarities draw further connections between the two numbers: Coras references to No

crops . . . No business, for instance, echo Garlands No food . . . No heat.

In the final section of Me and My Town, which repeats the modified AABA

song form, Sondheim sets the mambo accompaniment as a riff against Coras original

blues melody. Layering previously heard musical material provided Sondheim with a

technique for both writing a unified sequence of continuous and expressive music

without repeating material verbatim and building excitement and heightening tension

with the strength of multiple voices at the end of a number. Similar layering occurs in

Simple and Theres A Parade in Town (Whistle); Getting Married Today

74
Sondheim, telephone interview by Horowitz.
79

(Company); the montage of Rain on the Roof, Ah, Paris!, and Broadway Baby and

duets Youre Gonna Love Tomorrow and Till Something Better Comes Along

(Follies); Soon (A Little Night Music); Johanna quartet (Sweeney Todd, Act II);

Putting It Together (Sunday in the Park with George); How I Saved Roosevelt

(Assassins); and the final scene in Passion. 75 Steve Swayne has demonstrated that

Sondheims interest in superimposition can be traced back to his Sonata for Piano in C

Major written in 1950 at Williams College. 76 But, starting with Me and My Town,

Sondheim reintroduced this technique into his arsenal and drew on it with increasing

regularity and sophistication. 77

Sondheim brings Me and My Town to a climax by invoking many musical

markers of a big, splashy Broadway production number. As Cora delivers her last

statement of the A section (Whatll we do? Me and my town!, I, 11), the line-up of

boys back her up with frantic doo was sung in thirds to a mambo rhythm, a moment

that foreshadows the crisp doo-doo doo-doos in Sondheims pastiche of the Andrews

Sisters, You Could Drive a Person Crazy (Company). A triumphant return to quadruple

time for a final strut in a proportionately broader tempo marks the beginning of the coda

75
The cut song, Who Could Be Blue/Little White House (Follies) is a further example from
Sondheims output.
76
Steve Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2005), 227.
77
Although the contrapuntal technique of superimposition appeared in a small number of early twentieth-
century musicals by Irving Berlin (I Hear Music/Youre Just in Love from Call Me Madam), a higher
concentration of instances emerged starting in 1957 with Leonard Bernsteins (and Sondheims) Tonight
Quintet and A Boy Like That/I Have A Love (West Side Story). Since Sondheim started composing
Broadway musicals in the 1960s, he has layered musical material in more than half of his scores. These
examples stand out for the frequency with which they occur in his output and for their degree of melodic
and harmonic sophistication (several interweave three and even four seemingly independent and somewhat
modified melodies to create a complex musical conversation, or web, of interconnected monologues).
80

where Sondheim captures the spirit of Coras larger-than-life personality, her penchant

for extravagance, and the gaiety and pizzazz of Thompsons accompaniments with

short, bustling repeated chords, dramatic crescendos, instrumental effects, thicker

textures, and punctuating chords.

Sondheim manipulated the conventional use of a torch song to comment on Cora.

The familiar musical vocabulary of this song type usually projects the image of woman

as a mistreated and misunderstood lover. But, instead of lamenting an unrequited or lost

love, like a nightclub entertainer singing a soulful, throaty number by George Gershwin

or Cole Porter, Cora expresses her distress over slumping popularity polls. In one sense,

the appeal of the recognition and associations of her source manipulates the audiences

emotions and encourages a sympathetic response to her situation. In another sense, that

Cora exploits a song type for victims of heartbreak in order to toy with the audiences

affections makes her seem heartless and foolish. With self-interest clouding her

judgment, she misappropriates a musical marker and confuses romantic love with her lust

for power.

The title, Me and My Town, to which Cora returns at several points in the

number, exemplifies a common distortion of grammar that gives the phrase a certain

familiarity and calls to mind the vaudevillian standard, Me and My Shadow; the

popular film, Me and My Gal, starring Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett; Noel Cowards

West End musical Me and My Girl; Busby Berkleys film musical For Me and My Gal,

with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland; and others. Cora utters me and my, the first-

person personal pronoun and possessive adjective from the songs title, with such
81

regularity that the two words become textual motives. Indeed, within four and a half

minutes of music, me and my recur eighteen and eleven times, respectively. In the

throes of Me and My Town, Cora reaches a frenzied state and returns with increasing

frequency to the same two words. 78 The last lines of lyrics couple repetitions of me and

my with imperatives to form orders that Cora exclaims in desperation:

Give me my coat,
Give me my crown,
Give me your vote
And hurry on down.
Show me how much you think of me!
Love me,
Love my,
Town! (I, 12)

The imitation of Thompsons performance style and the interactions between the

star and her backup boys suggest that Cora is aware of Me and My Town as a

performance within the narrative sphere. It blurs the distinction between diegetic and

non-diegetic numbers (music heard as such by the characters and not heard, respectively).

The final moments of the song communicate this awareness best: as the orchestra plays

the final fortissimo chord, Cora gives the last boy a playful little shove, the stage

directions read, so that she can take the bow for the number alone. (I, 12) At first

glance, Coras acknowledgement of the audiences appreciation breaks the fourth wall

and makes her seem conscious of her role as a performer. But, the light-hearted nudgea

gesture that the audience would expect from the egotistical mayoresssuggests that Cora

stays in character even as she bows. If theatergoers interpret her actions as an extension

78
In her next number, Miracle Song, Cora repeats the possessive pronoun, mine, and uses it as a
homonym: And its mine! / Its a gold mine! / And its all mine! (I, 19)
82

of the Thompson pastiche, then the number continues to function within the theatrical

narrative and remains non-diegetic. The conclusion illustrates that Coras skillful

performance not only wins the affections of her audience but also (unknowingly) incites

them to play along with her act. Although applause traditionally follows an opening

musical number, in this example, the audiences participation becomes more meaningful:

it highlights Coras ability to harness pastiche as a musical-rhetorical tool and

Sondheims success in using pastiche to play with expectations and comment

persuasively on character and situation.

Theres A Parade in Town

The opening of Act II recapitulates the military trope that accompanied Coras

arrival at the beginning of Act I. The eight-measure fanfare of Opening transforms into

a full number, a march in the style of John Philip Sousa, entitled A-1 March. A second

appearance of Coras litter makes the parallel between the two openings obvious. This

time, however, Hapgood is aloft the litter, cheered, and besieged for autographs by

onlookers who sing of his success in separating the sane citizens from the escaped

patients from the Cookie Jar.

In A-1 March, the chorus repeats two versions of a memorable, eight-measure

melody in 6/ 8 that moves mostly by step within a modest range. Don Walkers

orchestrations for woodwinds, glockenspiel, trombones, and tuba accompany the tune

with simple harmonies. A-1 March reprises later in Act II (The Parade), when Cora,

having seen the townspeople celebrate their new hero with a parade through the town
83

square, sings her own 6/ 8 march, Theres A Parade In Town. The number unfolds in

four parts (ABAB), alternating abbreviated reprises of A-1 March (A) with parts of

Coras song (B).

Struggling to attract the attention of the crowd, Cora starts by calling out

hesitantly, waving a chiffon handkerchief, Hi! . . . Hey! . . . Wait! . . . Voters . . . (II,

111) But the marchers ignore her. Left alone onstage, she sings:

I see flags, I hear bells,


Theres a parade in town.
I see crowds, I hear yells,
Theres a parade in town! (II, 111)

Without her usual audience of onlookers, Coras confidence begins to wane. Even her

chorus boys have deserted her. In an attempt to maintain her composure and exude an

image of success, Cora adopts a sense of enthusiasm and asks the real spectators:

Did you hear? Did you see?


Is a parade in town?
Are there drums without me?
Is a parade in town? (II, 111)

With no response to her performance (or her return to the first-person personal

pronoun), Cora begins to falter slightly and develops a less flattering, defensive tone:

Well, theyre out of step, the flutes are squeaky,


The banners are frayed.
Any parade in town without me
Must be a second-class parade! (II, 111)

For the first time, Coras lyrics permit her a small measure of vulnerability. Unlike her

earlier solo, Theres A Parade in Town stretches beyond caricature to suggest a sense

of real dramatic possibility. The rare glimpse of Coras self-awareness and sincerity

invites the audience to see her as human.


84

Instead of letting the sight of the crowd passing by a second time plunge her into

an even more depressed state, Cora picks herself up and repeats her pleas to the audience.

This time, at m. 193, her calls are answered by the glockenspiel and woodwinds, which

superimpose the first motive from A-1 March over Coras melody. The familiar line is

stressed by virtue of its placement in the highest tessitura of the orchestra (see example

1.5).
85

Example 1.5: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, II,


Theres A Parade In Town, mm. 189-200
86

Playing in octaves, the strings and accordion take over where the glockenspiel and

woodwinds leave off and underscore Coras melody with the second motive from A-1

March. The generous gesture of support seems to restore Coras confidence, and she

declares once more her eagerness to join the parade:

Cause Im dressed at last, at my best,


And my banners are high.
Tell me, while I was getting ready,
Did a parade go by? (II, 112)

But Coras enthusiasm comes too late. The orchestra abandons its familiar strains just as

the townspeople have abandoned her. Cora is left alone onstage to sing the remainder of

her number.

The march figures prominently in the central act of Whistle. Marches are

historically used to arouse excitement in honoring rulers, expressing patriotism,

celebrating military power, accompanying orderly military movements and processions,

and marking heroic, sacrificial, and nuptial events. As a result, they have become musical

markers of strength, authority, government, conformity, and masculinity. With such

widely known and easily recognizable musical characteristics as repetitive rhythms,

simple harmonic progressions, stepwise or triadic melodies, and wind and brass

instrumentations, marches make ideal objects of pastiche.

The use of the march idiom in A-1 March pairs easily with the occasion of a

parade and functions as straightforward musical contextualization. But, when Cora

emerges from the wings to watch the excitement, her adoption of the march becomes a

vehicle for pastiche characterization. In A-1 March, the march signifies Hapgoods

acceptance and elevated position within the town. In an attempt to reclaim power and
87

salvage her reputation, Cora appropriates his idiom in Theres A Parade in Town, but

she fails to attract the attention of the townspeople. Whereas Cora excelled in donning

musical comedy language in Me and My Town, she lacks confidence and

persuasiveness with the march. As a result, the march and passing parade become

metaphors for her political downfall. Two other musicals of the time also used the parade

to signify missed opportunities: The Sap of Life (Watching the Big Parade Go By) and

Hello, Dolly! (Before the Parade Passes By). 79

Ive Got You to Lean On

At the beginning of Act III, Cora, Schub, Cooley, and Magruder hatch a plan to

undermine the Lady from Lourdes (Fay in disguise), who threatens to expose the false

miracle, and Hapgood, whose newfound public appeal has pushed Cora into the shadows.

Cora and her cronies turn off the fountain to make the Ladys investigation moot and

blame the failure on Hapgood, which, they hope, will turn the town against him. Excited

by the scheme, Cora leads her town council in singing her final song, Ive Got You to

Lean On, a quickstep and high-spirited friendship number that celebrates the mutual

dependence of close friends. Although the lyrics employ many hackneyed images

(Whenever the world falls apart, I never lose hope or lose heart) (III, 142), the number

lifts beyond mere clich.

79
David Shire recalls receiving a phone call from Sondheim who was concerned that he had
unintentionally borrowed the parade metaphor from Shires Off-Broadway musical, The Sap of Life. David
Shire, Proud to Call Sondheim a Friend and Mentor, The Sondheim Review 18/2 (Winter 2011): 20.
88

Ive Got You to Lean On consists of four sections plus a closing tap dance: (1)

an extended introduction alternating fragments of speech, notated rhythmically, with

underscoring and melody with accompaniment, (2) and (4) two statements of an

expanded AABA song form in cut time, and (3), between the statements, a section

combining song, dialogue, and underscoring. (My comments are based primarily on the

printed score rather than the original cast recording, which reduces Ive Got You to

Lean On to two back-to-back statements of the chorus.)

None of the typescript drafts opens Act III with Cora, Schub, Cooley, and

Magruder; instead they start with Fay and Hapgood in the pumphouse. When Cora and

her sidekicks appear later in the act, they exchange only dialogue. The earliest draft

contains a brief passage that resembles lyrics of Ive Got You to Lean On:

Magruder: Enemy of heaven, enemy of God, enemy of the church! Thats the
phrase that always works!
Cora: I didnt hear it. Dont tell me! But spread it!
Schub: Then once hes out of the way
Cora: And shes out of the way
Schub: Our miracle is turned on again!
Cora: Heaven! 80

According to the stage directions, a vaudeville song for the four (II, 70) follows (but

the draft does not include any lyrics for the number).

When Sondheim penned Ive Got You to Lean On, he relied on the broad

musical comedy language of Me and My Town. The implication of Coras penchant

for expressing herself in popular styles is never fully explored. It is a conceit that seems

80
Laurents and Sondheim, The Nut Show, II, p. 70, WHS-SSP 1/3 (emphasis theirs).
89

chosen more for its value as entertainment than any real examination of politicians as

showmen or as an attempt at musical coherence.

Yet the number features unexpected lyrics against the background of a

conventional popular musical style. The clichs are undercut by phrases that reveal the

characters true emotions. Beneath the veil of loyalty and camaraderie created by the

music lurks greed and ambition: With you to depend on, Ill never quit, There isnt a

murder I couldnt commit! (III, 142) and What comfort it is to have always known,

That, if they should catch me, I wont go alone. (III, 147) The marked contrast between

expressions of friendship and open mistrust exemplifies Sondheims keen ability to

delineate opposing attitudes simultaneously. Pairing malicious lyrics with a familiar

musical language also generates an unsettling feeling of incongruity as the text sharply

contrasts the sentiment and sense of security prompted by the well-known musical

reference.

The Cookie Chase

A typescript draft of the book, dated 1 November 1963, includes the following

description of a scene in the middle of Act III:

During this whole mad sequencewhich is done to musicthe notion of the


main characters is clearly defined. DETMOLD keeps trying to record names
and to get those arrested in the analytic position so that he can identify them
as patients. CORA keeps arresting women who dont stay arrested; SCHUB
keeps arresting men who dont stay arrested; and MAGRUDER keeps
grabbing pretty little girls and trying to handcuff them to him. FAY keeps
popping up in various disguisesold men, old women, bus drivers, gypsies,
Miami Beach ladies, etc.trying to prevent any and every arrest from being
successful . . .
90

Obviously, this sequence must be worked out in careful and complete detail. It
should go as wild and zany as possible, utilizing every theatrical device
available, including the revolving stage. 81

In the final version, this whole mad sequence with musical accompaniment starts with

the Governors threat to impeach Cora unless she identifies the Cookies and locks them

up. To resolve the problem, Cora destroys the patients medical records, and with the

help of Schub, Dr. Detmold, and the State Police, rounds up and cages the first forty-nine

people she can find. The sequence of events, punctuated by someone either being thrown

into or released from Coras cage, unfolds as an expansive series of dance variations

entitled The Cookie Chase and choreographed by Herbert Ross. The number spans 765

measures and 26 pages of the 243-page piano-vocal score; an abbreviated version lasts 9

minutes on the original cast recording.

The Broadway playbill subdivided The Cookie Chase into ten sections: one

introductory waltz sung by Cora, six numbered waltzes, and three other sections, Pas De

Deux, Gallop [sic], and Finale (see figure 1.3e for a reproduction of the playbill).

The published piano-vocal score replaced the numbered sections with descriptive titles

(Waltzes 1-6 became Weeping Widow And Three Deputies, Boy With Butterfly Net,

Two Young Lovers, Quartet, Cigar Smoker, and Soprano Solo) and subdivided

Pas De Deux, Gallop, and Finale into five subsections (1st Release Of Cookies,

Roundup Of Cookies, Fierce Lady And Deputies, Run For Your Lives, and 2nd

Release Of Cookies). Drafts of the book refer to neither numbered nor titled subsections,

which make these changes difficult to attribute and date. Table 1.3 compares the layouts

81
Laurents and Sondheim, Side Show, III, p. 18, WHS-SSP 1/3.
91

of The Cookie Chase in the Broadway playbill and piano-vocal score and identifies

where each part comes in the score and in the shortened version included on the original

cast recording.

Table 1.3: Musical Layout of The Cookie Chase, Anyone Can Whistle

Playbill Published piano-vocal Measures CD timing


score
Waltzes Coras Chase mm. 1-69 0:00
Waltz 1 Weeping Widow And mm. 70-123 1:15
Three Deputies
Waltz 2 Boy With Butterfly Net mm. 124-190 1:45
Waltz 3 Two Young Lovers mm. 191-431 2:23
Waltz 4 Quartet mm. 432-464 3:40
Waltz 5 Cigar Smoker mm. 465-507 4:28
Waltz 6 Soprano Solo mm. 508-539 5:20
Pas De Deux 1st Release Of Cookies mm. 540-578 5:55
Roundup Of Cookies mm. 579-606 6:29
Gallop (mm. 633-56) Fierce Lady And Deputies mm. 607-656 6:48 (7:13)
Finale Run For Your Lives mm. 657-699 7:33
2nd Release Of Cookies mm. 700-765 8:14

Sondheim describes The Cookie Chase as a ballet of waltzes with vocal

passages alternating with extended instrumental sections. 82 Many of the sections

reference familiar European and American dance music traditions. The sweeping

melodies, simple harmonies, and repetitive accompanimental figures (om-pah-pah) of

Coras Chase and Waltz 1 (Weeping Widow And Three Deputies) transport the

audience to nineteenth-century Vienna where Johann Strauss II elevated the waltz from a

lowly peasant dance to a bourgeois pastime. Waltz 5 (Cigar Smoker) evokes the strains

of Maurice Ravels La Valse. Waltz 6 crosses the Atlantic for a vocalise that suggests the
82
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 134.
92

soaring melodies of Victor Herberts Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life from his operetta

Naughty Marietta (1910). And the musical tour concludes in Russia with a Finale (2nd

Release Of Cookies). The stage directions make the last borrowing explicit: Fay opens

the cage and lets out the captured people. This time, they dance out like the swans in

Swan Lake . . . The music builds to a big Tchaikovskian climax. (III, 168) Without

Rosss sketches (which I have yet to locate), it is difficult to imagine how the dancers

used movement to bring the allusions to life. 83 There is no adequate means of

ascertaining what must have been the effect of the pastiches in production, for a good

deal of the tone and its touch of black comedy are rendered by the music, dance, staging,

mise en scne, and the simultaneity of effect.

Mark Eden Horowitz asked Sondheim about his motivations for writing The

Cookie Chase. Horowitz reports:

Sondheim says his primary inspiration seems to have been simply that he likes
to write waltzes, and the ballet gave him an opportunity to write several of
them. 84

Was Sondheims decision to structure a nine-minute ballet as a series of waltzes as

arbitrary as Horowitzs account suggests? The waltz, with its historically and

culturally determined images of lovers locked in an amorous embrace, invites so

masterful a pasticheur as Sondheim to imitate with intent. He would later use the

waltz to comment proactively on character and theme in his suite of contiguous

83
The Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University houses the Herbert Ross and Nora
Kaye collection. The extensive online finding aid makes no references to materials pertaining to Whistle. I
have yet to visit this archive.
84
Mark Eden Horowitz, Really Weird: The Stories behind Anyone Can Whistle, The Sondheim
Review 17/2 (Winter 2010): 11.
93

waltzes, Have I Got a Girl For You? and Someone is Waiting (Company);

Phylliss diatribe, Could I Leave You? (Follies); and in much of the score of A

Little Night Music, as Swayne has demonstrated. 85 Whereas these later examples

frequently subvert the conventions of the waltz as a symbol of romantic love, The

Cookie Chase plays on the waltz as a chance to twirl and spin about. For the

Cookies, the waltz becomes an invitation to break away from restrictive, stylized

forms of social danceto spin out of control. In Sondheims hands here the waltz is

not romantic, lustful, or nostalgic; it is an expression of release from not only Coras

cage but also societal constraints and the pressure to conform. In this sense, it

resonates with early manifestations of the waltz, a dance often excoriated by

conservatives for the intimate contact it requires between members of the opposite

sex and for the uncontrollable passion it may incite.

Experiment #7: Extend Musical Numbers

Act I finale: Simple

Whistle was unconventional and inventive, Sondheim asserted. It gave me my

first chance to write extended song forms involving dialogue, as in Simple. 86 By any

manner of accounting, Simple represents the apex of the Whistle score. Its sheer size

639 measures and 41 pages in the piano-vocal score (nearly half of the first act and one-

fifth of the whole score) and almost 13 minutes on the original cast recordingearns it a
85
For a brief history and historiography of the waltz and for Sondheims deconstruction of the dance in A
Little Night Music and other musicals, see Steve Swayne, Remembering and Re-membering: Sondheim,
the Waltz, and A Little Night Music, Studies in Musical Theatre 1/3 (2007): 259-73.
86
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 139.
94

unique place in Whistle and the entire Sondheim canon. Almost fifty years later,

Simple remains Sondheims longest number with continuous music. 87 More crucially

for our purposes, the number provides a window on Sondheims emerging compositional

process, including his increasing attention to large-scale musical structure

distinguishing Whistle sharply from Forumand techniques for constructing extended

song forms, or musical sequences, that Sondheim would return to and refine later in his

career.

When work began on Simple, Sondheim and Laurents had anticipated neither

the length the number would reach nor the shape it would take. Sondheim recalls:

When we got to it, Arthur had the idea for the scene, and it struck me that
since its one long mad sequence that gets madder and madder, it seemed right
that it should be somehow encapsulated musically, even though there was a
lot of dialogue in it. So, to begin with, we ad-libbed some of it at the piano.
Arthur would sit on the edge of the piano bench, and I would play some
musical ideas I had invented or developed for it, and he would ad-lib dialogue
and Id say, And then she can take over and sing, and then Id ad lib a lyric
on that. So a lot of it was worked out together. But it was not planned to be a
number when we sat down to write the show. It just aroseit just seemed like
it was right to make the whole thing a musical sequence. 88

By 1 September 1962, Simple already totaled fifteen typescript pages. 89 On 14 July

1963, the New York Times referred to the length of Simple as proof of the uniqueness

of Sondheims and Laurentss new musical: Side Show, as the show was still titled,

87
With the exception of Weills dream sequences in Lady in the Dark, few musical numbers in the Golden
Age musical theater repertory surpass Simple in length.
88
Horowitz, Really Weird, 10.
89
Laurents and Sondheim, The Nut Show, I, pp. 28-43, WHS-SSP 1/3. Many of the lyrics and passages
of dialogue in Simple would appear unchanged in the final version of the published script.
95

would include a twenty-minute sequence involving music, movement, and dialogue. 90

Simple had evolved into what Sondheim calls a plotting song, a number that uses

song, dialogue with underscoring, movement, and multiple characters to propel the story

forward. 91 Sondheim would continue to experiment with plotted songs in the 1970s and

1980s with Waiting for the Girls Upstairs (Follies); Weekend in the Country (Little

Night Music); Chrysanthemum Tea and Please Hello (Pacific Overtures); God,

Thats Good! (Sweeney Todd), Opening Doors (Merrily We Roll Along), and Putting

It Together (Sunday). Sondheim explains:

It is my favorite kind of song to write, since it appeals to my fondness for


puzzle-solving, not only verbal but dramatically. To tell a story which occurs
over a period of time and which contains actual incident, but in song formas
opposed to recitative, which is the way most composers not only of musicals
but of operas handle itis just difficult enough to be fun. 92

Simple unfolds at the end of the first act of Whistle. Members of the town

council are perplexed when they realize that patients from the Cookie Jar have

intermingled with throngs of sane pilgrims and townspeople congregated around the

miracle rock. Only Fay can identify the patients, but she refuses to do so. The town

council waits for a new psychiatrist to arrive and rectify the situation. When a young man

named Hapgood appears, looking for the asylum, Cora asks him to separate the Cookies

from the rest of the people. Applying the principles of logic, Hapgood questions

members of the crowd and assigns them to one of two groups with virtually the same

90
Lewis Funke, News of the Rialto: Kermit Bloomgardens CandidatesEdward Woodward Set
Items, New York Times, 14 July 1963, 65.
91
Horowitz, Really Weird, 10.
92
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 311.
96

name, Group A or Group One, but neglects to say which group is sane and which is

insane.

For such an expansive number, Sondheim devised a seamless framework of six

numbered parts plus a brief instrumental finaletto. (The plotting number Putting It

Together, though shorter in overall length, comprises seventeen separate parts.) Most of

the six sections in Simple subdivide into subsections: Parts 1 and 3 split into two; Parts

4, 5, and 6 divide into four; and the finale breaks into two with a coda.

Part 1 starts with Hapgood singing a short, eight-measure melody over a repetitive

accompaniment, first introduced in the overture (see example 1.6). It returns with such

frequency throughout the number that Sondheim has referred to it as a refrain. 93 The

lyric, with its monosyllabic words, short, nonsensical phrases, storybook imagery, and

alliteration, resembles the character, pacing, and simplicity of a nursery rhyme, and even

sounds banal. But the banality serves a function, not only to highlight the condescension

with which Hapgood approaches his patients, but also to draw attention to the irony of

the title. What is simple is often complex, just as Fay discovers, Whats hard is

simple. (II, 109)

93
Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Major Decisions and Minor Details, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow, 2010), 193.
97

Example 1.6: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Simple,


mm. 8-15

A dizzying succession of situations follows. Hapgood quizzes four people, from

whom he elicits a lifes motto, or watchcry. The exchanges address a myriad of

contemporary issues and social institutions: conformism, the role of women, American

civil rights, the authority of the government, patriotism, war, and religion. First George, a

self-professed traditional man, emerges from the crowd to answer Hapgoods

questions, and Hapgood assigns him to Group A. Delighted by Hapgoods game, Cora,

with the help of Schub, Cooley, and Magruder, sings a variation of the opening motive as

a four-part canon (Part 2). Hapgood then turns to June and John, fiancs with
98

unconventional gender roles. After interrogating them, Hapgood steers them to Groups A

and One, respectively, from whence they repeat their watchcry and incite others to share

short, overlapping, unmetered maxims. The cacophony of overlapping statements

culminates in a thirteen-part chorus (Polyphonic Chorus ad lib) (Part 3). 94 Several of the

sayings can be traced back to an untitled list written in Sondheims hand on a single side

of yellow legal pad paper and preserved with his lyric sketches for Simple. Sondheim

must have considered these for inclusion in the number (see figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5: Sondheim, Holograph Lyric Sketch for Simple, Anyone Can Whistle, I
(WHS-SSP 2/3)

94
The Polyphonic Chorus ad lib may have stemmed from Sondheims and Laurentss improvisatory
approach to the conception of the scene. See Chapter 1, n81.
99

Hapgoods next guinea pig is an African-American Jew, whose name, Martin,

may have reminded 1960s audiences of American civil rights champion Martin Luther

King. He too is assigned to a group. Cora, realizing that Hapgood has yet to identify

which group belongs in the asylum, tries to get an answer by wooing him with his own

refrain (Grass is green) disguised as a waltz (Part 4). A chorus of nine repeats

watchcries (Ad lib), which Hapgood follows with his own. He adds an intertextual

reference to Three cheers for the red, white, and blue! (I, 72) from O Columbia, Gem

of the Ocean but twists the famous musical and textual quotation, with its strong

associations of national pride and patriotism, into a crude rendering with an unexpected

chromatic descent from D-sharp to D-natural on the word blue. Hapgood then shifts his

focus to the members of Coras inner circle: he questions Sergeant Magruder about his

experience fighting the Germans (Part 5). Much of the text for Hapgoods exchange with

Magruder was in place when Sondheim and Laurents completed the third known

typescript draft of the script (then titled Side Show) on 1 November 1963. Annotations

in Sondheims hand above and alongside the text of the typescript indicate how he

envisioned the words might be set rhythmically (see figure 1.6).


100

Figure 1.6: Sondheim and Laurents, Typescript Draft for Simple, Side Show, I,
(WHS-SSP 1/3, p. 50)
101

Sondheim occasionally sketches a fragment of rhythmic or melodic notation on his lyric

sheets, but this page is the only example of such from this book draft. 95 Although

Sondheim ultimately set the passage in a different meter, 12/ 8 (and 9/ 8 ), he retained many

of the original rhythmic proportions and inflections.

Part 6 begins with the opening three measures of Grass is green transposed to a

minor key. Hapgoods interviews continue with Treasurer Cooley, who reveals his strong

religious beliefs, and Comptroller Schub, who, in a series of Socratic questions, admits

that he spends most of his money paying taxes that subsidize the manufacturing of

bombs, which, in turn, threaten to destroy his life and the rest of mankind. This, Hapgood

concludes, makes Schub the maddest of them all. (I, 78) Led by Hapgood as a kind of

wild, demonic puppeteer, Groups A and One begin to chant in rhythmic counterpoint and

encircle Cora. The four-part spoken texture reduces to two, with the two unified groups

shouting different lyrics at different times. Finally, the choruses of voices merge and

deliver a single text in rhythmic homophony. Just as the groups merge so do the phrases:

One is A is grass is who is opposite of what is green is safe (I, 79)

Sondheim has spoken about his dislike for the widely accepted convention of

disparate characters singing the same thought simultaneously, what he calls, the

peasants on the green type of ensemble or choral number. 96 He explains, Usually

when I have a chorus theyre all treated differently, because I dont like that kind of

convention. I love the sound of a chorus, but its hard for me to justify eighty people

95
For another example of rhythmic notations in Sondheims lyric sketches, see Mark Eden Horowitz,
Biography of a Song: Please Hello, The Sondheim Review 14/3 (Spring 2008): 27.
96
Horowitz, Really Weird, 10.
102

singing the same thought. 97 In Simple, Sondheim found a way not only to justify it,

but also to make a larger point. The unison texture that emerges in Part 6 illustrates

Hapgoods success in molding the groups into a homogeneous multitude of like-minded

people who have lost their individual voices. 98 As a furious drum solo breaks through the

voices at the conclusion of Simple, the chorus tosses Cora in the air like a broken

puppet, and Hapgood declares with a smile, You are all mad. (I, 80) The orchestra

plays a frenzied galop, first heard in the overture, a rail of stage lights descends onstage

and floods the audience with brightness, and then the lights fade. In a manner reminiscent

of Peter Brooks production of Marat/Sade (though Whistle opened four months earlier),

the stage lights snap back on to reveal the cast, settled in theatre seats onstage, perusing

programs, applauding grotesquely, and jeering at the real spectators. 99 Thus the final

comment (before the first intermission): Who is being watched and who is doing the

watching? Who is sane and who is insane? Who are the real fools?

To hold together so much action and such a long succession of continuous music

in a single number, Sondheim drew on techniques that he had learned in the early stages

of his career. At the end of his senior year at Williams College, where he had studied

composition with Robert Barrow, Sondheim won the 1950 Hubbard Hutchinson Prize, a

$6,000 cash award given to a member of the graduating class to support work in the

creative and performing arts. When Mrs. Eva W. Hutchinson established the prize in

97
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 106.
98
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 345.
99
The tilted mirror that set designer Boris Aronson incorporated into his designs for Cabaret generated a
similar effect two years later.
103

1940, she indicated how the money would be spent: The student shall be given the

income from the bequest for the two years succeeding his graduation, without any

restrictions of any kind whatsoever. 100 Sondheim decided to return to New York and use

the money for private composition lessons with Milton Babbitt. Babbitt may not seem

like an obvious choice for Sondheim, but in addition to his profile as an avant-garde, he

was, as Sondheim described him, a frustrated show composer. 101 Despite a shared

interest in musicals, Sondheim and Babbitt looked at little contemporary music: Wed

spend the first hour analyzing his favoritesDeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, and

Kernand occasionally Rodgers or Gershwin, recounts Sondheim. Then wed spend

the next three hours on Beethoven, Mozart, and othersanalyzing them with exactly the

same serious tone. 102 Babbitt adds:

Steve was one of my longest private composition students, my last private


composition student, because I didnt teach privately anymore, and one of
my dearest and closest friends. Hes one of the most brilliant young
students Ive ever had, and he remains a brilliant young man. Hes an
extraordinary mind, one of the fastest minds, one of the most agile minds,
one of the most imaginative minds Ive ever encountered. And when we
worked together, though he knew that I knew a great deal about popular
music and had long been involved in that myself, we talked about that
only peripherally. He wanted to do analysis. He wanted to study strict
counterpoint. He wanted to find out about [Heinrich] Schenker. 103

100
Hubbard Hutchison Prize Fund, ca. 1940, http://music.williams.edu/files/items/Hutchinson002.pdf.
101
Milton Babbitt composed popular songs, film scores, and, in 1946, an unsuccessful musical, Fabulous
Voyage. By the time Sondheim started studying composition with him in 1950, Babbitt had began to work
on a musical about Helen of Troy, which he hoped to develop into a star vehicle for Mary Martin. Stephen
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 20-22. For a
discussion of Babbitts songwriting, see Allen Forte, Milton Babbitts Three Theatrical Songs in
Perspective, Perspectives of New Music 35/2 (1997): 65-84.
102
Stephen Sondheim, as quoted by Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 22. See Eugene R. Huber,
A Conversation with Stephen Sondheim, typescript.
103
Anne Swartz and Milton Babbitt, Milton Babbitt on Milton Babbitt, American Music 3/4 (Winter
1985): 472.
104

What, then, from Babbitts instruction did Sondheim learn and implement in his own

compositions? Sondheim claims, He taught [me to] analyze the music, look at what it is.

How do you sustain something, hold a piece together for forty-five minutes if its a

symphony, or three minutes if its a song? How do you manage time? Thats what he

taught me. 104 Sketching what Sondheim refers to as long line reduction would help

him structure both small- and large-scale works and would became a regular part of his

pre-compositional planning. Sondheim explains:

I generally make a kind of long line reduction in the music, because I was
trained in a sort of conservative school of composition about the long line. I
generally make a reduction of the long line and know what the key
relationships are going to be in the various sections of the song and how the
general long line is going to go down or up or cover the third or fifth or
whatever it is. 105

A sketch of Joannas Green Finch and Linnet Bird (Sweeney Todd) provides a

particularly detailed example of Sondheims use of long-line reduction (see figure

1.7).

104
James Lipton, The Art of the Musical: Stephen Sondheim, Paris Review 39/142 (Spring 1997): 258-
78 (emphasis his).
105
Sondheim, The Musical Theater, 24.
105

Figure 1.7: Sondheim, Sketch of Green Finch and Linnet Bird, Sweeney Todd 106

106
This sketch appears as Example 6.6 in Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 136.
106

To most music academics, Sondheims reference to long-line reduction brings to

mind the theories and analytical techniques of Heinrich Schenker, whom Babbitt

mentioned above. (Babbitt was one of Schenkers earliest American proponents.) 107

Sondheims long-line sketches often include the large-scale trajectory of the bass line

and melody; foreground motives, vamps, and their relationship to long-line

structures; significant chords; and inner voices. As such, his sketches resemble

Schenkers middle-ground graphs, but without the conventions of Schenkers

graphing. 108 Similarities aside, Sondheim claims to be unfamiliar with the theorist.

Sondheim remembers making a long-line sketch of Simple, but I have yet to

locate the sketch (nor one for any of the other numbers in Whistle) among the Stephen

Sondheim Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. 109 Very few musical sketches

or drafts survive from the early stages of Sondheims career. Fair copies that served

as the basis for the published piano-vocal score make up most of the musical

materials in the collection. Nevertheless, Sondheims description of the harmonic

backbone of Whistle suggests what the shape of his long-line sketch of Simple may

have looked like, if reduced to broad strokes. Sondheim explains:

107
Swayne argues that Sondheims exposure to this sort of reductive analysis came even earlier:
Sondheims pre-Babbitt compositions and term papers make it clear that Sondheim was sympathetic to
long-line composition and structural integrity while he was at Williams. Swayne, How Sondheim Found
His Sound, 222.
108
Peter Charles Landis Purin, Ive a Voice, Ive a Voice: Determining Stephen Sondheims
Compositional Style Through a Music-Theoretical Analysis of His Theater Works (Ph.D. diss., University
of Kansas, 2011), 125-27.
109
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 193.
107

Anyone Can Whistle is sort of a music students score. That whole score is
based on the opening four notes of the overture [see example 1.7], which is a
second to a fourth. All the songs are based on seconds and fourths and the
relationship between a D and an E and a C and an F. 110

Example 1.7: Sondheim and Laurents, Anyone Can Whistle, I, Prelude, mm. 1-8

Sondheim may have aggrandized the role of seconds and fourths in the scheme of

Whistle as a whole (he has since referred to the statement as something of an

exaggeration), but his preoccupation with these two intervals plays out in the overture

and its closest musical relative in the score, Simple. (In the former, the central

intervals of D and E and C and F are transposed down a semitone, and, in the latter,

they are transposed up a semitone.)

If Im writing extended passages, Sondheim asserted, then to hold it

together, the glue has to be harmonic. 111 From a large-scale perspective, the

harmonic structure of Simple centers around two keys, a fourth apart. The first half

of Simple (Parts 1-4) unfolds in E-flat major and ends with a modulation to A-flat

major, and the second (Parts 5-6 plus the Finale) remains in A-flat major, though a

110
Sondheim, The Musical Theater, 13-14.
111
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 9.
108

brief coda in the last measures of the Finale, redirects the tonality to F major. Each

half modulates to keys a second away. The openings of Parts 1-4 move by major,

minor, and augmented second from E-flat major to E major to f-sharp minor and back

to E-flat major, and the beginnings of Parts 5-6 and the Finale ascend by semitone

from A-flat major to a minor to B-flat major.

Seconds and fourths also saturate the melodic content of Simple. The first four

motives, Grass is green, I am the master of my fate, A womans place is in the

home, and You cant judge a book by its cover, start with a rising fourth followed by a

second. 112 (In the latter three, the initial interval is rhythmically stressed by virtue of its

arrival on the main beat of the measure.) Seconds and fourths recur elsewhere in all four

motives. An ascending fourth and second, from B to E to F, in Grass is green

repeats at False is false and Who is who?, and the shift from C# to F# to G# for the

first half of the motive, The womans place, is reiterated up a major second in the

second half, at is in the home.

Mundane though this may seem at first, upon reflection one discovers the extent

of the deliberate pre-compositional planning that Sondheim conducted before starting

Simple. He designed a harmonic shape that gave direction to long stretches of music

and provided him with an arsenal of melodic material for the musical foreground. That

few listeners would pick up on musical connections stretching out over minutes of music

does not discourage Sondheim. He attests, The seed doesnt germinate the way it does in

112
Sondheim would open Into the Woods and all of the motives in that score with an ascending major
second (I wish). Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 81-84.
109

a symphony with a continuous spread. It germinates, and then there is dialogue, and then

I remind everyone that its based on the second or fourth . . . its too late. But it helped

me make the score. 113

A second compositional technique that Sondheim relied on to keep the music

fresh came from his experience working with Leonard Bernstein. Sondheim explains:

One of the things about Lennys music that I like is he keeps surprising you
particularly rhythmically. Just when you think something is going to be a 3/ 4
bar, it turns out to be a 4/ 4 bar, or when you think its going to be a four-
measure phrase, it turns out to be a three-measure phrase. So you rarely get
ahead of the music, and that keeps the music freshbecause its full of
surprises . . . The result is the ear is constantly refreshed, and thats what
keeps the music alive over a period of time. 114

Although Sondheim recapitulated many of the same themes in Simple, he prevented

some repetitions from sounding the same by shifting meters. Grass is green, for

instance, is first introduced in cut time and later heard in triple time (Part 4), and The

opposite of dark is initially performed with syncopated eighth-note rhythms in cut time,

but subsequently it is played in even eighth notes in 6/ 4 (Part 5) and in triplet rhythms

in 4/ 4 (Part 6).

Simple is a remarkably expansive and ambitious undertaking, which served an

important role as a prototype for Sondheim when he wrote extended musical scenes later

in his career. For A Weekend in the Country, the Act I finale of A Little Night Music,

he refined his use of long-line technique as a tool to structure multiple sections of music

and propel extended stretches of continuous music forward. The result was a carefully

113
Sondheim, The Musical Theater, 14 (ellipsis and emphasis his).
114
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 8.
110

crafted mini-operetta finale about the reactions to Madame Armfeldts invitation that

interwove almost seven minutes of seamless music and dialogue. Sondheim explained

why this number improved upon his earlier experiment:

[A Weekend in the Country] was an extended number which was a small


play in itself, involving action which takes place over a period of time.
Simple in Anyone Can Whistle had also been an extended number
embedded in the main plot, but it had no new incidents of its own, only a
situation. 115

An undercurrent of condescension towards theatergoers also weighed down Simple.

The number does not attempt to win the approval of its audience, but to assault its

sensibilities, to dissolve the illusory fourth wall, and to reach for effects that alienate

and provoke. It overreaches by wearing a liberal social conscience that sacrifices subtlety

and, in the end, the number fails to work as a scene. Looking back, Sondheim has

admitted that the conclusion (with onstage applause) went too far: Theres a very thin

line between smart and smart-ass, and we overstepped it. 116

Act II finale: Dont Ballet

Dont Ballet is the first of two ballets choreographed by Ross (the second,

The Cookie Chase, occurs in Act III). It follows the patter song, Everybody Says

Dont, in which Hapgood, having revealed his identity as a professor with five

degrees and 117 arrests, encourages Fay to destroy the Cookies hospital records and

thereby free the patients from the asylum. Fay, inspired by Hapgoods bravery, starts

115
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 271.
116
Ibid., 125.
111

to tear up the documents. As the Cookies are released, they enact their freedom in

movement. Fay ultimately joins in the dance. Her participation symbolizes her release

from her own inhibitions. At the climax, Hapgood appears on the balcony of the

hotel, and Fay begins to walk across the stage to him with outstretched arms.

Whistles Broadway playbill and published piano-vocal score divide Dont

Ballet into a different number of sections. The playbill parses the finale into six

variations (Variations 1, Variation 2, etc.); the table of contents that prefaces the piano-

vocal score separates Dont Ballet into five titled sections (Part 1, Dialogue, Boys

Skatawada, Part 2, and Part 3); and the score itself organizes the ballet into three

numbered parts that segue from one to the next.

Despite its size (336 measures and twenty-three pages of the piano-vocal score

half the length of Simple) and significance as an Act finale, Dont Ballet was not

included in the original cast recording of Whistle. (The piece has yet to be recorded.) As

such, it remains something of an unknown entity, ignored by critics, commentators, and

even Sondheim himself. In Finishing the Hat, his compendium of lyrics from Saturday

Night to Merrily We Roll Along, Sondheim jumps from Everybody Says Dont to the

start of Act III without referring to Dont Ballet. 117 The ballet is even missing from his

Whistle manuscripts, housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The origins of Dont Ballet help explain its absence. Instead of composing the

finale himself, Sondheim assigned the task to dance arranger Betty Walberg and thereby

left an authorial hole at a key moment in the musical (Sondheim would make a similar

117
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 131. The rental score of Whistle includes Dont Ballet, but, within the
revised two-act structure, the number no longer carries the weight of an Act finale.
112

mistake for Chromolume #7 in Sunday). 118 As dance arranger of West Side Story,

Gypsy, and Forum, Walberg brought a wealth of experience to Whistle. But this project

would be the last time she worked with Sondheim. Instead of writing for Dont Ballet a

creative arrangement and development of the principal motives from Everybody Says

Dont, Walberg exhaustively adapted a limited palette of musical materials. 119 She used

the vamp from Everybody Says Dont, which looks back to Coras opening fanfare, as

a starting point for both harmonic and melodic ideas. The four main notes of the vamp

(CGAD) are reinvented as a melody in all three parts of the number (mm. 135-6,

184, and 303). Walberg also drew on two motives from Everybody Says Dont: the

first phrase that sets the title and the melody from the B section (Make just a ripple).

Intervals of a second and fourth characterize both motives; the second one, in particular,

which stems from the vamp, begins with two rising perfect fourths separated by a major

second (BEC#F#) and provides another instance of Sondheims preoccupation

with these two intervals. Parts 1 and 3 are saturated with examples of the motives; the

opening eight measures of Part 1 include references to the vamp (mm. G-H), first motive

(mm. A-C), and second motive (mm. E-F). Almost every subsequent measure features a

direct quotation of or allusion to either the vamp or one of the motives.

118
See Chapter 4. Walbergs involvement in Dont Ballet should come as no surprise. From the late
1930s and early 1940s, as musicals began to incorporate more artistic choreography, dance arrangers
(sometimes called continuity composers when the dance arrangers task included underscoring dialogue)
regularly augmented the creative team. Just as Walberg worked behind the scenes for Jerry Bock, Burton
Lane, Jule Styne, and Sondheim (in Forum too), Trude Rittman shadowed Richard Rodgers and Frederick
Loewe; Genevieve Pitot assisted Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman, and Cole Porter; and John Morris helped
Charles Strouse and Styne.
119
Unfortunately, the Betty Walberg Scores, housed in the Music Division at the New York Library for the
Performing Arts, do not include materials pertaining to Whistle.
113

Part 2 offers a partial reprieve from the repetition and rearrangement of musical

material by looking further back in the score to motives from the circus music in the

overture (mm. 13-20) and Simple (Part 1, mm. 1-3). Allusions to West Side Story and

changes in meter (five shifts in Part 1 and another five in the first twenty-two measures of

Part 3), tempi, musical styles, and brief injections of dialogue and rhythmically-notated

speech fail to create adequate interest. 120 At a point in the show when audiences expect

the music to soar and generate a heightened level of excitement, energy, and anticipation,

Dont Ballet resorts to repetition without the invention and freshness that Sondheim

would have likely brought to the moment.

Act III finale: With So Little To Be Sure Of

Comprising 166 measures and 11 pages in the piano-vocal score, With So Little

To Be Sure Of, a love duet for Fay and Hapgood, is the shortest of the three finales in

Whistles score. It takes place after Fay reveals the names of all the patients in the asylum

except for Hapgoods. When he asks her why she skipped him, she tells him that the

world needs more people like him: Youre the hope of the world. You and all the crazy

people like you. (III, 173) Hapgood plans to leave town and invites Fay to join him but

she uses the Cookies as an excuse to stay. Hapgood starts off but stops as Fay begins to

reprise their earlier duet, Come Play Wiz Me. He responds with With So Little To Be

Sure Of.

120
For the influence of West Side Story on Dont Ballet, see Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals,
132-33.
114

The duet follows a modified double AABA song form with a brief interlude

separating the two halves. Hapgood sings the first, and Fay begins a slightly altered

version of the second. When she starts to repeat the second A section, Hapgood joins,

echoing her musical phrases so that their voices overlap (m. 111). In the B section, their

exchange continues, but here Hapgood adopts not only Fays melody but also her text

until their voices sing in rhythmic unison at Everything thats here and now and us

together (m. 136). A final statement of A brings their voices together almost exclusively

in octave unison (m. 149), a gesture that foreshadows, in musical terms, Fay and

Hapgoods reunion in the next scene. Instead of ending the piece at With so little to be

sure of in this world, Fay adds her pleas, Hold me, hold me, and the harmonies remain

unresolved, part of Sondheims attempt to resist, what he terms, a false big finish. The

final harmony was left unresolved, explained Sondheim, which made the fading

farewell of the two lovers effective but left the audience unready to applaud when they

wanted to. 121 He remembers trying unsuccessfully to find a solution during tryouts. 122

Sondheim had been tinkering with With So Little To Be Sure Of for awhile.

Before rehearsals for Whistle began, he had discarded an earlier incomplete version of the

number with the same title. 123 The Wisconsin Historical Society houses music and lyric

manuscripts for this first duet, and the 2003 reissue of the original Broadway cast

recording features a previously unreleased demo track made in 1963 with Sondheim

121
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 138.
122
Ibid., 138.
123
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 191.
115

singing the same piece and accompanying himself on the piano. 124 The two sets of lyrics

bear a resemblance; both avoid imagery and favor abstract means of expressing the

ironies of love, a subject that would reemerge in Being Alive (Company) and Send in

the Clowns (A Little Night Music), among others. There is a sense that both versions of

With So Little To Be Sure Of attempt to communicate too much and fail to articulate

adequately the emotional weight of the moment. The earlier version contains such

awkward sections as:

Theres more of love in me right now,


In just this moment here with you,
Than all the little bits of love Ive ever known before. 125

The revision, though more concise, still lacks the polish and finesse that usually

characterizes Sondheims lyric writing:

Theres more of love in me right now,


Than all the little bits of love,
Ive known before. (III, 177)

The first and final versions share some musical and formal similarities as well: both

modify the AABA song form (the first version comprises a single extended AABA

structure), both feature meandering musical lines as an illustration of Fay and Hapgoods

mixed emotions and uncertain future (in the first, a melodic gesture in the vamp alternates

between B and A, and, in the second, the opening melody shifts between G and F),

both include Fays appeal (Hold me), and both conclude with unresolved harmonies.

124
With So Little To Be Sure Of (first version), WHS-SSP 2/7; Anyone Can Whistle, Original Cast
Recording, With So Little To Be Sure Of.
125
With So Little To Be Sure Of (first version), WHS-SSP 2/7.
116

The musical style of the two versions of With So Little To Be Sure Of conveys

a warmth and sincerity that, with the exception of the title song, has yet to be heard in the

show. Sondheim explains, Whistle was . . . the first time I ever got to write the music I

most like to write, which is highly romantic; for example . . . With So Little To Be Sure

Of. 126 Sondheim would exercise his romantic voice with more meaningful results

later in his career (Send in the Clowns, A Little Night Music; Move On, Sunday; and

much of the score of Passion). In comparison to these later examples, which pack lots of

emotional punch, With So Little To Be Sure Of founders. The circumstances, Fay and

Hapgoods parting, and the structural significance of the duet as the last full musical

number call for stirring musical expression that explores new heights (as in the closing

measures of Move On). But the final version of With So Little To Be Sure Of finds

musical drama in mere repetition and unison singing (Crazy business this, this life we

live in!) and never opens up vocally. Only the B section of the first version offers some

musical excitement when it stretches the range of the singers at the climax (Tell me its

forever, its forever, What we have we have forever, and forever), but it too ultimately

fails to transport and transcend. Within the context of Whistles score, Sondheims

romantic voice seems out of place. The audience is inadequately prepared by the tone

of much of the rest of the musical for this demonstration of romantic love. Neither does

the sentiment fit the characters that the audience has come to know. After applauding Fay

126
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 83-84. What Sondheim refers to as romantic Banfield calls symphonic and
among the symphonic songs in Whistles score he counts A Hero Is Coming (cut), There Wont Be
Trumpets (cut), Anyone Can Whistle, Everybody Says Dont, See What It Gets You, and With So
Little To Be Sure Of. Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 139-40.
117

for her burst of independence (See What It Gets You), her longing to be held feels like

a step backwards.

The biggest problem with With So Little To Be Sure Of is the extent of what

follows it. As the last substantial musical component of the score (the so-called eleven

oclock number), the curtain should fall soon thereafter. Instead, nine more pages of

script and ten pages of music in the piano-vocal score remain. Packing so much into the

final minutes confuses the central thrust of the musical at one of its most important

structural points. The action returns to Cora who delivers a truncated reprise of Ive Got

You to Lean On before pairing off with Schub; Dr. Detmolds new assistant, Dr. Jane

Borden Osgood, arrives and marches off the Cookies to see a new miracle in a nearby

town with the orchestra playing Im Like the Bluebird. An earlier version of the script

also called for a partial reprise of Me and My Town. 127 And Fay and Hapgood reunite

in an ostentatiously romantic momentfrom the rock gushes rainbow-tinted waters. This

true miracle triggers Finale Ultimo, a sixteen-measure instrumental reprise of With

So Little To Be Sure Of. With the benefit of hindsight, Laurents posits:

I think Hapgood should have gone off in the world. Hes Don Quixote,
actually, and if we were to end it with them together, it should not
have had a conventional musical comedy finish but should have ended
in a kind of satirical or funny way. 128

Resorting to a traditional happy ending undermined the impact of unconventional

elements that had come earlier in the show.

127
Laurents and Sondheim, Side Show, III, p. 29, WHS-SSP 1/3.
128
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 91.
118

Epilogue

Despite the efforts of the creative team and cast, Whistle failed to impress New

York critics and theatergoers. On 7 April 1964, in an eleventh-hour effort to save Whistle,

Sondheim and Laurents each spent $1500 of his own money to purchase for the Times a

string of small advertisements featuring carefully selected sentences from the few

favorable reviews of Whistle (see figure 1.8). 129

Figure 1.8: Anyone Can Whistle Display Ad

Nevertheless, diminishing box-office sales forced Bloomgarden to close the show. On 10

April, after only seven performances, Bloomgarden posted a note backstage at the

Majestic Theater (see figure 1.9).

129
Display Ad, New York Times, 7 April 1964, 31.
119

Figure 1.9: Letter from Bloomgarden to the Company of Anyone Can Whistle,
10 April 1964 (WHS-KBP 1/27)

When Whistle closed on 11 April, it had lost all of its capital, $350,000, plus an

additional $20,000, for which Bloomgarden held Greene responsible. The extra costs

arose when an employment opportunity on the West Coast almost tempted Greene to

abandon Whistle before rehearsals had begun. At the behest of Whistles stars (who relied

on Greenes unorthodox vocal coaching), Bloomgarden reluctantly persuaded him to stay

in New York by offering almost double the salary specified in his contract. 130 In an

attempt to absorb some of the financial losses, Sondheim and Laurents waived the

royalties that they would have earned from tryouts, previews, and the abbreviated run in

130
WHS-KBP 1/30.
120

New York. Choreographer Herbert Ross and set designers William and Jean Eckhart also

waived fees for the week-long Broadway run. 131

Whistle was Sondheims first major flop and his second disappointing attempt as

a Broadway composer-lyricist. He recalls:

Anyone Can Whistle was my first commercial failure and, after reading the
mostly dreadful notices, I expected to feel devastated. Instead, I felt only
disappointment: disappointment that the show would close almost
immediately and therefore more people who might enjoy it would not have a
chance to see it. I was buoyed by the realization that I had loved writing it and
that I was happy with the result. Smart-ass though it may have been, Whistle
was . . . above all, playful. 132

What was wrong with Whistle made it a box-office failure; what was right about it made

Sondheim the hope for the American musical theater. Whistle provided Sondheim with a

forum for experimentation and taught him valuable lessons about source material, large-

scale structure, casting, metadramatic devices, pastiche, dance, superimposing musical

material, long-line reduction, choral writing, and other extended musical scenes.

In the almost fifty years since its Broadway production, Whistle has acquired a

reputation as a bold attempt at breaking certain molds of musical theater. As such, many

critics and commentators have insisted that its innovations have kept it from finding an

audience. But, if that were the case, it would have succeeded by now. Instead Whistle

remains Sondheims least-performed Broadway musical. Most productions of the show

have consisted of concert versions or highly-adapted truncations of the original musical

131
Letter from Kermit Bloomgarden to Flora Roberts, 30 October 1964, WHS-KBP 1/23.
132
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 139.
121

performed in small, non-commercial venues. 133 Despite attempts to revise the book,

many unsolvable problems remain. Stepping stone or misstep, Whistle committed what

Sondheim himself identified as the cardinal sin of flop musicals: it was more about ideas

than characters. In laboring over a multitude of issues, Sondheim and Laurents created

caricatures instead of characters. The result is a diffused thrust at too many targets and a

muddled whole. Combined with a bizarre storyline, imbalanced trio of characters, and

unwieldy structure, how could Whistle have reached a wider audiencethen or now?

With his Broadway career still such an unsteady affair, what would Sondheim do next?

Six years would pass before New York audiences would hear another Sondheim score on

the Broadway stage. How he first stepped backwards and took on lyrics-only assignments

will be the subject of the following chapter.

133
The production history of Whistle includes a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY (8 April
1995) and brief runs at Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York, NY (14 March-4 April 1980); 47th Street
Theatre, New York, NY (4-22 November 1992); Bridewell Theatre, London, UK (8 January-15 February
2003); Matrix Theatre, Los Angeles, CA (21 February-13 April 2003); Prince Music Theatre, Philadelphia,
PA (26 January-6 February 2005); Ravinia Festival, Chicago, IL (26-27 August 2005); Jermyn Street
Theatre, London, UK (10 March-17 April 2010); and Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert, New
York City Center, NY (8-11 April 2010).
122

Chapter 2

How a Play by Brecht Almost Became a Musical by


Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Guare

In 1965, Stephen Sondheim needed to find a new collaborator. The disappointing

outcome of the daring Anyone Can Whistle had not dissuaded him from attempting

another musical with Arthur Laurents, but the subsequent failure of Do I Hear a Waltz?

convinced Sondheim to move on. By mutual consent, the two men went their separate

ways and would not work together again until 1973, when Sondheim agreed to compose

incidental music for Laurentss The Enclave. Before the tectonic plates of his career

would undergo a fundamental shift with the beginning of his eleven-year, six-show

collaboration with producer-director Harold Prince, Sondheim asked playwright James

Goldman if he would like to adapt into a musical his play, They Might Be Giants, which

had premiered in London in 1961. Goldman declined but offered an alternative: for

several years, he had hoped to write a play about reunions. A short newspaper clipping

about the thirty-fifth annual get-together for showgirls who had appeared in the Ziegfeld

Follies renewed his interest. I bit into the idea immediately, Sondheim recalls. 1 Yet it

would take more than five yearsand Princefor their musical, initially titled The Girls

Upstairs, to reach the Broadway stage as Follies.

1
Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81) with Attendant Comments, Principles,
Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010), 199.
123

In early 1966, Sondheim and Goldman interrupted their work on the project to

turn a thirteen-page short story by John Collier into a fifty-minute television musical for

ABCs ambitious series, Stage 67. Starring Anthony Perkins and The Sound of Musics

Liesl, Charmian Carr, Evening Primrose aired on 16 November 1966. After the

broadcast, other opportunities temporarily kept Goldman from resuming work on The

Girls Upstairs. For the second time in two years, Sondheim found himself without a

suitable artistic match.

Shortly, however, Jerome Robbins, one of the creative forces behind West Side

Story and Gypsy (and show doctor for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the

Forum), approached Sondheim with an unusual idea for a musical. Bertolt Brechts

works had fascinated Robbins for several years. In 1961, he accepted an offer from

producer Cheryl Crawford to direct and co-produce for the Broadway stage Mother

Courage and Her Children. (This would be the only time in his career that Robbins

produced a Broadway show.) Before casting the title role, Crawford assembled a wide-

ranging list of potential actors, including Ethel Merman, whose original portrayal of

Annie in Annie Get Your Gun Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel had seen in 1948.

Crawford claimed that Weigel, who played the role of Mother Courage in East Berlin in

1949, had suggested Merman for the role. 2 Merman never auditioned for the part, and

Crawford, at Robbinss behest, cast in the title role Anne Bancroft, acclaimed for her

performances in Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker. (Robbins would consider

her for the part of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice in Funny Face before Barbara

2
Amanda Vaill, Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (New York: Random House, 2006), 333.
124

Streisand won the role.) Mother Courage opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on 28

March 1963 and closed after fifty-two performances with a loss of $150,000. Yet most

critics responded favorably, and the production earned four Tony Award nominations,

including Best Play and Best Producer (dramatic).

Four years later, Robbins, determined to succeed with Brecht, was working with

members of his American Theatre Laboratory on Die Massnahme (The Measures Taken),

one of Brechts Lehrstcke (learning plays). Robbins proposed a production of the play

at the 1967 Spoleto Festival and invited Leonard Bernstein to coach the ensemble in

Hanns Eislers music. But disputes between Robbins and Eric Bentley over aspects of

Bentleys English translation stopped the production from coming to fruition. 3 Later that

summer, Robbins tried to enlist Sondheim to replace Eislers score, but Sondheim flatly

refused: I particularly hated that play, he said. 4

Robbins resumed his search for an adaptable play and turned his attention to

another Lehrstck from 1930, Die Ausnahme und die Regel (The Exception and the Rule).

Two years earlier a production of the one-act play, performed by Paul E. Richards,

Joseph Chaikin, and Sam Greene and directed by Isaiah Sheffer, had run Off-Broadway

at the Greenwich Mews Theatre for 141 performances. The double-premiere program had

paired the English translation of The Exception by Eric Bentley with The Prodigal Son, a

thirty-five-minute, one-act play by Langston Hughes. The Exception contains eight

numbered scenes, a verse prologue, and epilogue, as well as six lyrics for songs that

3
Greg Lawrence, Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins (New York: G. P. Putnams Sons,
2001), 367 and Vaill, Somewhere, 389.
4
Craig Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 2nd ed., updated (New York: Da Capo, 1994), 115.
125

various composers set to music after Brecht had completed the play. It is the only

Lehrstck that Brecht conceived without the input of a musical collaborator, with the

exceptions of Die Horatier und die Kuriatier (1934) and the fragment Der Untergang des

Egoisten Johann Fatzer (1927), both of which fall outside of the three-year window

between 1928 and 1930 when Brecht penned the majority of his Lehrstcke. In 1938,

Nissim Nissimov wrote music for the premiere performance (in Hebrew) of The

Exception in Givath Hayyim, Palestine, and then Paul Dessau composed a new score for

productions staged in France between 1947 and 1949. The 1965 Off-Broadway

production of The Exception featured incidental music by Stefan Wolpe. 5 A commercial

recording of the 20 May performance preserves Wolpes score, which consists of an

overture and nine songs orchestrated for trumpet, cello, bassoon, percussion, and piano

(As I did not sleep, Sick men die, Urga, Urga, Here is the river, This is how

man masters, Sick men die (reprise), In the wake of the robber hordes, Such is the

rule, and For in the system). 6 Productions of The Exception now routinely substitute

5
Austin Clarkson, On the Music of Stefan Wolpe: Essays and Recollections (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon
Press, 2003), 333. For the holograph signed photocopy of Stefan Wolpes piano-vocal score, see The
Songs to Bertolt Brechts The Exception and the Rule, JPB 92-23, Music Division, New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts. There are no references to Wolpes settings for The Exception in Joachim
Lucchesi and Ronald K. Shull, Musik bei Brecht (Frankfurt-on-Main: Suhrkamp, 1988), 506-16.
6
Bertolt Brecht, Bertolt Brechts The Exception and the Rule, adapted by Eric Bentley, directed by Isaiah
Sheffer, music by Stefan Wolpe, Folkways Records FL 9849, 1965. This recording is available for
purchase through the Smithsonian Institutes website: http://www.folkways.si.edu/
126

newly composed music. 7 Peter Ferran, for instance, wrote new songs for a production of

The Exception in 2006. 8

Set in early twentieth-century Mongolia, The Exception follows a wealthy

Caucasian oil Merchant hastening across the mythical Yali desert to the town of Urga

with the hope of arriving ahead of his competitors and thereby landing an oil concession.

The Merchant hires a Guide and a working-class porter, or Coolie, to assist him on

the journey. En route the Merchant fires the Guide for fraternizing with the Coolie. The

Coolie takes over as the Guide but, by accident, leads the Merchant in the wrong

direction. Supplies dwindle, and, when the Coolie approaches the Merchant with a water

bottle, the Merchant misinterprets his offering as the start of an attack and shoots him

dead. A Judge acquits him of the murder charge:

The merchant did not belong to the same class as the carrier. He had
therefore to expect the worst from him . . . Good sense told him he was
threatened in the highest degree . . . The accused acted, therefore, in
justifiable self-defenseit being a matter of indifference whether he was
threatened or must feel threatened. In the circumstances he had to feel
himself threatened. The accused is therefore acquitted. 9

For a synopsis of the scenes based on Bentleys translation, see table 2.1. 10

7
The practice of substituting newly composed scores is almost inconceivable for Brechts joint musico-
dramatic works with Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. Kim H. Kowalke, Brecht and Music: Theory and
Practice, in The Cambridge Companion to Brecht, 2nd ed., ed. Peter Thomson and Glendyr Sacks (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 247.
8
Peter Ferran, Musical Composition for an American Stage: Brecht, Brecht Yearbook/Brecht-Jahrbuch
22 (1997), 253-81 and Music and Gestus in The Exception and the Rule, Brecht Yearbook/Brecht-
Jahrbuch 24 (1999), 227-45.
9
Bertolt Brecht, The Exception and the Rule, in The Jewish Wife and Other Short Plays, trans. Eric
Bentley (Boston: Chrysalis, 1954), 142-43.
10
Brecht, The Exception and the Rule, 109-43.
127

Table 2.1: Layout of Brechts The Exception and the Rule

Sc. Title Characters Music Synopsis of scenes


-- Prologue Chorus none A chorus invites the audience to watch the action with detachment.

1 The Race Merchant, Guide, As I did not An oil merchant races across the Yali desert to Urga with the help of a
Through the and Coolie sleep guide and coolie. The Merchant tells the Guide to push the Coolie
Desert (Merchant) harder. The Guide beats the Coolie.

2 The End of a Merchant and two none The Merchant, Guide, and Coolie arrive in Station Han a day ahead of
Much-Traveled policemen their competitors. Two policemen ensure that the Merchant is satisfied
Road with his hired help. We learn that the Yali desert is uninhabited.

3 The Dismissal Guide, Merchant, Sick men die The Merchant adopts a friendlier tone, which concerns the Guide. The
of the Guide at Coolie, and (Merchant) Merchant offers the Guide tobacco and advises him to watch the Coolie
Station Han Innkeeper as his true colors may come out in the desert. The Guide leaves to
smoke with the Coolie, and the Merchant eavesdrops on their
conversation. They discuss the oil world, the road ahead, and the Myr
river. The Merchant becomes distraught that his two men are
conspiring against him. The Merchant dismisses the Guide and, with
the Innkeeper as a witness, pays him his wages. In secret, the Guide
advises the Coolie to bring an extra flask of water. Innkeeper gives
directions to the Coolie.

4 A Coolie and Merchant Urga, Urga Along the journey, the Coolie sings of who and what awaits him in
Conversation (Coolie) Urga. His carefree tone raises concern in the Merchant. He interrupts
in Dangerous the Coolies song and questions him for wiping away their footprints in
Territory the sand.
128

5 At the Rushing Coolie and Merchant Here is the The Coolie hesitates when faced with the Myr river. The Merchant
River river (Coolie) encourages him to cross by pointing out their higher calling:
journeying in the name of oil (doing mankind a service). But the
Coolie wavers; he is not a good swimmer. The Merchant assumes that
the Coolie is prolonging the journey because he is paid by the day. The
Merchant finally forces him across with a revolver stuck in his back.

6 The Bivouac Merchant and Coolie Sick men die The Coolie has broken his arm when a tree fell on him as he crossed
(Merchant) the river. The Merchant reminds the Coolie that he saved his life by
pulling him out. The Merchant grows suspicious of how little the
Coolie talks. The Merchant sings; the Coolie startles him when
announcing that the tent is ready. The Merchant hopes the Coolie did
not hear his song. The Merchant grows ever more suspicious of the
Coolie and stays outside while the Coolie sleeps peacefully in the tent.
The Merchant summarizes the action and determines that the Coolie
has reason to seek vengeance.

7 The End of the Merchant and Coolie The Song of Part A: The Merchant beats the Coolie when the Coolie admits that he
Road the Tribunals does not know the rest of the way to Urga. They walk on.
(Chorus) Part B (The Shared Water): The Merchant beats the Coolie again
when he thinks the Coolie has led him the wrong way. The Merchant
asks for the Coolies flask of water.
Part C: The Merchant sees their old footprints in the sand. He instructs
the Coolie to pitch the tent and complains about the lack of water (but
secretly drinks from his flask). The Merchant takes his revolver out in
case the Coolie attempts to steal his water. The Coolie reasons that he
must share his water with the Merchant; if they are found, him alive
and the Merchant half-dead from thirst, the Coolie will be put on trial.
The Coolie offers his canteen to the Merchant who misunderstands his
good intentions; the Merchant thinks the Coolie is about to strike him
with a stone. The Merchant shoots the Coolie dead.
129

8 The Tribunal Guide, Innkeeper, Such is the The Merchant is on trial. He pleads to the court that he acted in self-
Judge, Widow, rule (Judge) defense. The Judge questions the Guide and Merchant. The Merchant
Leader, Merchant, and For in the argues that the Coolie had every reason to hate him. The Guide reveals
First Colleague, and system which that the stone was actually a flask. Before giving his verdict, the Judge
Second Colleague they created asks the Merchant if he had anything to gain by shooting the Coolie; he
(Guide) did not. Judge acquits the Merchant. The epilogue ends with an appeal
for action against the misuse of justice.
130

In the 1960s, with commercially successful productions of Marc Blitzsteins

American adaptation of The Threepenny Opera and George Taboris homage Brecht on

Brecht still fresh in the minds of New Yorkers, a play by Brecht may not have seemed

unusual as a starting point for a musical. According to Robbins, by the mid-1960s, Brecht

had become a fashionable playwright. 11 Indeed, none of the journalists writing for the

major newspapers of the time questioned Robbinss choice. But these writers were likely

familiar with neither the Lehrstck as a generic designation nor the extent to which its

defining characteristics differed from those of the properties usually adapted for the

Broadway stage. Whatever the similarities as forms of twentieth-century musical theater,

musicals and Lehrstcke occupy opposite ends of a continuum for audience expectation

and experience. 12 Musicals have usually invited spectators to empathize with characters,

suspend belief, and submit to emotional manipulation. Brechts Lehrstcke, by contrast,

upend the trappings of conventional theater with a radical didactic formwhat one

commentator described as Brechts most revolutionary type of play. 13 The purpose of

these pieces, as Brecht explained in 1937, serves its performers, often schoolchildren who

take part as spectators-cum-participants: The learning-play instructs by being acted, not

11
Jerome Robbins, as quoted by Robert Kotlowitz, Corsets, Corned Beef and Choreography, Show: The
Magazine of the Arts 4/11 (December 1964), 39.
12
For an analysis of Lehrstcke as a musical genre, see Stephen Hinton, Lehrstck: An Aesthetics of
Performance, in Music and Performance during the Weimar Period, ed. Bryan Gilliam (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994), 59-73 and Weills Musical Theater: Stages of Reform (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2012), 176-95.
13
Reiner Steinweg, Das Lehrstck: Brechts Theorie einer politisch-sthetischen Erziehung (Stuttgart: J. B.
Metzler, 1972), 123.
131

by being seen. 14 Although thought-provoking as theatrical treatments of ideological

questions, as dramatic artifacts Lehrstcke held little appeal for audiences, let alone

those in Broadway theatres.

Robbins retained some of the moralizing aspects underpinning The Exception,

but, instead of focusing on class struggle and the bourgeoisie, he re-imagined the conflict

as a social critique of contemporary race relations. He explained, I saw [Brechts play]

as . . . a kind of antic vaudeville that has great pertinence for our time and for this

country. 15 Robbins planned to cast Caucasian actors as the Merchant and Judge and

Black actors as the Coolie and Guide. 16 With Caucasians pitted against Blacks, corrupt

capitalists versus the innocent underdogs, Robbins transformed Brechts parable of the

rich abusing the poor into a story of Whites exploiting Blacks at a time when racial

tensions had reached a boiling point in the United States.

From 16 to 20 August 1965, two years before Robbins started to develop his idea

for The Exception, an interracial cast performed a similar interpretation of Brechts play

at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on West 118th Street under the auspices of the Anti-

Poverty Campaign, otherwise known as the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. In the

wake of the Harlem riots of 1964, the initiative began as a constructive artistic outlet for

14
Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke 17: Schriften zum Theater 3 (Frankfurt-on-Main: Suhrkamp, 1967),
1024-5. See also Steinweg, Das Lehrstck and Brechts Modell der Lehrstcke, Zeugnisse, Diskussionen,
Erfahrungen (Frankfurt-on-Main: Suhrkamp, 1976), 145.
15
Jerome Robbins, in Lewis Funke, West Side Story Collaborators Plan Musical of Brecht Play, New
York Times, 8 April 1968, 65.
16
For this chapter, archival materials, held in the Jerome Robbins Papers, (S)*MGZMD 130, of the Jerome
Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Leonard
Bernstein Collection of the Library of Congress, are identified by sigla formulated as NYPL-JRC x/y and
DLC-LBC x/y, respectively, where x and y denote box and folder numbers. NYPL-JRC, 93/17, page 110.
132

amateur actors and musicians. This production of The Exception, featuring a new score

by jazz musician Bill Dixon, caught the attention of the New York Timesand Robbins

who saved a newspaper clipping entitled Harlem Youth to Do Brechts Rule among

his research notes on The Exception. 17 The article reads:

The Harlem actors studied the Isaiah Sheffer staging [running concurrently] at
the Greenwich Mews and were in turn visited by the downtown cast . . . It is
an amateur production, of course, but very interestingly done, says Sheffer . .
. It is obviously a play of some significance to the members of their company,
and I should think it interesting to see and compare both versions. 18

That Robbins kept the clipping suggests that, if he had missed attending one of the four

performances by the Harlem troupe, he had at least read about the interracial cast.

In 1967, Robbins compiled a one-page, typewritten list of potential Composers

and Lyricists for The Exception and the Rule. 19 Of the twenty-six musicians, poets,

songwriting teams, and music groups included, only Steve Lawrence, star of the 1964 hit

What Makes Sammy Run?, had a direct connection to the Broadway tradition. Most of the

men (and music groups) listed had worked as performers, songwriters, or arrangers in the

fields of pop music (Bob Crewe, Rod McKuen), jazz (Bill Russo), alternative theater and

church music (Al Carmines), rock (The Doors, Jerry Leiber, John Sebastian), or folk

music (Jerry Yester). At least two different hands scribbled various notes alongside some

of the names. One added dates and times (presumably of appointments at which to

discuss Robbinss idea) next to the names of John Meyer and writing duo Bruce Hart and

17
Plays Will Be Given in Harlem Churches, New York Times, 20 July 1965, 39.
18
I was not able to determine the newspaper in which Robbinss clipping originated. NYPL-JRC 92/12, 12
August 1965.
19
NYPL-JRC 97/14.
133

Steve Lawrence. 20 The other hand penned stylistic designations and performance venues

beside the names of Jerry Leiber (rock n roll) and Tony Scott (jazz, The Dom). 21

Other jottings include WCB (will call back) alongside Bob Crewe, Fred Silver, and

Rod Warren; out of town for John Giudici and Jack Nitzsche; no answer for Frank

Zappa; and interested but not available until Feb. or Mar. for Joshua Rifkin. The

assortment of names suggests that when Robbins started searching for a musical

collaborator, he was seeking someone with experience in pop music or jazz. Knowledge

of the theater in general and musical theater in particular seems not to have been an

important consideration (with such exceptions as Lawrence and Carmines).

It should come as no surprise then that Sondheims name did not appear on the

list. And yet Robbins had already expressed interest in working on The Measures Taken

with his former collaborator. That same year, Robbins returned to Sondheim and

inveigled him into taking part in his contemporary retelling of The Exception. Sondheim

recalls:

I admire Jerry so much that I would work on almost anything with him, so
I put aside my prejudice against Brecht. But, after writing the second song,
I realized that it was not a show I wanted to do . . . It was didactic to a
degree that I cant handle . . . I told Jerry to get Lenny to do the music. 22

20
John Meyer was scheduled for 26 September 1967, and Bruce Hart and Steve Lawrence were booked for
27 September 1967.
21
The Dom refers to an East Village nightclub at which Tony Scott had played in the 1960s.
22
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 115. Sondheim abandoned the collaboration with Robbins before he could
complete the two songs that he had started: Dont Give It a Thought and The Year of the A
seventeen-measure music sketch of the former, seven staves of music for the latter, and several lyric sheets
survive among Sondheims personal collection of sources held at his private residence in New York. For an
excerpt from draft lyrics for The Year of the, see Stephen Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 46. The music for both numbers is erroneously attributed
to Leonard Bernstein in Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Major Decisions and Minor Details,
2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2010), 300 and 478.
134

Sondheim encouraged Robbins to ask Leonard Bernstein to write the lyrics as well: I

had liked his lyrics for his short opera Trouble in Tahiti, and to me they had the right

flavor for what Jerry wanted, as evidenced in the recurrent Little White House trio. 23

Bernstein, a Brecht admirer whose collaborative relationship with Robbins stretched back

to Fancy Free and On the Town in the 1940s, agreed to compose music for The

Exception, but declined to write lyrics. He set to work as early as October 1967, when he

sketched for the project the first known musical fragment, an eight-measure phrase

scored for piano and marked Bright. 24 For reasons that Sondheim can neither

remember nor explain, Robbins invited Jerry Leiber, famous for penning the words to

several Elvis hits and other popular songs with songwriter Mike Stoller, to step in as

lyricist.

Sondheim heard nothing further about the project until December 1967, when

Robbins and Bernstein asked him to listen to the score. His expectations were low: To

my happy surprise, Sondheim exclaimed, the songs were terrificBrechtian without

the humorless sarcasm, unobtrusive, impeccably written and always interesting. 25

Despite the progress he had made with Leiber, Bernstein threatened to abandon the

collaboration unless Sondheim replaced Leiber as lyricist. When Sondheim declined,

23
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments,
Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany (New York: Knopf, 2011),
311.
24
NYPL-JRC 98/6. Written by an unknown hand at the bottom of the page of the score are the words
October or November 1967.
25
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 311.
135

Robbins forced on the youngest member of his collective, thirty-year-old bookwriter and

playwright, John Guare, the task of persuading Sondheim. Guare recalls:

Jerry called me and he said, Lenny will only do this if Steve does the lyrics
and you have to meet with Steve and convince him to do it. So I went to
Steves house and I just worshiped Steve and had never met him and so Jerry
took me up the stairs to his townhouse, opened the door there was Steve
sitting thereand he said, OK. You guys talk. Goodbye. And he shut the
door. And I said, Huh? Im supposed to convince you to do the show. Well,
we just burst out laughing. We talked about everything under the sun except
the show. We just had a great time. Steve knows exactly the position that
Jerry was putting me into. And he liked what I did and he said, Lets do it.
So then, I met Lenny and the work started. 26

Guare updated and framed the show by setting it in a television studio, where a cast was

performing The Exception and the Rulenow a television play-within-a-playin front

of a gala audience as part of a telethon to raise money and social awareness. Blinded by

the possibilities, I agreed to work on the show, Sondheim writes. I expected the

collaboration to be as much fun as writing West Side Story had been, with none of the

artistic compromise Id had to make as a neophyte writer. 27

Early in the creative process, Bernstein convinced his fellow collaborators to

adopt a new title, A Pray by Blecht. None of us could talk him out of it, Sondheim

remembers. But I assure you we had no intention of keeping it. 28 Under this working

title, Bernstein and Sondheim started writing. They had no backers auditions to perform

26
John Guare, telephone interview conducted by the author, 19 September 2008, Ottawa, ON, MP3
recording.
27
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 311, 318.
28
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 318. Although the idea for the title originated with Bernstein, the
Leonard Bernstein Office has been reluctant to refer to the project as A Pray by Blecht and has preferred to
fall back on the title of Brechts play, The Exception and the Rule, though inconsistently so. (The finding
aid for the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress uses this designation, whereas the
Bernstein Offices own website refers to A Pray by Blecht on a page about Works Withdrawn.)
136

in order to raise capital. Frank Loessers protg, producer Stuart Ostrow, who had

agreed to take on The Girls Upstairs, was involved in the Brecht project from its

inception. Guare asserts, Stuart was there with it, hovering around the American

Conservatory Theatre waiting for Jerry to come up with something. From the minute I

met with Lenny and we started working, Stuart was there. 29 Ostrow would later produce

1776 and Pippin, among others, but, in his memoirs, he would refer to A Pray by Blecht

as the best musical (on paper) I ever produced, or attempted to produce. 30 (And, yes, he

used that title.)

Ostrow raised $600,000 in capital and decided to forgo out-of-town tryouts in

favor of four weeks of previews in New York. 31 (For a production schedule, see table

2.2.)

Table 2.2: Production Schedule for A Pray by Blecht, 5 August 1968


(NYPL-JRC 93/4)

Rehearsals Monday, November 25 [1968]


Take-in New York Monday, December 30
Technical Monday, January 6-17 [1969]
Preview Saturday, January 18
Play Through Monday, February 17
Open New York Tuesday, February 18

29
Guare, interview.
30
Stuart Ostrow, A Producers Broadway Journey (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 37. Stuart Ostrows
papers (1955-2007), held at the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing
Arts, include no reference to A Pray by Blecht.
31
Bernstein Musical Postpones Opening, New York Times, 10 October 1968, 62.
137

On 21 August 1968, with substantial sections of the script and score still incomplete, the

New York Times reported that A Pray by Blecht would open on Broadway at the

Broadhurst Theater on 18 February. 32 Zero Mostel, fresh from his Tony Award-winning

performance as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Pseudolus in the film adaptation of

Forum, would star as the Merchant for one full year with options for renewal. 33 Mostel

had previous experience as an actor in one of Brechts plays. Before headlining

Broadway musicals, Mostel had performed the minor role or Shu Fu in the 1956 Off-

Broadway production of Brechts The Good Woman of Setzuan. But the Brecht-Mostel

connection extends even further back. One of Brechts letters reveals that the playwright

had his eye on Mostel more than a decade earlier; on 18 September 1943, Brecht

expressed to Ruth Berlau interest in Mostel for the title role of Schweyk in the Second

World War, which he hoped to produce in the United States. He wrote: [Mostel] would

solve many problems. An American (and especially a comedian) would have a much

surer judgment about what the public here would and would not understand . . . Has he

read the play? 34 But Mostel never auditioned for the role, and the play would not step

onto an American stage until 1977, the year of Mostels death.

With the role of the Merchant cast, Robbins focused on finding an actor to play

the Coolie. In 1967, Black actor Walter Lott, who would later have a lackluster career in

32
Sam Zolotow, Robbins Musical Engages Mostel, New York Times, 21 August 1968, 39.
33
Robbins had also considered Phil Silvers for the role of the Merchant. NYPL-JRC 92/5.
34
Bertolt Brecht to Ruth Berlau, 18 September 1943 in Bertolt Brecht, Letters, 1913-1956, trans. Ralph
Manheim and ed. John Willett (New York: Methuen, 1979), 371.
138

Hollywood movies, played the part at improvisational sessions with Robbins, but nothing

would come of these encounters. According to Guare, Robbins later hoped to audition

twenty-seven-year-old comedian Richard Pryor. 35 Robbinss typewritten audition notes,

dated 26 October 1967, refer to Morgan Freeman (who had already participated in

Robbinss American Theater Lab and who would join the Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly!

in November 1967) and James Randolph (who would star as Sky Masterson in the 1976

all-Black version of Guys and Dolls), among others. 36

An early list of the credits mentions only Mostel, who received top billing.

Robbinss name appears twice on the page: between Mostels and the title of the musical

(The Jerome Robbins Production) and centered at the bottom of the page in bold

uppercase type where a box framing the text Entire Production Directed &

Choreographed by JEROME ROBBINS. His name was the most prominent of the

credits (see figure 2.1).

35
Guare, interview.
36
NYPL-JRC 92/5.
139

Figure 2.1: Poster Mock-up (NYPL-JRC 92/13, annotations theirs)


140

The posters for the original Broadway productions of West Side Story, Gypsy, and

Fiddler on the Roof acknowledged Robbins in similar ways. For Gypsy and Fiddler, his

name was listed once with the same, framed designation at the bottom of the page. For

West Side Story, no box bordered his contributions, but his name also had turned up a

second time. Printed in small, italicized typeface between the title of the show and the

name of the bookwriter appeared the attribution, Based on a conception by Jerome

Robbins.

With two creators at the peak of their powers, two promising up-and-coming

talents, a well-known star, and plenty of capital, A Pray by Blecht aspired to be a big,

albeit extremely unusual, Broadway show. Time magazine whetted theatergoers

appetites for what promised to be an interesting prospect for the 1968-69 theater

season. 37 By the end of September 1968, the anticipation with which some journalists had

written about A Pray by Blecht had begun to fade. The Boston Globe, for instance,

reported: It may be that the sense of adventure behind the intent to make a musical of

Bertolt Brechts The Exception and the Rule has been carried too far. 38 Robbins, too,

started to lose faith in his project. With Bernstein in the throes of a five-week tour to

Israel and Europe with the New York Philharmonic, progress on A Pray by Blecht had

stalled. Ostrow suggested hiring black dramatist LeRoi Jones/Imamu Amiri Baraka,

whose play, Dutchman, had won an Obie Award in 1964. But, as Ostrow remembered,

37
The New Broadway Season, Time, 6 September 1968.
38
Kevin Kelly, Pray by Blecht a New Musical, Boston Globe, 24 September 1968, 35.
141

Mr. Baraka would have nothing to do with us. 39 Robbins then asked his friend Arthur

Laurents to step in as show doctor, or Devils Advocate, as the playwright styled

himself. In his three-page report titled Is the Evening Anti-Semitic? Laurents argued

that A Pray by Blecht vilified Jews rather than Caucasians:

The biggest monster and exploiter, the most disreputable human being on
the stage is the character of [the merchant]. He is written as and is to be
played bya Jew . . . Mostel is a markedly Jewish comic, known as a
Jewish comic, is Tevya [sic] is, in fact, almost a symbol of J-E-W. 40

According to Laurentss memoirs, Robbins invited him to rewrite the script, but, as

Laurents recalls, The combination of a Brecht play I didnt like and another Jerome

Robbins conception could not be worth it. I bowed out. 41 Guare attributes Laurentss

bizarre diagnosis to a wounded ego: Laurents was in a rage about the team of West

Side Story coming togetherJerry and Lenny and Steveminus him and with this new

guy on the block . . . [Laurents] wanted to destroy the project. 42 Laurents had failed to

identify the problem that really plagued A Pray by Blecht: it suffered from a startling lack

of coherence. Its collaborators were not writing the same show: Robbins envisioned a

musical homage to Brecht, Guare and Sondheim attempted to write a traditional musical,

and Bernstein endeavored to compose a serious Broadway musical. 43

39
Ostrow, A Producers Broadway Journey, 38.
40
NYPL-JRC 97/16 (emphasis his).
41
Arthur Laurents, Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood (New York: Knopf, 2000),
370.
42
Guare, interview.
43
Sondheim would write about this general problem in 1985: The hardest aspect of writing a musical is to
be sure that you and your collaborators are writing the same show. Now, that sounds like basic sophistry
but it is very difficult. Stephen Sondheim, The Musical Theater: A Talk by Stephen Sondheim,
Dramatists Guild Quarterly 15/3 (Fall 1978): 11 (emphasis his); Humphrey Burton, Leonard Bernstein
(New York: Doubleday, 1994), 374.
142

After the opening concert for the Philharmonics new season on 3 October 1968,

Bernstein intended to devote the rest of the year to A Pray by Blecht. News from

Sondheim interrupted his plans. I asked for a meeting, Sondheim explained. I told

them that I couldnt go any further with the project, that they were welcome to use any of

the lyrics I had written, but that they should get another lyricist to finish the job. I urged

them to go back to Jerry Leiber. 44 Ostrow followed up Sondheims departure with his

own announcement on 9 October: the producer had decided to delay the opening of the

musical until fall 1969. 45 Looking back, Robbins explains, [The project] mushroomed

way out of shape and became so top heavy that it collapsed under its own weight.

Period . . . It was the Eiffel Tour balanced on its wrong end. 46 Before the group could

replace Sondheim, it disbanded. Had Sondheims decision kept the remaining

collaborators from moving ahead with their work? Was it the filming of Mostels next

movie, The Great Bank Robbery, as Mostels biographer would later assert? 47 Or, as

Guare would report, was it Robbinss unexpected exodus when he excused himself from

the middle of an audition at the Shubert Theatre, got into a limousine, and drove off to

Kennedy airport, where he boarded an airplane heading to London in an effort to salvage

44
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 318.
45
Bernstein Musical Postpones Opening, 62.
46
Jerome Robbins, Interview by Craig Zadan, 1973 (sound recording), Jerome Robbins Collection,
*MGZTL 4-3077, disc 2, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing
Arts.
47
Jared Brown, Zero Mostel: A Biography (New York: Atheneum, 1989), 274.
143

another rocky venture? 48 Whatever the deciding factor, the folding of A Pray by Blecht

left almost one full years worth of material without a show.

***

Partial script drafts of A Pray by Blecht survive among Robbinss papers. For my

discussion of the project, I rely on what appears to be the most complete draft, dated 16

September 1968 and totaling 114 typewritten pages. 49 The musical interlaces two linear

narratives unfolding in two fictional realms: in the first, the actors enact Guares highly

adapted version of Bentleys English translation of The Exception and, in the other, they

break character and interact with one another, the audience, the actual creative team and

crew in the real world, a television studio at CBS. Sondheim recalls, This notion

appealed to me not just because of the setting but because the Brecht play would be

chopped up into scenes that would be interrupted by the conflicts among the cast in the

studio and thus not be so relentlessly Brechtian. 50

A Pray by Blecht unfolds in a single act with a prologue set in the television studio

followed by eight scenes from Guares adaptation and eleven interruptions from the

studio (for a total of twenty-two shifts between settings). A lengthy explanation, entitled

Outline, prefaces the script and describes the double setting:

48
Vaill, Somewhere, 403.
49
NYPL-JRC 94/1. The script draft for A Pray by Blecht survives in duplicate among Robbinss papers,
one clean copy and one with markings in Robbinss hand.
50
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 311.
144

The evening runs on two levels. The center of the evening is a musical
adaptation of a short Brecht play entitled The Exception and the Rule. It
has been designed to tour all the major cities of the country in a program
sponsored by the National Council on Urban Renewal. The program is
directed towards waking up middle-class White America to their
responsibilities today. The Council has convinced the best talent in the
country today that they must be part of this. Leonard Bernstein, Jerome
Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, John Guare have all donated their services
in adapting the Brecht piece for this assemblage of actors who will tour.
The troupe will be headed by a major white star and a major Negro star
who have both donated their services. There is a basic goodness to
everyones intentions. The second level of the evening takes place in the
theatre in New York City that the troupe is performing in that specific
night. It is a benefit and everything is special about the evening. The
tickets are large and golden. Searchlights in front of the theatre swoop up
into the Broadway sky. When you come into the theatre, you will see it
transformed by CBS into a television theatre because tonights
proceedings, this special benefit, will be taped by CBS and shown in all
the major cities of the country the night before the actual performance of
the troupe as publicity. 51

The same script also refers to this second level within the television studio as the

surround. (Sondheim coined these sections, interruptory scenes, a term that I

adopt.) 52 In scenes from the play, Mostel would have portrayed the role of the Merchant,

but, when the setting shifted to the studio, he would have replaced his performed identity

with his real-life self, the Star. The other leading actor would have doubled as the

Coolie and the Costar. Although the script refers to both men by these descriptive

labels, they called each other and other members of the cast by their actual first names

(i.e., Mostel is called Zero or Z.). The following excerpt illustrates the effect of these

shifts in setting. In this example, the Star instigates a switch in context after the Coolie

finishes singing a solo in the middle of I:3. The voice of the faceless director of the show,

51
NYPL-JRC 94/1.
52
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 311.
145

whose identity the Star reveals as Jerry, presumably Robbins, warns the actor, but the

Star barrels on with a rant, in which he addresses not only the Coolie as the Costar,

director, and backstage crew but also the theatre audience:

Star: Just hold it for a minute! I just had such a


brainstorm on how you should do the number
Voice: Z
Star (To control): This is a rehearsal? Im not trying to steal the
number, Im trying to give him things to make it
better. (To Costar) Take it from me, kid. Take. Im
a bank. Hold me up. (To controls) You always say,
Jerry. Give me perfection, then Ill fix it up. (To
audience) Wouldnt you like to see how we all work
and give and take from each other? (I, 3, 45) 53

The shifts between settings happen unpredictably. In some cases, the cast performs a

complete scene or consecutive scenes from The Exception. In others, unexpected

disruptionsa faulty camera stand collapsing or, as in the example above, an actor

spontaneously stepping out of characterfunction like the prick of a pin popping a

bubble and break the spell of the musical. As soon as the Star demands, Can we shoot

this again?, crashing back comes the diegetic present, where the characters recognize

their roles as performers within the narrative sphere.

Sondheim and his collaborators would experiment with character doubles and

unusual combinations of a diegetic present and remembered past in Follies, Sunday in the

Park with George, and Assassins. None of the characters in these later musicals, with the

possible exception of twentieth-century George, when he encounters Dot and

simultaneously embodies himself and his ancestor, however, would jump from enacting

53
Quotations from the script will not have footnotes, but will be directly followed by a parenthetical note
indicating the scene and page number. For the script, see NYPL-JRC 94/1.
146

one character to the next as quickly as those in A Pray by Blecht, and none would break

character as the Merchant and Coolie do to portray their real-life selves, replete with first

names and well-publicized personality traits.

A Pray by Blecht called for a stage design that would allow for quick shifts

between the presentation of the play, real life within a television studio, and the

projection of prerecorded messages on large screens hanging over the stage. In

September 1968, Robbins solicited advice on set design from television and movie

director Clark Jones, who had spent the early 1960s directing episodes of The Bell

Telephone Hour, The Perry Como Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and the abbreviated,

televised version of the Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun starring Ethel Merman

at Lincoln Center. In response to Robbins, Jones prepared two preliminary sketches of

stage designs for A Pray by Blecht (see figures 2.2a and 2.2b). 54

54
Clark Jones to Jerome Robbins, 17 September 1968, Technical Notes, NYPL-JRC 93/4.
147

Figure 2.2a: Clark Jones, Sketch of Set Design for A Pray by Blecht
(NYPL-JRC 93/4, p. 1)
148

Figure 2.2b: Jones, Sketch of Set Design for A Pray by Blecht (NYPL-JRC 93/4, p. 2)
149

The first drawing focuses on stage left where Jones envisioned a glass control room with

visible crew, monitors, and lights, and the second depicts the full stage framed by boxes

on both sides of the proscenium arch, visible lighting equipment, and a row of five

television screens looming over a stark, sparsely appointed stage; four of the screens

were numbered and labeled PREVIEW in large capitalized letters and one was in the

middle and marked AIR. (In his accompanying letter to Robbins, Jones suggested that

the word, PREVIEW, be changed to CAMERA.) Framing the stage with exposed

television and stage paraphernalia, a technique that Brecht might well have advocated as

a means of achieving estrangement, affects the audiences experience: it reminds

spectators of the artificiality of performance and thereby undermines the illusion of

reality.

Breaking the fourth wall that separates actors from the audience has a long history

in theatre and musical theater. Kurt Weills and Alan Jay Lerners Love Life (1948) had

alternated book scenes plotting the lives of Sam and Susan Cooper and vaudeville acts

that commented on the storyline. And, just three years before A Pray by Blecht, John

Kanders and Fred Ebbs Cabaret (1966) had shifted between book scenes set in Weimar

Germany circa 1930 and nightclub numbers that masqueraded as lighthearted

entertainment but served as metaphors for the political and social context of pre-Hitler

Germany. In both cases, the frames stand self-consciously on the outside and shed new

light on the action playing out in the book scenes. Scenes in A Pray by Blechts television

studio have a similar purpose; they give new meaning to the book scenes by placing them

within a chilling political, social, and moral frame.


150

But, in performance, the television studio would have generated a more striking

metadramatic effect than the frames of its predecessors. Although the acts in Love Life

and Cabaret comment on preceding or following scenes, they do not unfold linearly. In

fact, in most cases, if the acts were shuffled and assigned new slots within the layouts of

the musicals, the shows would not change much; they would still make sense. The scenes

in the television studio differ as they follow a linear trajectory and pick up where the last

one left off. Unlike Love Life and Cabaret, a single set of actors in A Pray by Blecht

performs roles in both the play and the studio. This polytemporal splintering of

characters/actors in a diegetic performance of a theatrical event and realityas

figments of Brechts imagination (seen at a distance through Guares lens) and as

themselvesdeliberately provokes spectators to adopt a critical stance and unpack

parallels between the injustices portrayed on stage and those in contemporary society. In

describing A Pray by Blecht, Guare said, [The characters] were always discussing the

plot and trying to figure it out, commenting. Totally metadramatic. 55

Other pieces, including Brechts own Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (The

Caucasian Chalk Circle), have, of course, used play-within-a-play as a device to

distance the audience from the narrative. From the mid-twentieth century, the practice of

removing or revealing the imaginary wall between the stage and spectators became

associated with Brecht in part for the frequency with which the playwright employed the

jarring technique. But the purpose of the interruptory scenes in A Pray by Blecht is both

metadramatic and self-reflexive: the steady stream of interruptions from the television

55
Guare, interview.
151

studio creates an episodic structure that encourages critical detachment in general from

Brechts own play in particular. No doubt Brecht would have been pleased: A Pray by

Blecht offered a Brechtian treatment of a Brechtian text, an alienating presentation of an

already alienating play. The Exception thus invites scrutiny of both the play itself and the

underlying social and political issues that the play and the frame bring to mind.

Guare remembers Bernstein asking, Where does Leonard Bernstein come in?

Where does Leonard Bernstein come in? This is all Brecht! Wheres my statement?56

Bernstein shared his desire to make a statement with not only his collaborators, but also

the public. In April 1968, he told the New York Times that the new musical could prove

to be somewhat different from anything Ive ever done. 57 This desire to push himself

came at an important point in Bernsteins life and career: on 25 August, he would

celebrate his fiftieth birthday and, on 3 October, he would commence his valedictory

season at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, a position with considerable

administrative obligations. A Pray by Blecht offered Bernstein a chance to move in new

directions: it ushered him back to the American musical theater where he could reaffirm

his reputation as a Broadway composer.

For the Brecht project Bernstein would complete nine numbers plus a prologue, as

well as drafts of instrumental music and sketches for songs in the final scene. 58 Sondheim

authored the bulk of the lyrics: of the nine numbers, eight had lyrics by Sondheim, with
56
Guare, interview.
57
Leonard Bernstein, as quoted by Funke, West Side Story Collaborators.
58
The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress houses holographs, some actually initialed,
inscribed in pencil on two different types of manuscript paper, and the Jerome Robbins Collection at the
New York Library for the Performing Arts has photocopies of many of these holographs. See DLC-LBC 13
and 14 and NYPL-JRC 99.
152

just one containing lyrics by Leiber. The author(s) of the lyrics in the opening Prologue

(Marches) remains unknown (see table 2.3).

Table 2.3: Lyricists of A Pray by Blechts Titled Numbers

Number Lyricist
Prologue (Marches) Unknown
The Race Through the Desert Sondheim
Han Sondheim
Little Secret Sondheim
The Suspicion Song (Hm) Sondheim
Coolies Dilemma Leiber
Urga Marches Sondheim
In There Sondheim
Coolies Prayer Sondheim
Merchants Paranoia Song Sondheim

The script refers to two other numbers that Bernstein apparently left unfinished when the

Blecht collective broke apart. I:7 calls for Chase Music, possibly instrumental, and I:8

includes a reference to Trial Song, of which only two and one half pages survive,

without lyrics. 59

The musical numbers were confined to scenes that enacted The Exception. Mostel

would have sung only when he played the Merchant, never as the Star in the television

studio, and the other actor would have sung as the Coolie, not as the Costar. On a few

rare occasions, when the script indicates that an actor sings or the orchestra plays in the

interruptory scenes, the music is presented as diegetic. In I:4, for instance, the Merchant

59
DLC-LBC 14/7.
153

becomes the Star when he tries to one-up the Coolies performance of Coolies

Dilemma with his own rendition of the song.

For a musical design of A Pray by Blecht, see table 2.4. This table differentiates

the scenes that take place in the diegetic present of the television studio from those in

Guares version of Brechts play. Some scenes in the television studio interrupt those in

the play, in which case, the play picks up from where it left off. Others occur after the

entire scene has played out. To represent visually the divisions between the two

performance domains, the scenes in the television studio are shaded and those from the

play are not.


154

Table 2.4: Musical Design of A Pray by Blecht, ca. September-October 1968

Scene Setting Number Character(s)


TV studio Prologue (Marches) Merchant and Chorus
Play, sc. 1 Mongolia The Race Through the Desert Merchant and Chorus
Play, sc. 2 At the Han Station Han and Police ballet Two police officers and Merchant (spoken)
TV studio
(Sc. 2 resumes) (Han Station) Reprise: Han Two police officers and Merchant (spoken)
Play, sc. 3 At the Inn Little Secret Guide and Coolie
The Suspicion Song (Hm) Merchant, Guide, and Coolie
Coolies Dilemma Coolie
TV studio Reprise: Coolies Dilemma Star
(Sc. 3 resumes) (Inn) Reprise: Han Two police officers
TV studio Interpolated number (no score) Mr. and Mrs.
Play, sc. 4 In the Desert Urga Marches Coolie
TV studio Specialty number (no score) Star and Costar
Play, sc. 5 At the River (Get Your Ass) In There Merchant
TV studio
Play, sc. 6 The Bivouac Coolies Prayer Coolie
Merchants Paranoia Song with partial reprise Merchant
of The Suspicion Song
TV studio
(Sc. 6 resumes) (Bivouac) Continues: Merchants Paranoia Song with Merchant (with Coolie)
partial reprise of Coolies Prayer
TV studio
Play, sc. 7 In the desert Chase Music (missing) Instrumental?
TV studio
Play, sc. 8 Trial Trial Song (incomplete) Guide and Chorus
TV studio
(Sc. 8 resumes) (Trial)
TV studio
(Sc. 8 resumes) (Trial)
TV studio
155

That Bernstein dated parts of his draft piano-vocal scores for the Brecht project

helps create a chronological scaffold for discussion of the genesis of the music and lyrics.

He recorded in ink or pencil dates on the top right-hand side of the title page of selected

numbers, on the first page of music, and/or at the end of the piece, immediately following

the last measure. In several instances, his handwritten initials appear alongside. The

earliest known dated draft of a nearly-complete number (The Race Through the Desert)

has Jan. 1968 scrawled across the top of the title page in Bernsteins hand. A revision

has 16 June 1968 written in the same hand on the top right-hand side of the first page

of the score and 30 July 1968 on the last page after the final measure. The two dates

suggest that Bernstein may have revised the number over a six-week period when he

resided at his country estate in Fairfield, Connecticut. During the same window of time,

Bernstein worked on at least two of the next three numbers in the score: Han and The

Suspicion Song (also known as Hm), the drafts of which conclude with the dates

23 June 1968 and 28 June 1968, respectively, again in Bernsteins hand. Given that

none of the drafts of the remaining numbers have dates, other sources must be relied

upon to shed light on the creation of the rest of the score.

The lyrics for Coolies Dilemma must have been written during Leibers brief

stint as lyricist, which would have ended before Sondheim replaced him in March 1968.

This number and five others (Little Secret, Urga Marches, In There, Coolies

Prayer, and Merchants Paranoia Song) were finished by 12 August 1968, when

Bernstein and Sondheim recorded these six numbers plus the three mentioned above

(The Race Through the Desert, Han, and The Suspicion Song) and the prologue at
156

Robbinss studio on 19th Street. The purpose of the recording is not quite clear.

According to Sondheim, It wasnt for backers or anything like that . . . Nobody was

invited . . . Jerry wanted a tape of the score so that he could listen to it at home the way

he listened to music when he did his ballet. 60 The recording begins with a muffled

Bernstein explaining, Its all unfinished business that you are about to hear. 61 Reading

from Brechts original play, Robbins begins, We hereby report to you the story of a

journey . . . Sondheim then sings through the numbers in the order in which they appear

in table 2.3, with Bernstein providing piano accompaniment, additional parts, and

commentary. Robbins and two unidentifiable voices supply further quips and instructive

remarks.

***

Without a definitive text or culminating event, the project presents challenges

of study and evaluation far exceeding those of most musicals. Champions of Sondheims

career have cast A Pray by Blecht as his lost musical, a question mark, forgotten in the

shadows of his subsequent string of successes. 62 Only in 2011, more than forty years

after having worked on A Pray by Blecht, did Sondheim make his unpublished lyrics

60
Stephen Sondheim, telephone interview conducted by the author, 16 September 2008, Ottawa, ON, MP3
recording.
61
Bertolt Brecht, Leonard Bernstein, John Guare, Jerome Robbins, and Stephen Sondheim, Demo of
Music from The Exception and the Rule, 12 August 1968, New York City, NY, *LDC 51055 (CD),
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
62
June Abernathy, Sondheims Lost Musical, 1997, http://www.sondheim.com/commentary/blecht.html.
157

available; he also commented publicly on the genesis and demise of the project. 63 The

remainder of this chapter examines the music and lyrics for A Pray by Blecht by probing

the extant sources, including drafts of scripts and scores, holograph manuscripts,

correspondence, press clippings, and business records. I intend neither to catalogue every

document nor present a detailed chronicle of the genesis of the script and score but

instead to build on our limited knowledge of the nine completed numbers in A Pray by

Blecht and to suggest how the projectSondheims most direct and sustained exposure

to the theater of Brechtimpacted the composer-lyricist, particularly with respect to his

breakthrough artistic and commercial achievement, Company, a musical for which even

Sondheim has admitted to adopting a Brechtian approach. 64

Prologue (Marches)

The script of A Pray by Blecht begins with a fourteen-page sequence set in the

television studio. The lengthy opening includes two references to music: at the outset the

script reads, Music plays: Not just one kind of music, but when youre at a parade and

you hear bands uptown and bands long since gone downtown overlapping the band thats

passing you now. (I, Outline, 1) Later in the scene the script mentions a jazzy

overture: On the screen we see Leonard Bernstein conducting the orchestra. No

evidence survives to suggest that Bernstein attempted to compose these numbers.

63
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 310-18.
64
David Savran, Interview with Stephen Sondheim, in In Their Own Words: Contemporary American
Playwrights (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988), 230.
158

Instead Bernsteins holograph scores start with a six-page Prologue, subtitled

Marches, which marks the beginning of the presentation of Guares version of Brechts

play (not the beginning of A Pray by Blecht). The music consists of a series of

instrumental marches with two statements of a ten-measure refrain sung by a chorus.

Marked fortissimo, a three-note motive (C#ED) heralds the arrival of accented,

stacked fifths punctuated by cymbals, a snare drum, and bass drum. A repeated passage

of chromatically shifting parallel fourths follows (see figure 2.3). 65 The extreme

dynamics, accent markings, and dissonant harmonies transport audiences to a new

setting, far removed from the pomp and circumstance of a gala presentation in the

television studio. The use of percussion instruments and repetitive parallel motion, long

part of the clichd vocabulary for representing exotic locales, offers a hint of the quasi-

Asian backdrop against which Brechts story unfolds.

65
The Leonard Bernstein Office requested the author to use the title of Brechts original play, The
Exception and the Rule, to identify Bernsteins music rather than the more familiar working title, A Pray by
Blecht.
159

Figure 2.3: Leonard Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A
Pray by Blecht, I, Prologue (Marches), mm. 1-24 (DLC-LBC 13/12, p. 1)
160

Just as Brechts The Exception opens with a chorus declaiming a text, A Pray by

Blecht begins with a group singing in unison:

A play by Brecht!
A play by Bertolt Brecht!
And you know just what to expect:
A drama dealing with the intellect! 66

In the second refrain, the lyricist finds a rhyme for the German word for Brechts

Alienation effect, or making strange:

No disrespect,
We genuflect to Brecht.
We love his Verfremdungseffekt;
Its so appealing to the intellect!

Limited surviving materials for the Prologue make it difficult to pinpoint the author of

these clumsy, repetitive rhymes. No lyric drafts survive, only music drafts that include

lyrics in Bernsteins hand. Sondheim makes no reference to the Prologue in his

published compendium of lyrics for the project; its absence suggests that the text may

have come from another collaborator. Guare, who elsewhere in his career wrote almost

solely in prose, seems the likeliest author, as a list of musical numbers, compiled in the

1980s by Robbins, attributes the Prologue to him. 67

The Race Through the Desert

The Race Through the Desert borrows its name from the title of the opening

scene of Brechts original play, in which the Merchant and his two hired hands, the Guide

66
JRC 99.
67
NYPL-JRC 98/6.
161

and Coolie, laden with baggage, parcels, and equipment, hurry across the Yali desert. The

number is the Merchants first of three solos; in it, the Guide and Coolie speak, and a

second Merchant, a competitor in the race, sings five short verses of text. The Race

best demonstrates the abilities that Bernstein and Sondheim brought to A Pray by Blecht.

Its dimensions15 pages and more than 300 measures in the music draft and 6 minutes

of continuous music on the demo recordingmake it the longest number in the score. As

an extended musical form, The Race brings to mind the size and scope of Bernsteins

dance sequences in On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, but in its use of

spoken dialogue, rhythmically-notated speech, and sung lyrics, albeit on a smaller scale,

and as a structurally significant act-opener (within a play), the number evokes a more

recent experiment in constructing a large-scale scene with continuous music, namely

Simple in Whistle. 68

The Race functions as an establishing number in that it sets out important

information about the ensuing narrative. The opening scene in Brechts play does

likewise. Bentleys translation begins with the Merchant telling the Guide and Coolie,

Hurry, you lazy mules, two days from now we must be at Han Station. That will give us

a whole days lead. 69 In an early music draft, dated January 1968, Sondheim retained the

content of the spoken passage but intensified the derogatory tone. Brief musical

flourishes articulate the ends of each sentence:

68
See Chapter 1.
69
Brecht, The Exception and the Rule, 37.
162

Come on, move, you slant-eyed creeps! In two days weve got to be at
Station Han! That means we have to hack out a whole days head start!
Now get off those yellow butts and MOVE! 70

Sondheim later stripped down the thirty-six-word outburst to sixteen words arranged into

four succinct lines. This second version, dated six months later, reads:

Mongolian idiots!
There goes our head start!
Youre ruining me!
Pick it up! Pick it up! Move! 71

Satisfiedfor nowwith the efforts of his Guide and Coolie, the Merchant

introduces himself for the first time in song. Engagingly, to audience, as the first music

draft directs, the Merchant states his name: My name iswait, excuse meMy name is

Charlie Harmon. I havent time to chat. 72 No sooner does the Merchant finish his aside

than he redirects his attention back to the Guide and Coolie (Pigs!). His perspective

changes again, this time, as though lost in his own reverie, the Merchant fantasizes (Im

dreaming oil, oil, mountains of oil!). For the remainder of the number, the Merchant

shifts his attention among the unfolding of the race, the performance of the play within

the television studio, and the unraveling of his own thoughts. These changes in

perspective can jar the audience, who must recognize the arrival of each new frame of

reference and its context. They must understand, for instance, that when the Merchant

70
DLC-LBC 13/12.
71
DLC-LBC 13/12. For Look, I Made a Hat, Sondheim omitted the Merchants opening address
(Mongolian idiots!) and started his lyric for The Race with There goes our head start! (312).
72
DLC-LBC 13/12. The Merchants name changed at various points during the gestation of A Pray by
Blecht. In Brechts play, the Merchant introduces himself as Karl Langmann; in Bernsteins music drafts,
his name changes to Charlie Langmann; and, in Sondheims Look, I Made a Hat, the Merchant refers to
himself as Charlie Harmon, a name, Sondheim explains, that Bernstein borrowed from his music librarian.
Sondheim, Look I Made a Hat, 312.
163

addresses the Guide and Coolie, the two helpers hear his commands and complaints,

but, when he addresses the studio audience in a presentational style or voices his private

concerns, the two men cannot hear him. Artful changes in lighting, of course, would

have clarified all or most of this, if the show had reached production.

Bernstein mirrored the shifting points of view in Sondheims lyrics with a multi-

sectional structure comprising an instrumental introduction and six sections

(AA'BA''B'A'''), which subdivide further into two subsections each. The A sections split

in half with the Merchant addressing the Guide and/or Coolie first and the spectators

second, while the B sections begin with the Merchant exposing his internal thoughts first

and, in the second statement of B, speaking to the Guide (see figure 2.4).
164

Figure 2.4: Layout with the Musical Structure of The Race Through the Desert

Part Perspective
Measure
Title or musical marking
Principal lyric
Key (tonal relationship)

Orchestral introduction
mm. 1-25 26-46 47-59
Presto
D major (II) C major (I)

A To the Guide and Coolie To the spectators


60-76 77-90
Day 1 Night falls
Mongolian idiots! My name iswait, excuse me
C major (I) G major (V)

A' To the Guide and Coolie To the spectators


91-129 130-142
Sun-Up (Day 2) Night 2
Pigs! Now let me see where was I?
C major (I) F major (IV) G major (V)

B To himself
143-156 157-168
Dolce Agitato
Im dreaming No, but wait, theres something funny
C major (I)

A'' To the Guide and Coolie To the spectators


169-184 185-201 202-220 221-230
Day 3 Sandstorm
Run! Yeah, girls! Girls! Oops! My name is Leonard Bernstein
C major (I) F major (IV) C major (I) G major (V)

B' To himself To the Guide


231-244 245-268
Legato Agitato
Oh, Lord above me Look, lets face it
C major (I)

A''' Between the Merchant, Guide, and Coolie To the spectators


269-280 281-297
Lento, esitando Presto Tempo I, Joyfully
Ow! Im cleverer than they are
F-sharp major (sharp-IV) E major (III)
165

Bernstein accentuated the shift from the opening half of the first A section to the second

half by notating the Merchants vocal line in two contrasting modes of vocal

declamation: speech notated with precise rhythms and then pitched melody. Using two

musical voices draws attention to the seams that hold this section and others together.

Figure 2.5 reproduces part of the first half of the A section and the beginning of the

second.
166

Figure 2.5: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:1, The Race Through the Desert, mm. 64-82, with lyrics by Sondheim
(DLC-LBC 13/12, p. 3)
167

In the second draft of the score, Bernstein included scene-setting titles and tempo

markings that denote the beginnings of new sections and subsections. 73 The titles of the

first three A sections construct a chronological framework for the race (Day 1, Night

falls, Sun-Up [Day 2], Night 2, Day 3). The second half of the third A section has

the only descriptive scene-setting title (Sandstorm). None of the primary source

material for The Race sheds light on the origins of the titles. Brecht used such scene-

setting titles only at the beginnings of scenes in The Exception rather than within a single

scene or musical number. 74 Neither music nor script drafts indicate how the titles would

have been communicatedwhether printed on banners, projected onto screens, listed in

the playbill, or by some other means. On the audio recording, Bernstein, seated at the

piano, called out the titles as they appear in the music draft, which suggests that the

collaborators intended to have them announced.

Changes in tonality also articulate most of the shifts between sections of The

Race. The A sections generally begin in the tonic key of C major and modulate to the

dominant as the Merchant switches his attention from the Guide and Coolie to the

audience. The B sections, by contrast, remain predominantly in the tonic. The final

statement of A stands out as an exception: it opens in F-sharp major with skeletal

dialogue among the three men notated rhythmically, in which the Guide, at the

Merchants request, beats the Coolie. A smug Merchant then delivers his last lines to the

73
None of the other numbers in A Pray by Blecht have scene-setting titles.
74
For a discussion of Brechts use of scene-setting titles, see Chapter 1.
168

spectators in the key of E major: referring to the other merchants in the race, he sings,

Im cleverer than they are.

The systematic sequence of shifting perspectives in The Race creates a

fragmented structure that mirrors in miniature the highly episodic large-scale

construction of A Pray by Blecht and its multiple framing devices. In both cases, the

recurring transitions interrupt the linear development of the plot and the emotional

engagement of the spectators, which helps them assume and sustain a distanced

viewpoint of the action.

Han

Having arrived at a way station called Han, the Guide and Coolie expect the

Merchant to allow them to rest briefly, but he refuses and orders them to fetch water. The

journey to Urga will resume in three minutes, he tells them. As the men set off, the

Merchant turns to the audience:

Look at them. The looks they give me. Did you ever see that? Dragging
their feet. Of course they are tired. Im tired. What do they care? In a
restaurant, the leftovers always hate the main course. Of course, they hate
me. Of course, they despise me. But, oh, thank God, the police keep them
in their place. (I, 2, 2)

Growing increasingly suspicious of the Guide and Coolie, the Merchant tries to procure

the protection of two passing police officers for the remainder of the trip. The Merchant

greets the Caucasian men warmly and offers them money. In exchange for the cash, the

officers, as though working as street musicians, perform a short duet and ballet entitled

Han, with melodrama and rhythmically-notated speech delivered by the Merchant.


169

Han toys with the boundaries between diegetic and non-diegetic performance: that the

Merchants payment triggers a song-and-dance routine makes all three characters appear

cognizant of Han as a performance and casts the police officers as entertainers rather

than enforcers. But with no further indications of the characters awareness of the

performance as such, Han manages to be both diegetic and non-diegetic, or something

in betweensomething that Sondheim had already explored in Me and My Town

(Whistle). He would conduct further experiments in many of his subsequent scores,

including, most notably, Follies, Sunday, Sweeney Todd, and Assassins.

Han starts as a double list song, in which the police officers first exchange

pleasantries with the Merchant (Anything that we can do . . . Did you have a pleasant

trip?) and then, like a pair of dimwitted tour guides, they catalogue the virtues of their

village (Serene Han. Clean Han). As the officers rattle off Hans attractions, they sing

a series of sometimes overlapping, ascending eighth-note scales spanning a seventh, one

in the range of a tenor and the other, a baritone. They adopt a recognizable musical

idiom, an elegant waltz with recurring melodic phrases, static harmonies, and repetitive

rhythms. Bernstein uses the waltz as a trope, a familiar musical marker with extra-

musical associations that bring layers of meaning and subtext to the portrayal of the

setting and characters. The old-fashioned dance, presented in a modified AABA thirty-

two-bar song form, offers a snapshot of an earlier era, like the tinted photograph of Han

that one of the officers digs out of his pocket to show the Merchant, when cities were safe

and cops were trustworthy.


170

Drafts of lyrics tell a different story. After the police officers illustrate their

pleasing picture of living in Han, they utter a series of overlapping couplets contrasting

the pros and cons of Han. But their lyrics, particularly those in one early draft,

communicate more about racism than Han. The draft contains Sondheims attempts at

finding such racial slurs to put in the mouths of the police officers as: Girls for every

fellow, If you like them yellow and Stand for no fanatics, Fuckin asiatics. 75

Bernsteins music draft and Sondheims published lyrics include these relatively less

biting alternatives:

Policeman 2: Never any trouble


Policeman 1: Uninhabitable

Policeman 2: Where things are quiet


Policeman 1: Ever since the riot (I, 2, 21)

Sondheim explains, The trick and false rhymes (trouble/uninhabitable) . . . may be a bit

cute, but they constituted my desperate attempt to insert some playfulness into Brechts

earnest sarcasm. 76 Rhyming successive phrases stretching five and six syllables in

length (even with trick and false rhymes) may seem cute but also it draws attention to

the text itself, particularly to the last syllables of line and the word, riot.

Just as the police officers start to perform a short dance, described as a ballet in

the script, the wheel of camera two falls off, interrupting the performance and bringing

the outer frame of the television studio back into focus. A maintenance man rushes

onstage with his tools, and, as he repairs the equipment, an usher uses the pause as an

75
This lyric draft is reproduced in Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 313.
76
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 314.
171

opportunity to solicit tips from the audience. In Europe, she claims, my granddaughter

told me ushers are tipped. Her statement elicits taunts from the Star, And the winner of

the Golden Flashlightthe Flashie of 1969 is (I, 23). With the camera fixed, the

usher heads to the back of the house, and a floor manager tells the performers from where

to resume the action.

Having restored the attention of the audience to the presentation of the play, the

police officers pick up where they left off, at the start of the B section, in which they

expose the underbelly of Han. They take turns singing: Thirty natives and all so quiet,

Thirty-seven before the riot. (See figure 2.6).


172

Figure 2.6: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:2, Han, mm. 24-58, with lyrics by Sondheim (DLC-LBC 12/9, p. 2)
173

The introduction of new musical material, with a contrasting vocal style and marked

cantabile and legato, highlights the change in the officers tone. Longer note values

falling on the main beat of the bar draw attention to the second reference to the word

riot (mm. 51-58). In Brechts play, his police officers inform the Merchant that they are

the last police patrol before the uninhabited desert of Yahi, which the Merchant must

cross in order to reach Urga. But the two men make no reference to a history of riots or

violence of any kind. Making riots the figurative and structural centerpiece of the musical

number, Han, originated with the Blecht collective, who likely recognized an

opportunity to reflect controversial contemporary events. To audiences watching A Pray

by Blecht in 1968, mentioning riot would have likely disrupted their involvement with

the characters and would have brought to mind parallels between the incident that had

left seven so-called natives dead in the fictional village of Han and the dozens of

deadly uprisings that had devastated several American cities during the past year. 77 When

the spectators recognize that the men who voiced such appealing melodies and cute

rhymes are the same as the ones presumably responsible for killing the natives and that

they share with these men an affection for a common musical idiom, then the spectators

may experience a disorienting effect and confront their own attraction to the

performance. Sondheim would exploit fully this metadramatic technique, mismatching

the right music with the wrong characters in Assassins, which features familiar

musical styles and idioms sung by a cast of notorious American criminals.

77
As part of the research he conducted for A Pray by Blecht, Robbins collected newspaper and magazine
clippings documenting aspects of the American race riots, including an issue of Newsweek with an article
devoted to uprisings in Detroit. An American Tragedy, 1967Detroit, Newsweek, 7 August 1967, 17-34.
NYPL-JRC 92/12.
174

Realizing that the Merchant need not know about the upheavals in Han, the police

officers resume the idle chitchat that pervaded the opening of the number (May we hope

you have a pleasant stay . . . Come again another day), and the last modified repetition

of the A section unfolds.

Little Secret

Conflicting information in primary and secondary source materials makes it

difficult to answer three basic questions about what may have been the third number in A

Pray by Blecht, sandwiched between Han and The Suspicion Song in I:3. First, what

was the title of the number? Various documents refer to it as Little Secret, They Got

This Little Secret, The Secret, and Guide Song B. I have adopted the first, which

Sondheim uses in his published lyrics. Second, who was supposed to sing Little Secret?

Both of the scores for Little Secret, preserved among Bernsteins papers, indicate that

the Guide and Coolie sing the opening and closing sections in near unison, and the Guide

delivers the middle section as a solo. By contrast, in his published lyrics, Sondheim

assigns the number to the Guide alone. Whether the Guide sings with or without the

Coolie, the message of the number remains the same. At a campsite, the singer (or

singers) describes a secret, an object either abstract or literal, to which only the upper

echelons of society have access. Despite the power and allure that comes with knowing

the secret, the singer argues, We aint getting near it. . . They can keep it. . . Amen! 78

78
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 314.
175

The number thus has a moralizing tone that warns the lower classes about the ways of

the ruling class. 79

When was Little Secret completed? It is the only number in A Pray by Blecht

that I was unable to locate among the holograph scores from 1968. 80 The two virtually

identical aforementioned versions are dated 1987 and 1988: one is a three-page piano-

vocal score in pencil in the hand of Bernsteins protg, Michael Barrett, and the other is

a five-page computer generated piano-vocal score. Since Sondheim included Little

Secret among his collected lyrics, it seems likely that the creators completed the number

as part of their original conception of the show in 1968. Nevertheless, an alternative

scenario also seems plausible: that the creators started Little Secret in 1968 and

finished it two decades later.

The three extant sources for the music and lyrics, two scores and Sondheims

published lyrics, share the same text and layout with four sections (AABA) plus a brief

coda. The following lines articulate respectively the beginning of each part: They got

this little secret (A), And when it starts to murmur (A), It tells em how to set up the

rules (B), And every other Tuesday (A), Amen (coda). The music mirrors the form

set out in the text and resembles a conventional AABA song form with two nine-measure

(AA) and two thirteen-measure phrases (BA) plus brief instrumental interludes.

Modulations from E major to C major in the B section and back to E major in the final A

section mark these last two formal shifts.

79
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 314.
80
Only a one-page sketch of Little Secret survives from 1968. DLC-LBC 12/8.
176

The A and B sections share rhythmic and melodic similarities: both have the same

alternating time signatures that shift between one measure in 12/ 8 and one in 6/ 8 , phrases

with the same rhythm (eighth-note pick-up then alternating quarter- and eighth-notes with

an accent on the final eighth-note of the bar followed by a bar of rest), and melodic

shapes that outline and modify root positions and inversions of arpeggios.

The Suspicion Song (Hm)

Many writers have singled out Sondheims lapidary lyrics within the so-called

lowbrow literary landscape of musical theater, but few have unpacked the intricacies of

his texts or explained what the ear finds so pleasing about each passing phrase. 81 Fewer

still have examined how Sondheim employs language and poetic structure to convey a

characters state of mind or comment on situation. Shelia Daviss cursory analysis of

repetition, including types of rhyme, in Sondheims lyrics stands out as an exception. She

asserts, Sondheim instinctively knows when to eschew rhyme because of a characters

particular state of mind and to bind lines together via a series of repeated vowels or

consonants, vowel-consonant combinations, or repeated words or phrases. 82

Davis draws on classic Western textual-rhetorical devices, which provide a vocabulary

for identifying and classifying such varieties of repetition as anaphora (the same word or

group of words begin successive lines in parallel fashion), alliteration, and antimebola

81
One study stands out as an exception, Michael Charles Adams, The Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim: Form
and Function (Ph. D. diss., Northwestern University, 1980).
82
Shelia Davis, No Rhyme before its Time, The Sondheim Review 13/1 (Fall 2006): 29.
177

(repetition in reverse order with antithesis). 83 Although the Greek and Latin names and

origins of these figures hold little or no meaning to Broadway audiences, they offer a

useful framework for analyzing and categorizing Sondheims lyrics and for explaining in

precise terms what it is about his texts that sound so characteristically Sondheimian.

Figures of repetition abound in the opening lines of the next musical number in A

Pray by Blecht, a trio for the Merchant, Guide, and Coolie (though the Merchant sings

the majority of the song as a solo). The primary source materials offer two different titles

for the number; the music manuscript bears the name Hm on the title page and at the

top of the first page of the score, while the script refers to it as The Suspicion Song.

(Since Sondheim retains this latter label in Look, I Made a Hat, I do too.) Such a

designation brings to mind the practice of deriving song titles not from an initial line of

lyrics or a recurring phrase but from general information about the number, the name of

the character who sings it, where it takes place, or what broad theme or subject matter it

addresses, as in Brecht and Weills Die Dreigroschenoper (Moritat von Mackie

Messer, Morgenchoral des Peachum, Hochzeitslied, Seeruberjenny, Kanonen-

Song, Liebeslied, Barbarasong, Pollys Lied, Ballade von der sexuellen

Hrigkeit, and Arie der Lucy) and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Alabama

Song, Havana Song, Mandalay Song, and Benares Song). The authors of A Pray

83
Lee A. Sonnino, A Handbook to Sixteenth-Century Rhetoric (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968),
161, 25-26, and 42. Sonnino draws extensively on relevant writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore,
ed. Augustus S. Wilkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903); Marcus Tullius Cicero, Orator, ed.
Wilkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903), Abraham Fraunce, The Arcadian Rhetoricke, ed. Ethel
Seaton from the edition of 1588 (London: Blackwell, 1950), Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, a
facsimile reproduction of the 1593 and part of the 1577 editions, ed. W. C. Crane (Gainsville, FA:
University of Florida Press, 1954), George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Alice Walker and
Gladys Doige Willcock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), and Marcus Fabius Quintilian,
De institutione Oratoria, ed. and trans. by H. E. Butler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953).
178

by Blecht assigned generic titles to most of the other numbers in the score as well,

including Coolies Dilemma, Urga Marches, Coolies Prayer, and Merchants

Paranoia Song. Sondheim would revisit this practice in at least two of his later shows:

Sweeney Todd (The Ballad of Sweeney Todd and Parlor Songs) and Assassins (The

Ballad of Booth, Gun Song, The Ballad of Czolgosz, and The Ballad of Guiteau).

Before singing The Suspicion Song, the Merchant observes the Guide and

Coolie at the campsite. Seeing the two men talk, smoke, and laugh makes the Merchant

uncomfortable. He breaks them up and tries to befriend the Guide by turning him against

the Coolie, but the Guide shows no interest in adopting the Merchants prejudices and

rejoins the Coolie. Watching them resume their friendly interactions, the Merchant

delivers the A section of The Suspicion Song in which he lists various activities that he

suspects the Guide and Coolie perform together. The audience understands that, despite

the Merchants proximity to the Guide and Coolie, the song is inaudible to the two men.

The Merchant sings:

Line 1 Him he chats with, 4 (number of syllables)


2 Him he smokes with, 4
3 Him he trades his dirty jokes with; 8
4 Him he sits with, 4
5 Him he squats with, 4
6 Him he hatches sneaky plots with; 8
7 Him he kids with, 4
8 Him he sings with, 4
9 Probably does dirty things with; 8
10 Him hes chewing betel nuts with, 8
11 Wonder whats with 4
12 Him 1
13 And him 2
14 Hm 1
179

The Merchants first nine lines are organized into three groups of three lines; the first two

lines in each group have four syllables and the third has eight. A truncated, inverted pair

of lines with eight and four syllables follows the third set, and three more lines with one

and two syllable(s) mark the end of the section as a sort of coda. Composite rhymes

(smokes with/jokes with, squats with/plots with, sings with/things with, nuts with/whats

with) help articulate the subsections. Nine of the lines, including eight consecutive lines,

commence with the alliterative words, Him he, the objective personal pronoun

followed by the subjective personal pronoun, and the first eleven lines conclude with the

word, with. This type of repetition is an example of symploce, a figure that combines

anaphora with epistrophe (also called epiphora), in which a series of lines both begin and

end with the same word or group of words. With Him, he and with, which ends with

the consonant h, as bookends for each line a sort of inverted alliteration emerges. The

recurring atypical syntax, Him he sits with as opposed to He sits with him, draws the

attention of the ear to the new word (chats, smokes, etc.) trapped between the repeated

ones and makes Himthe Cooliethe focus of the song.

The wording, Him he chats with, brings an unexpected degree of formalness

and coldness to the Merchants lyrics. They sound strange, arcane, and somehow

noteworthy. What does this unusual arrangement of words, which repeats nine times in

the opening dozen lines of lyrics, communicate about the character who sings them?

First, it highlights the Merchants education and suggests a privileged background.

Several of the verbs (chats, squats, kids, etc.), at first glance, may seem to

contradict the otherwise elevated speech but Sondheim may have selected these
180

colloquialisms to show off the Merchants ability to mimic the Guide and Coolies

conversation and the familiarity with which the two men interact (the Merchant is, after

all, eavesdropping). Second, the syntax projects an overall attitude or tonea Gestus

that comments on character and context.

Perhaps the least concretely defined of Brechts theories on theatre, Gestus eludes

brief formulation. 84 The term comes from the Latin gestus, which translates as gesture,

but a distinction must be made between Gestus and individual gestures such as clapping

or rubbing ones eyes. Brecht explained:

The realm of attitudes adopted by the characters towards one another is


what we call the realm of gest. Physical attitude, tone of voice and facial
expression are all determined by a social gest: the characters are cursing,
flattering, instructing one another, and so on. 85

Earlier in his career, Brecht drew on an example from Matthew 18:9 to explain

further how Gestus applies specifically to sentence structure:

The Bibles sentence pluck out the eye that offends thee is based on a
gestthat of commandingbut it is not entirely gestically expressed, as
that offends thee has a further gest which remains unexpressed, namely
that of explanation. Purely gestically expressed the sentence runs if thine
eye offends thee, pluck it out . . . It can be seen at a glance that this way
of putting it is far richer and cleaner from a gestic point of view. The first
clause contains an assumption, and its peculiarity and specialness can be
fully expressed by the tone of voice. Then there is a little pause of
bewilderment, and only then the devastating proposal. 86

84
For perhaps the best account of the term Gestus, see Michael Morley, Suiting the Action to the Word:
Some Observations on Gestus and Gestische Musik, in A New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt Weill, ed. Kim H.
Kowalke (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 183-201.
85
Bertolt Brecht, A Short Organum for the Theatre, sect. 61, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an
Aesthetic, ed. and trans. John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), 198.
86
Brecht, On Rhymeless Verse with Irregular Rhythms, Brecht on Theatre, 117.
181

A dramatic text can project a certain Gestus, as the Merchants does in The Suspicion

Song, when it carries meaning appropriate to or in contrast to the characters and context.

Aspects of the textthe rhythm, stress, vocabulary, or repetitions thereofmay have a

distancing effect on the audience and thus function as a metadramatic device.

The idea for The Suspicion Song and its syntax likely started with a short

excerpt from I:3 of Brechts play:

Der Kaufmann hat sprechen hren. Er tritt die Tr, um zu horchen.


Der Kuli: Ist der Fluss Mir schwierig zu berschreiten?
Der Fhrer: In dieser Jahreszeit im allgemeinen nicht. Aber wenn er
Hochwasser hat, reisst er sehr stark und ist lebensgefhrlich.
Der Kaufmann: Er spricht wirklich mit dem Trger. Bei ihm kann er sitzen!
Mit ihm raucht er! 87

Among his papers for A Pray by Blecht, Robbins had in addition to the original German

text three annotated English translations, including two identical versions by Bentley, one

published in 1954 and the other in 1965. Bentleys translation of the last three sentences

of the excerpt reads:

Merchant: So hes talking to the carrier. He can sit down with him.
Hes smoking with him! 88

Sondheims lyrics for The Suspicion Song share with the final pair of sentences not

only some of the same language (Him he chats with, Him he smokes with . . .) but also

87
Bertolt Brecht, Lehrstcke (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 1957), 55. NYPL-JRC 93/15. Eric Bentley translated this
passage:
The Merchant has heard voices. He comes up behind the door to listen.
Coolie: Is the Myr river hard to cross?
Guide: Not in generalat this time of year. But when its in flood, the current is very strong, and
you take your life in your hands.
Merchant: So hes talking to the carrier. He can sit down with him. Hes smoking with him!
Brecht, trans. Bentley, The Exception and the Rule, 117. NYPL-JRC 93/16, 93/17, and 93/18 (emphasis
his).
88
Brecht, trans. Bentley, The Exception and the Rule, 117 (emphasis his).
182

the same figure of repetition, symploce. The wording and structure of a third translation,

prepared by Ralph Manheim, differs somewhat from Bentleys and bears an even closer

resemblance to the arrangement of Sondheims lyrics:

Merchant: With the porter he really talks. With him he can sit down! With
him he smokes! 89

This version best captures the spirit and force of Brechts original Kaufmann. Although

Manheims version was published in 1977, almost a decade after the dissolution of A

Pray by Blecht, it is worth including here in order to see how faithful Sondheim, who has

attested to his abilities to read German, remained to his source. I suspect that he and

others among the creative team knew enough German to grasp the structure of the

original text and the layers of meaning conveyed by that structure. 90

By his own admission, Sondheim is a habitual and virtuoso pasticheur who has

imitated a plethora of composers, musical styles, and idioms. By 1968, he had mimicked

the voices of lyricists as well. Sondheims faulty memory song, I Remember That,

looks back to I Remember It Well, a lyric authored by Alan Jay Lerner for Love Life

before he adapted it for Gigi. 91 Sondheim would later draw on a variety of lyric models,

especially for Follies: Cole Porters Down in the Depths for Whos That Woman?,

Ira Gershwins Ive Got the You-Dont-Know-the-Half-of-it-Dearie Blues and Lerners

How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You (When You Know Ive Been a

Liar All My Life) for The God-Why-Dont-You-Love-Me-Oh-You-Do-Ill-See-You-

89
Bertolt Brecht, The Exception and the Rule, in The Measures Taken and Other Lehrstcke, trans.
Ralph Manheim (New York: Arcade, 2001), 41. JRC 95/4.
90
Sondheim, interview. See Chapter 1 for Sondheims previous experience reading and translating Brecht.
91
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 14. See also Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 30.
183

Later Blues; and Gershwins The Saga of Jenny for The Story of Lucy and Jessie, to

name but a few. 92 Whereas the lyrics of Lerner, Porter, and Gershwin provide likely

models for a young Sondheim discovering his own voice as a lyricist, the plays of Brecht

do not. And yet, after reading Mahagonny and seeing Threepenny, and then reading two

of Brechts Lehrstcke, Sondheim absorbed aspects of Brecht and his gestic language

into his lyric style (just as he had learned something of Weills musical pastiche from

Threepenny, Mahagonny, and Love Life).

Sondheim may also have been familiar with a document written by Joachim

Neugroschel, known for his English translations of Franz Kafka and Hermann Hesse. As

mentioned above, in August 1967, Robbins asked Sondheim to write the book, music,

and lyrics for an adaptation of Brechts Die Massnahme. That same month, Robbins

contacted Neugroschel:

92
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 219 and 235. Kim Kowalke has pointed out that both Ira Gershwins lyrics
and Kurt Weills music for The Saga of Jenny provided the impetus for Sondheims The Saga of
Lenny, his song written for the celebration of Bernsteins seventieth birthday. Kim H. Kowalke, The
Threepenny Opera: The Score Adapted, in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Die Dreigroschenoper: A
Facsimile of the Holograph Full Score, in The Kurt Weill Edition, managing editor Edward Harsh, series 4,
vol. 1 (New York: Kurt Weill Foundation of Music, 1996), 15. See also Geoffrey Block, Enchanted
Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2009), 375-76 and Steve Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound (Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan, 2005), 272, n110.
184

Dear Mr. Neugreschel [sic]:

I have requested and you have agreed to do a detailed literal translation from
the German language of the play entitled in English Measures Taken (Die
Massnahme) by Bertolt Brecht, including the lyrics, and to do the necessary
research in the comparison of the different versions of the play (German and
English) and to present to me the variances in and among such versions . . .

You agree to complete such research and translation and deliver them to me
on or before September 15th [1967] . . .

Yours very truly,

Jerome Robbins 93

Neugroschel, it seems, accepted Robbinss offer of two-hundred dollars to complete the

assignment but only Robbinss letter and a two-page, untitled, typewritten essay, with

Neugroschels name and the date, 27 July 1967, printed at the top of the first page,

survive among Robbinss papers. 94 In the document, Neugroschel argues that in

translating Brecht, Everything must be done to work for a strong, concentrated

language. He explains:

Brecht tries to create a timeless effect, that is to say a sense of language that
is not bound to any specific era, by adding a very subtle touch of the archaic,
specifically: slightly unusual (i.e. poetic or Biblical) syntactical turns and a
strong stress on coordinate sentence structure to aid the simplicity . . . A
possibility for infusing the English version with power would be a subtle use
of rhythmic devices: consonance, assonance, and alliteration. 95

The lyrics for The Suspicion Song evince that Sondheim may have assimilated

Neugroschels advice, and, with his own encounters with Brechts texts and translations,

93
Letter from Jerome Robbins to Joachim Neugroschel, August 1967, NYPL-JRC 92/4.
94
NYPL-JRC 92/4.
95
NYPL-JRC 92/4, p. 1-2.
185

Sondheim wrote for Broadway his first lyric modeled on the German playwrights. For

his next project, Company, Sondheim would devise a lyric that bares a startling

resemblance to the Brechtian opening of The Suspicion Song (Him he chats with). In

What Would We Do Without You?, the five couples tell Robert: You who sit with us,

/ You who share with us, / You who fit with us, / You who bear with us, / You-who, you-

who, you-hoo, / You-hoo, you-hoo! 96

Just as Neugroschel recommended, Sondheim saturated The Suspicion Song

with examples of consonance, the repetition of similar consonants, preceded and

followed by different vowel sounds. The letters s, t, and k, for instance, pervade

the text. Of the twenty-four words (excluding him, he, and with) seventeen contain

the letter s, four have two ss, twelve have the letter t, and four have the letter k.

The letters w and d, featured at the start of two strings of adjacent words, Wonder

whats with and does dirty, respectively, also stand in the spotlight. Although

Sondheims most recent version of the lyric includes the wording, Probably does dirty

things with, a handwritten letter from Sondheim to Bernstein and Guare indicates that he

had intended to adjust this phrase to Probably does other things with, a change that

would have eliminated the Merchants suggestion of a sexual relationship between the

Guide and Coolie. 97 Examples of assonance, the repetition of the same or similar vowel

sounds that occur successively in words with different consonants (does other) and

96
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Company (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996), 83.
97
DLC-LBC 13/2 (reproduced here as figure 2.10). Sondheim neglected to date his letter to Bernstein and
Guare. A reference to Christmas suggests a date in December, though not in 1968. By then, the project had
dissolved, and the collaborators had moved on to other ventures. It is more likely that the letter was written
in 1986, when some of the members of the Blecht collective attempted to resurrect A Pray by Blecht.
186

consonance (other things) would have replaced the alliteration (does dirty). One final

illustration of Sondheims clever lyric writing comes in the last line when the vowel in

him disappears leaving hm, an expression that encapsulates the Merchants

judgmental tone and the underlying suspicion of the Guide and Coolie. Sondheim

describes this trick as a homophone, words of different meaning, which have the same

sound. 98 (Sondheim would later exploit, among others, the homonyms you who /

you-hoo and kneads [needs] me in What Would We Do Without You? and

Everybody Loves Louis, respectively.) 99 The textual-rhetorical device that best

describes this sort of wordplay is antanaclasis (also refractio), the repetition of a word or

phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance. 100

At first, the catalogue of activities included in The Suspicion Song makes the

Merchant sound jealous, like a child caught up in a schoolyard rivalry. But, as the list

builds from performing such inane tasks as chatting and smoking to planning schemes

and taking part in dirty things, the Merchant appears obsessive and illogical. The

frequency with which the Merchant returns to the same vowels, consonants, words,

phrases, and syntax performs an important dramatic function: it conveys paranoia and

irrationality, which make the Merchants subsequent treatment of the Guide and Coolie

plausible.

98
Stephen Sondheim, How To Do a Real Crossword, New York Magazine, 8 April 1968,
http://nymag.com/arts/all/features/46798. The term heterograph is a more specific label for this type of
wordplay; whereas homophone refers to words with the same pronunciation and different meanings (as
in rose, a flower and verb), heterograph identifies words with different spellings as well (bear/bare).
99
That the you whos of the former telegraph from miles away the you-hoos to follow makes What
Would We Do Without You? an inferior example of this technique.
100
This definition suggests that the two words or groups of words share the same spelling.
187

For these repetitive lyrics, the Merchant sings variations of a highly chromatic,

disjunct melody. (See figure 2.7.)


188

Figure 2.7: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:3, The Suspicion Song, mm. 1-19, with lyrics by Sondheim
(DLC-LBC 12/12, p. 1)
189

Lines 1, 2, 4, and 5 repeat the same four sixteenth notes: A E B E. Line 3

follows a descent, C# B A# G# Fx G# A# D#, modified

transpositions of which also set lines 6, 9, 10, and 11 (see figure 2.7). Bernstein added

specific articulations to many of the notes in this section. In lines 1, 2, 4, and 5, much of

the repeated text (him, he, with) is marked with staccatos, but new words (chats,

smokes, kids, sings) are stressed with tenutos. Familiar text thus rushes past in

short, detached notes, whereas novel items receive special emphasis. These phrases all

begin on the first beat of the measure. Lines 3, 6, 9, 10, and 11, by contrast, highlight the

first word or syllable of each line (He, Pro-bably, Him, and Won-der) with a

tenuto or accent, which accentuates the syncopated entrances on the second half of the

first beat. The music, with its short, cyclic phrases, reflects the repetition in the lyrics and

helps cast the Merchant as obsessive and menacing.

The Suspicion Song follows a six-part form (ABCB'A'B''). After the

Merchants opening section, the Guide sings to the Coolie (B):

Whats he got to be so smiley about?


Somethings up with all those giggles and winks.

Just as the Merchant grows suspicious of his employees, so the Guide becomes wary of

his boss. The Merchant echoes the Guides music verbatim with a new set of lyrics that

emphasize his concerns. That the two men sing the same music in succession suggests a

parallelism between their two situations and natures. When the B sections return, the

Merchant and Guide repeat the same music and lyrics in canon. In the first repetition (B'),

the Guide initiates the repeat and the Merchant enters one measure later, while, in the
190

second (B''), the Merchant starts and the Guide follows. This musical egalitarianism,

again, conveys a sense of similarity, of shared perspectives. 101

At the midpoint of The Suspicion Song, section C, the Merchant and Guide

address each other in song for the first time. The exchange, marked Tempo di Han,

reprises twelve measures from the opening of Han. The abbreviated reprise sets new

lyrics to an exact repetition of the initial statement of the music. Instead of the two police

officers taking turns greeting the Merchant and inquiring about his trip, the Merchant

engages the Guide in idle chitchat (How are you? Would you care to have a small

liqueur?) 102 In the original statement of Han, the pair of white police officers come

across as equals, virtually indistinguishable from one another, like the two Celestes and

pair of soldiers in Sondheims Sunday in the Park with George. The ways in which the

officers interactoverlapping, echoing, and literally finishing each others sentences

communicates a sameness and compatibility between the men. The Merchant initiates the

reprise of Han, as if the familiar music would induce an aural space in which the men

could connect and converse comfortably. But the music takes on a new dramatic function

when sung in a different context by other characters. What initially sounded like the start

of a simple song-and-dance becomes forced and artificial, as though part of a shared

musical faade erected to give a false impression of congeniality.

101
Sondheim omitted from the published version of his lyrics the words for the B' section of The
Suspicion Song. Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 315.
102
In his published lyrics, Sondheim left out the second half of the lyrics from the imbedded reprise (C).
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 315. In Bernsteins music manuscripts, the exchange between the Merchant
and Guide concludes with the following two lines:
Merchant: Is there anything else that you prefer?
Guide: Not a thing, sir, I dont think (DLC-LBC 12/12, page 4).
191

The reprise ends, and the Merchant and Guide banter back and forth in canon and

share many of the same lyrics, which convey a kinship between the two characters.

Closer inspection, again, reveals a contrasting portrait of their relationship; the precise

content of the lyrics suggests that the only connections between the men are their

prejudices and positions of power:

Guide: Something tells me someones on his way out.


Merchant: Sad to say, but someones had it, methinks.

The Coolie plays a subsidiary role in The Suspicion Song. In the latter half of

the number, he punctuates some of the Merchant and Guides lines with short cries (O!

Back! Feet! O!) The Coolies inability to penetrate the musical fabric functions as a

metaphor for his outsider status. Whereas the Merchant shows an interest in the Guide

and engages him in a musical conversation, albeit unsuccessfully, he makes no such

attempt with the Coolie. This difference suggests that the Merchant and Coolie inhabit

realms so far removed from one another that, as yet, musical co-expression remains

beyond reach.

Coolies Dilemma

The scene continues with the Merchant, who, wrought with suspicion, fires the

Guide and puts the Coolie in charge of navigating the rest of the journey to Urga. Before

departing, the Guide passes his water canteen to the Coolie, Youll get lost and hell

steal your water. Hide this water. Never let him know you have it. (I, 3, 40) With the

Guide dismissed, the Coolie assumes a larger role in the narrative and music. Unfamiliar

with the route, the Coolie receives vague directions from an innkeeper, who tells him:
192

When the road ends, remember this handy little key. Dune dune waterhole dune dune

dune waterhole waterholeno, they tore that waterhole downdune waterhole dune

duneexcuse medune waterhole dune. Hello Urga! (I, 3, 41) The Coolie responds in

song for the first time with the solo, Coolies Dilemma, in which he expresses his

apprehensions about the remainder of the trip and his desire to return home.

Coolies Dilemma is the only number in the Blecht score with lyrics by Leiber.

Sondheim makes no reference to the song in his collected lyrics. With few exceptions,

the lyrics contain clichd syntactic structures, expressions, grammatical errors, and

pronunciations of what some Westerners have caricatured as the awkward speech of an

Asian for whom English is a second language. The two-, three-, and four-word lines

create simple rhymes, often with the addition of the same extra syllables:

No funny.
No money.
If Coolie forget.
Hand shakee.
Brain achee.
Yours truly in sweat.
Makee all wet.
Plenty regret.
Coolie upset. (I, 3, 42)

Other lyrics include stereotypical substitutions of letters and new spellings of words:

very becomes velly, five becomes fie, and surely becomes shooly (just as

A Play by Brecht becomes A Pray by Blecht in Bernsteins title of the show). Leiber

also peppered his lyrics with references to opium pipes, kumquat sours, mahjong, beef

hai, chicken lo, pork kew, lychee nuts, and fortune cookies.
193

These errors, misspellings, and references paint a picture of the Coolie as a racial

minority, which, by todays standards, would be considered offensive and politically

incorrect. In the late 1960s, however, theatergoers might have had different responses;

they may have found the markers comical and delighted in recognizing the Coolies

resemblance to Asian characters in B movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Exploiting Asian

stereotypes for comic effect had entertained silent film audiences since at least the 1910s,

when Asian-American actor Sessue Hayakawa became an internationally renowned silent

film star, playing villains or exotic lovers in such movies as Cecil B. DeMilles The

Cheat (1915). 103 Eventually Hayakawa became as familiar to audiences as Charlie

Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks. In Brecht and Weills Happy End (1929), Peter Lorre was

cast as Dr. Nakamura, a sinister Asian modeled on the silent roles of Hayakawa. 104 Blecht

audiences may have also found the references to mahjong and other such exotica

funny, and some may have taken pleasure in sharing knowledge of or firsthand

experience with the same pastimes, games, foods, and drinks. In the late 1960s and the

age of the Civil Rights Movement, the sophisticated New York theater audience would

have also understood the Coolies exaggerated dialect and vocabulary as a satirical

reference to earlier portrayals of Asians (especially if the role of the Coolie had been

103
Although most famous for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a Japanese military officer in The Bridge on
the River Kwai (1957), in the early twentieth century, Sessue Hayakawa became the first Asian-American
star of the American screen with a string of more than fifty silent films. For a survey of Hayakawas
remarkable career, including the construction and reception of his stardom in the United States and Japan,
see Miyao Daisuke, Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2007). Hayakawas autobiography focuses on his study of Zen Buddhism and meditation:
Sessue Hayakawa, Zen Showed Me the Way to Peace, Happiness and Tranquility (Indianapolis: Bobbs-
Merrill, 1960).
104
Michael Feingold, introduction to Happy End: A Melodrama with Songs, by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill,
and Dorothy Lane [pseud.] (New York: Methuen, 1972), vi.
194

performed by a non-Asian like Richard Pryor). Leiber and his collaborators thus were not

poking fun at the Coolie in particular or Asians in general; they were poking fun at and

making a point about white racist attitudes about Asians. Out of context, the lyric for

Coolies Dilemma becomes the very thing that it mocks. But, of course, it was not

intended to be performed out of context.

With an array of tools at his disposalharmonic language, melodic shape,

rhythm, vocal style, and instrumentationBernstein projects a similarly stereotypical

image of the Coolie as other that distinguishes him from the rest of the characters.

Audiences familiar with aural evocations of exotic characters and locales in such works

as The Mikado, Porgy and Bess, South Pacific, The King and I, West Side Story, and in

Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail, Il trovatore, Carmen, Prince Igor, Lakme, and Madama

Butterfly would have recognized parallel fourths and fifths, progressions by fifths, and

whole-tone and pentatonic scales, some of which appear in the Prologue, as common

musical markers of exoticism. 105 They would have been less accustomed to hearing the

extent to which Bernstein saturated the musical surface with dissonances, static

harmonies, disjunct lines, and repeated notes within the context of not only the score of A

Pray by Blecht but also Broadway musicals in general. The opening of the number

exemplifies many of these atypical musical characteristics. No wonder Bernstein

105
For definitions and analyses of musical exoticism, see, for instance, Ralph P. Locke, Musical
Exoticism: Images and Reflections (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), Jim Lovensheimer,
South Pacific: Paradise Rewritten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), and Christina Klein, Cold
War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2003).
195

remarked of the music and lyrics, How will they ever get this onto jukeboxes?106 (See

figures 2.8.)

106
Thomas Cole, Can He Really Be 50?, New York Times, 18 August 1968, D15.
196

Figure 2.8: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:3, Coolies Dilemma, mm. 1-8, with lyrics by Jerry Leiber
(DLC-LBC 12/5, p. 1)
197

The instrumentation of Coolies Dilemma is also striking. (It is the only number

in the Blecht score with orchestrations.) 107 The score calls for electric violin, amplified

double bass, and a percussion ensemble of xylophone, cymbals, temple blocks, triangle,

wood blocks, bass drum, and gong. The unusual combination of instruments playing such

unfamiliar music would have established the Coolies Eastern origins and evoked an

exotic setting.

At the end of Coolies Dilemma, the Merchant, now as the Star, interrupts the

audiences applause to tell the Coolie, or rather the Costar: Just hold it a minute! I just

had such a brainstorm on how you should do the number. He performs his own version

of Coolies Dilemma, referred to as an improvisation in the script, and for which no

score seems to have been prepared. Gimme those chinese [sic] chords, the Star tells the

orchestra and launches into something like Zeros Chinese Jew and Scottish Jew all

around the world ending with Coolie in velly hot water. (I, 3, 45) When the Star tops

the Costars performance (Its short and to the point and very funny), tensions mount

between the two men in the television studio. That the Star coopts the fake-Asian music

functions as a critique, on the part of the shows creators, of the song itself and its

prefabricated exoticisms.

107
Bernstein started orchestrating portions of one other number, the Merchants march in Urga Marches,
before abandoning A Pray by Blecht entirely. For full scores of both numbers, see DLC-LBC 12/5 and
14/8.
198

Urga Marches

As the Merchant and Coolie prepare to set off on the rest of their journey, two

police officers enter. My guide, the Merchant tells them, pointing to the Coolie. The

script indicates that a proprietor, the Guide (the real one), and police officers then sing an

abbreviated reprise of Han, listing all the lasts the men will see (among them, The

last shop, / The last stop, / The last cop.) An interruptory scene follows, in which the

actors stop performing the play and revert to their real-life personas. In this part, which

occupies thirteen pages in the script, the conflict between the Merchant and Coolie

becomes secondary to the one unfolding between the Star and Costar. The Star is the

instigator; first he attempts to upset the Costar by referring to the Costar as a boy and

describes his marriage as one of the most successful mixed marriages in show biz. (I,

50) Next, the Star calls on the Costars parents, who, the Star explains, had experienced

some success as a vaudeville pair, Smile and Fisher, to perform a turn for the studio

audience. The elderly African-American couple reluctantly descend onstage to sing a

song, which the script describes as something like Jimmy McHughs and Dorothy

Fieldss I Cant Give You Anything But Love. When his parents, obviously no longer

professional performers, struggle with the routine, the Costar steps in to keep the

performance from ending in disaster. Irritated by the Stars actions, the Costar retaliates

by hinting at the Stars waning success and refers to the current project, the televised

production, as a chance for him to make a comeback. Before the tension between the

two men mounts any further, the voice of the faceless director thunders over the intercom

and tells the cast to take their places so that the taping can proceed.
199

The actors pick up the performance from where they left off: the start of I:4 of

Brechts play and another number for the Coolie with spoken interpolations from the

Merchant. The rhyme scheme of Brechts lyrics uses epistrophe, as most of the lines

conclude with the same word, Urga:

Im going to the city of Urga,


Nothing can block my way to Urga,
No bandits will prevent my reaching Urga,
The desert wont prevent my reaching Urga,
Food is waiting in Urga and pay. (I, 4, 44)

Sondheim borrowed this technique, as well as the word pay, which concludes the

excerpt, for his version of the number entitled Urga Marches. 108 Pay concludes the

only line that diverges from the repetitive arrangement:

Family in Urga,
Not so far away in Urga,
Coolie gets his pay,
Sleep for a day in Urga,
Bed with squeak in Urga,
Sleep at least a week in Urga. (I, 4, 60)

In both versions, the lyrics suggest that the number is non-diegetic as the Coolie is

unaware of his own singing. But when the Merchant speaks, his comments change the

diegesis of the number. In the original translation, he tells the Coolie: I dont care for

your singing. We have no reason to sing. You can be heard all the way to Urga. Its

practically an invitation to the bandits. You can sing tomorrow, as much as you like. (I,

4, 44) Guare and Sondheim modified this short speech to: You can sing all you

108
Sondheim would employ epistrophe over and over again, particularly when writing composite rhyme.
See, for instance, The Little Things You Do Together (Company), The Glamorous Life (A Little Night
Music), Final Instructions to the Audience (added for the 2004 revival of Frogs), The Advantages of
Floating in the Middle of the Sea and Chrysanthemum Tea (Pacific Overtures), and Ladies and Their
Sensitivities (Sweeney Todd).
200

want after we cross the river. Its nice and quiet and uninhabited. Itll be nice to hear

voices then. So get a move on. (I, 4, 61) The Coolie, nevertheless, continues singing, as

if oblivious to both the Merchants presence and his orders. Like Han, Urga Marches

seems to be heard as both non-diegetic and diegetic; to the Coolie the music is non-

diegetic, whereas to the Merchant it is diegetic. The number thus obscures the differences

that conventionally differentiate diegetic from non-diegetic music and expose the

limitations of such terminology. Such sophisticated diegesis opens up unusual

combinations of interactions between the music and characters and opportunities to

distance the audience (who are often in on itin on the deconstruction of various

theatrical apparatuses).

In There

The Merchant walks downstage and looks up at the controls to ask, Are we

going to do the song or no? His question initiates a second interruptory scene in which

the Star and Costar compare their respective experiences as a Jew and Black living in

America. After four pages of dialogue, the men resume performance of the play starting

with I:5, set beside a raging river. The Merchant insists on crossing the treacherous

waters in order to reach Urga and win the oil concession, but the Coolie, unable to swim,

hesitates and grows fearful as cut-outs of screaming people rush by. In an effort to

convince the Coolie, the Merchant sings In There, a rousing mock-motivational song or

musical pep talk that follows a traditional thirty-two-bar song form, AABA. He urges the
201

Coolie not only to face his fears and cross over but also to seize the opportunities that he

promises lie on the other side. The Merchant sings:

Theres a dream to be won,


Theres a dawn that is breaking.
There are deeds to be done,
Theres a world in the making.
Theres a place in the sun
And its yours for the taking!
Get your ass in there. (I, 5, 70)

All three A sections comprise three pairs of couplets that share the same rhyme scheme

(ababab) plus a final line that functions as a sort of punch line and refrain, Get your ass

in there. Sondheim drew from a palette of repetitive textual-rhetorical techniques, some

of which he used in other numbers in the score, particularly Han and The Suspicion

Song. Examples of consonance, the recurring letter d (dream, dawn, deeds,

done) and s (theres, place, sun, its, yours, and culminating with ass),

contribute to the lively spirit of the number. The use of anaphora (Theres a dream . . .

Theres a dawn . . .), combined with epanalepsis, in which the same word, there,

returns after intervening words, also helps the piece gain momentum. These devices,

typical of Sondheims lyric writing and style, convey a sense of anticipation and enhance

the Merchants persuasive powershe will not take no for an answer.

The music mirrors the repetitive nature of the lyrics. Recurring rhythmic patterns,

rising phrases accompanied by driving broken C major and G major triads, and the

entrance of a group of back-up singers project the excitement of a standard cut-time,

show-business number in the tradition of Irving Berlin (Theres No Business Like Show

Business) or Jerry Herman (Open a New Window). (See figure 2.9.)


202

Figure 2.9: Bernstein, Holograph Draft for The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by
Blecht, I:5, In There, mm. 1-18, with lyrics by Sondheim (DLC-LBC 13/2, p. 1)
203

The same rhythm, starting on the second beat in common time sets the first five syllables

of the first six lines. With each line, the Merchants voice stretches to new heights. At the

end of the first, the melody rises a major third from C to E; the second spans a perfect

fourth to F, and the third, a major sixth, to A. Then, the fourth line climbs from F to D,

and the fifth reaches the peak, an E, marked forte, on tak-ing. After painting an enticing

picture of what the world holds for the Coolie, the Merchant snaps, Get your ass in

there. With these words, the rhythm changes, and the melody descends from G back to

its starting point, C. In the following measure, the second statement of A begins, and the

Merchant resumes his routine.

For the B section, the Merchant harnesses the emotive powers of new harmonies,

modulations, rhythms, and an even higher peak, F, to coax the Coolie into the river. The

Merchant uses the task of crossing the waters as a metaphor for facing the challenges of

life and the risks associated with striving for success. Despite his efforts, he fails to

convince the Coolie, who has not budged from his spot on the riverbank. In a final

desperate attempt to change the Coolies mind, the Merchant casts the act of crossing as a

religious imperative or civic responsibility and, again, organizes his message into short

phrases that share a repetitive syntactic structure: Youve a call, Youve a duty, Youve

a chance to be great. Sometime between 1968 and 2011, when Sondheim published his

lyrics for the project, he requested in an undated, handwritten letter in ink addressed to

Bernstein and Guare, with additional markings in blue pencil by an unknown hand, that

the three references to the contraction, youve, be changed to the more inclusive,

weve (see figure 2.10). At the same time, he asked to alter lyrics in the second A
204

section from Then a hamburger stand to From it streets will expand and to make two

changes to The Race Through the Desert and The Suspicion Song. 109 Sondheim

adopted none of these revisions in Look, I Made a Hat.

109
See Chapter 2, n96.
205

Figure 2.10: Letter from Sondheim to Bernstein and Guare (DLC-LBC 13/2)
206

Left with no other options, the Merchant pokes a gun into the Coolies back and threatens

his life: Little man if you wait, Little gun makee shootee (rhyming with duty and

beauty). The phrases, exemplifying anaphora, contain extra syllables at the ends of

some words, which harkens back to the broken English that Leiber resorted to in his

lyrics for Coolies Dilemma.

In There starts as a sincere pastiche that brings to mind the inspiring ethos of a

you-can-do-it number. But the seriousness of the situation sharply contrasts with the

emotion and sentiment conveyed by the music; and the lyrics, at first a string of clichd

inspirational messages, give way to intimidating orders and threats. The context

demonizes the Merchant, whose insensitivity to the Coolies concerns and determination

to win at all costs portray him as heartless and selfish, but the lively pastichecoupled

with the image of a rotund Zero Mostel sporting an inner tube and poised to plunge into

the currenthumanizes the protagonist and provides a moment of comic relief. Indeed,

Guare told me, Everybody loved that songit was the first thing [in the show] that was

funny. 110

In 1975, audiences heard Coolies Dilemma and In There for the first time on

the New York stage. The two songs opened Act II of a musical revue entitled By

Bernstein, conceived and written by Bernsteins longtime collaborators, bookwriters

Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and composer-director Norman L. Berman, and

110
Guare, interview.
207

directed by Michael Bawtree. 111 Billed as a musical cabaret, By Bernstein also featured

music from On the Town, West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, The

Skin of Our Teeth, cut songs, and new numbers by Comden, Green, and Bernstein. 112 The

production closed after forty previews and seventeen performances, and Coolies

Dilemma and In There returned to obscurity along with the rest of the Blecht score. 113

Coolies Prayer and Merchants Paranoia Song

When the Merchant basks in applause following his performance of In There,

he becomes the Star and the setting shifts back to the television studio. To establish the

onset of another interruptory scene, Mr. Hewes, a representative of one of the sponsors

for the event, enters and exclaims to the delight of the Star, I just love musicals! The

Star soaks up the attention and starts an improvised Greek dance (perhaps in reference

to Zorba in the wake of Fiddler on Broadway) until the voice of the director bellows

from behind the glass of the control room and instructs the cast to prepare for the next

scene of the play. In I:6, the Coolie clumsily sets up a tent for the Merchant at a campsite.

Both men are drenched from crossing the river. A cast encases the Coolies arm and

makes it difficult for him to assemble the shelter. Growing suspicious that the Coolie, out

111
By Bernstein opened Off-Broadway at the Chelsea Westside Theater on 23 November and closed on 7
December 1975. Betty Comdens involvement as a bookwriter explains why her papers, stored the New
York Library for the Performing Arts, include copies of the piano-vocal scores of Coolies Dilemma and
In There. Comden and Green Papers (1933-2003), *T-Mss 1986-004, Box 3, Folder 5, Billy Rose
Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
112
By Bernstein included another previously unknown number with lyrics by Sondheim, (Kids Aint) Like
Everybody Else, which had been cut from West Side Story.
113
The only known recording of By Bernstein, an audiotape of a performance in 1975, is housed at the
Leonard Bernstein Office in New York City.
208

of revenge, has set a trap, the Merchant inspects the tent. He decides to spend the night

outside and orders the Coolie to sleep inside the shelter. While the Merchant keeps

watch, the Coolie positions his prayer mat on the floor of the tent. Two solos, seguing

seamlessly from one to the other, follow: the Coolie sings Coolies Prayer, and the

Merchant responds with Merchants Paranoia Song. In his manuscripts, Bernstein

grouped these two numbers together, with the words Paranoia scene written in his hand

across the top of the title page.

Coolies Prayer consists of a fourteen-bar section that repeats with new lyrics

(||: A :||), and Merchants Paranoia Song has a series of nine short parts

(BCB||CBDCBA/BA), including a brief interruptory scene (indicated as ||), as well as

partial reprises of The Suspicion Song (D) and Coolies Prayer (A). Figure 2.11

outlines the layout of the two back-to-back solos. Dark solid lines indicate where the

interruptory scene occurs and the frame of the television studio comes back into view.
209

Figure 2.11: Layout with the Musical Structure of Coolies Prayer and
Merchants Paranoia Song
Part Song title (character)
Measure(s)
Marking(s)
Principal lyric

A Coolies Prayer (Coolie)


mm. 1-14
Peacefully, senza tempo
Coolie thanking Buddha

A 2-15 (repeat with new lyrics)


Coolie tired brain

B Merchants Paranoia Song (Merchant)


16-23
Allegro vivo, agitato
Eh? What? Whos there?

C 24-31 32-37
Casually
Give me the open air With evry breath you take

B 38-59
Marcato
Whats that?

Television Studio

C 60-67 68-73
Carefree
Me for the great outdoors No frills or folderol

B 74-89
Marcato
Instrumental (Merchant towards tent)

D 90-104 105-108 109-117


Suspiciously
Very clever, very crafty Up! Up! Get up! instrumental
210

C 118-128 129-131
Give me the open air With evry breath you take

B 132-152
Something went (snore) in there

A/B Coolie Coolie and Merchant


153-156 157-161
Senza tempo
La va gi ja Whats that about kill?

A' 162
Presto leggiero
Up! Up! Get up!

Just as he did in his previous solos, the Coolie sings about himself in the third

person (Coolie thanking Buddha) in Coolies Prayer and makes the idiosyncratic

mistakes of an English-speaking novice, stringing together a limited vocabulary of words

(Coolie tired brain not able think very deep). His simple prayer consists of two groups

of six lines, set to the same music. At first glance, the words seem free and speech-like,

flowing like a stream-of-consciousness. But both repetitions use an intricately

constructed rhyme scheme (aabbca), pattern of syllabification (14 syllables, 14, 8, 8, 8,

14), and anaphora (Coolie thinking . . . Coolie thanking . . . Coolie no

more . . .).

After his prayers, the Coolie lays down to sleep. Meanwhile, outside the tent, the

Merchant startles at the sound of the Coolies cast hitting the floor: Eh? What? Whos

there? Back! Back! Come out! Halt! Dont move! (B) His tone resembles the barrage of

orders that he barked at the opening of The Race Through the Desert, only this time,
211

rather than pushing the Coolie to move, he insists that he remain still. Here, again,

Bernstein notated the Merchants lines with precise rhythms over a chromatic, eighth-

note vamp with shifting harmonies. To regain his composure, the Merchant strikes up a

simple song that celebrates nature and its open air (C). The trite rhymes (Give me the

open air, A rocking chair) sound improvisatory, as though the Merchant is inventing

them in the spur of the moment. The music, marked piano, subito, casually, consists of

a memorable melody, expansive phrases, and simple accompaniment with the upper

instruments doubling the vocal line and their lower counterparts playing an oom-pah

accompaniment. Between the first and second phrases of the song, the orchestra, marked

forte, subito, reiterates the vamp that underscored the Merchants anxious questions in

the B section. The Merchant attempts to continue his reverie with a near repetition of his

previous phrase transposed up a minor third, but the vamp returns, bringing tonal

instability and another surge of panic. Whats that?, the Merchant asks when he hears

another noise (B). That the Merchant relies on song to soothe his nerves and keep his

paranoia from taking over indicates that he recognizes the music as such, and this

changes the diegesis of the number. Whereas at the opening of Merchants Paranoia

Song the Merchant seems oblivious to the accompaniment underscoring his calls and

shouts, in the C section he becomes aware of his own singing voice.

Before he resumes his calming reverie, the Merchant interrupts his song, turns to

the conductor, and says, The tempos all off With these four words, the Merchant

becomes the Star and the setting reverts to the television studio. A brief exchange ensues

between the Star, Costar, and the director. The Merchant picks up Merchants Paranoia
212

Song with a repetition of his earlier reverie with new lyrics (C). When his suspicions

begin to take over, he drops his musical faade and tiptoes to the tent to spy on the

Coolie. Watching the man sleeping peacefully on the floor, the Merchant reprises the

opening of The Suspicion Song from I:3 with a different text (D). Him he sits with,

Him he chats with, Him he trades his dirty jokes with becomes Very clever, very

crafty, He stays warm while I get drafty. The familiar music invites parallels between

the two scenes. Both share the same setting, a campsite at night, and similar situations:

the Merchant watches his employees, first the Guide and Coolie and later the Coolie

alone, and grows fearful that his actions have angered the men and driven them to seek

revenge.

The Merchant wakes up the Coolie and forces him out of the tent so that their

positions reverse. From within the shelter, he pacifies his fears by reiterating the first

statement of his soothing song, Give me the open air (C). That Sondheim, known for

his aversion to reprises, particularly textual reprises, repeated the same lyrics (albeit

within the same number) may seem uncharacteristic. In 1978, he wrote, I find the notion

that the same lyrics can apply . . . very suspect. 114 But the context of a song repeated

with the intention of bringing comfort justifies the repetition. In fact, Sondheim draws

attention to the textual repetition by having the Merchant marvel at the great outdoors

from within the walls of a tent.

114
Sondheim, The Musical Theater, 20. Notable exceptions among Sondheims output of similarly
purposeful intentions include Lovely (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and Sunday
(Sunday in the Park with George).
213

Once again, a noisethe sound of his own snoredisrupts the Merchants

fantasy and sparks another passage of unsettling questions and concerns (B). In his sleep,

the Coolie responds with a string of unintelligible syllables and short sentences, La va gi

ja lo ma di no . . . Cannot pray with usual skill, which the Merchant misunderstands

(Whats that about kill?) (A/B). Hearing this, the Merchant tears out of the tent and

storms over to the Coolie. Over repetitions and variations of an accelerated version of the

opening melody of Coolies Prayer in octaves, with accents punctuating the first and

last notes of the phrase and staccato markings over those in between, the Merchant yells,

Up! Up! Get up! and drags the Coolie back into the tent so that he can spend the night

outside (A'). Both men eventually fall asleep, and the sound of contrapuntal snores (I,

6, 79) concludes the scene.

I:7

During a brief return to the television studio, a stagehand and TV grip argue about

the strength of their respective unions, and the actors have their makeup touched up.

After a few lines of dialogue, the director, with some effort, persuades the cast and crew

to resume the performance from the start of I:7. Sondheim has described what follows as

a montage of scenes as the Merchant and Coolie continue their journey. 115 Along the

way, the two men get lost. The Coolie spots a group of people lagging behind them and

hopes to wait for them to catch up so that they might provide him with directions. But the

Merchant refuses to stop, Just see which way theyre going and Keep In Front! The

115
Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat, 317.
214

script calls for Chase Music but no music or lyric sketches for A Pray by Blecht bear

that title.

In the hot sun, the Merchant and Coolie nearly collapse from exhaustion, hunger,

and thirst. The Coolie worries that if the Merchant dies of dehydration, the authorities

will blame him for his death and hang him on the spot. He decides to share with the

Merchant what little water remains in his secret supply from the Guide. As the Coolie

quietly approaches his boss with the canteen extended, the Merchant, now consumed

with paranoia, misinterprets the gesture as a prelude to violence. He assumes that the

Coolie intends to murder him so he shoots the Coolie (example 2.1).


215

Example 2.1: Excerpt from I:7, The Exception and the Rule/A Pray by Blecht

Coolie: Sir, I have something for you. (He comes around the tent
with the canteen extended)

Merchant: Is that how death comes? A rock? A stone? What is that?

Coolie: Sir, Ive kept this from you

(The Merchant shoots him)

No, Sir, you dont understand

(The Merchant shoots him)

Its a canteen I had hidden

(The Merchant shoots him again and again)

Is there something the matter?

(The Merchant shoots him)

Arent you happy with my work?

(The Merchant shoots him)

Look, we all get lost, Sir, if youd just speak to me


maybe

(The Merchant shoots him. The Coolie is now crawling with the canteen
still extended)

Sir, its water for


Water for
Water

(The Merchant shoots him)

You . . .

(And the water dribbles into the sand)

Merchant: Chinks.
216

After the Coolie has died his death, the Merchant nudges him.

Star (To controls): Could we shoot this again? (To Costar:) Look, do it
this way. Take the gun and shoot me. Let me show you how to get more
mileage out of it. (He shoves the gun in the Costars hand.) Shoot me.
Come on.

Costar: Bang.

(The Star dies an incredible death)

Star: Im not dead yet. Go on. Keep shooting. Go on . . . You


see? . . .

(We only hear outbursts of the Stars diatribe)

. . . Im trying to show you people, these people how to


fight their way out of the brown paper bag theyre locked in
. . . Years of experience, for Gods sake . . . Im some kind
of monster? I want to help.

(Suddenly onscreen, the authors of the evening, of the Brecht play


appear:)

Leonard Bernstein (impassioned): The play is about thirst. We hope youll


see that a thirst that can be quenched is no thirst at all. Americas thirsty
for a passion that can provide a release, a solution, an awakening . . .

Star (very loud): SHITTTT!!!!

(And he comes downstage fuming. Beams at the audience. Looks at the


screen)
Hi Lenny
Hi Jerry
Hi Stevey
Hi JohnJohn
And now into the finale.

They go into scene eight. (I, 7, 88-91)


217

I:8

In Brechts play, I:8 consists of a song sung by the cast, which sets the stage for

the courtroom scene that follows. The Blecht collective eliminated the song and moved

straight into the next scene, also labeled scene 8, in which the Merchant is on trial. The

scene begins with a song sung by the Guide and chorus, tentatively titled Trial Song,

which Bernstein failed to complete before abandoning the project. The Merchant first

argues that he showed kindness and generosity towards the Coolie and acted in self-

defense, but, after the Judge hints that to plead self-defense the Merchant should have

cause for wanting to defend himself, the Merchant promptly offers a different version of

the story. He admits to beating the Coolie, refusing him rest, and forcing him at gunpoint

to cross a riverreasons for the Coolie to act out and seek vengeance. This is why, the

Merchant claims, it was logical for him to misinterpret the Coolies offering of water as a

threat to his life. The Judge accepts the argument, and the Merchant is acquitted.

Final scene

After the Merchants release, the actor playing the dead Coolie reappears to point

out the injustice of the Judges decision, and the cast segues into their own grievances

within the frame of the television studio. As an interesting twist, the Blecht collaborators

considered having the Coolie double as the Judge. The idea appealed to Sondheim, who,

in a taped conversation with Robbins, said, Then we have the Coolie gaveling [the
218

Merchant] down. I think that would be just terrific. 116 A note written in Bernsteins hand

records the same notion: Dead Coolie plays Judge in silver-haired wig + whiteface? 117

Despite Sondheims enthusiasm, the idea was thrown out.

The prejudiced fictional world of Brechts play is all too familiar to the real

characters of the television studio. As tensions and tempers mount, fights break out,

sirens sound, lights dim, and the cameramen and crew start to pack up their equipment

and leave. The musical comes to a powerful close when a lone Black spectator leads the

Black members of the cast and other Blacks in the audience out of the building, deserting

the Star on the dark, empty stage. Their collective response to the events onstage, inciting

them into action (albeit planned), is a reaction of which Brecht could have only dreamed.

At the end of the musical, television screens project close ups of the cast, audience, and

creative team, who describe how the performance has influenced their own lives. Guare

recalls a moment when, years later, Bernstein referred to the powerful conclusion:

Lenny said to me, If we had had the guts to go with what your idea waswith us

talking to the audience, with people on videowe would have beaten A Chorus Line by

seven years. 118

116
Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, The Exception and the Rule: Working Discussion between
Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim (audiotape), New York, NY, 31 August 1968, Jerome Robbins
Collection, *MGZTL 4-3115, disc 1.
117
NYPL-JRC 93/8.
118
Guare, interview.
219

Epilogue

In 1986, eighteen years after the Blecht project dissolved, Robbins attempted to

pick up the pieces of the aborted project. Bernstein and Guare enthusiastically agreed to

revisit the material, but Sondheim, his career as a composer-lyricist now in its post-Prince

phase, declined. Once again, Robbins, Bernstein, and Guare set to work; copies of the

script were sent to Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Kline. 119 In April 1987, a group of actors,

Hoffman and Kline not among them, began a five-week workshop at Lincoln Center of

an updated version, then renamed The Race to Urga, with Gregory Mosher as producer

and Michael Barrett as musical director. 120 One newspaper predicted: With names like

Brecht, Mosher, Guare, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Robbins, Id imagine backers would

line up around the block and all the way to the Hudson River . . . This sounds like the

theater event of the decade. 121 All of Sondheims eight musical numbers remained

intact, Leibers single contribution stayed, songs from Bernsteins abandoned Caucasian

Chalk Circle project amplified the score, and Bernstein and Guare collaborated on a

handful of other additions to bring the total number of songs to eighteen, including a two-

part prologue. The Robbins-Bernstein-Guare team revised the script and eliminated the

frame and much of the social commentary. As Guare explained, The racial times were

119
For the reading scripts of Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Kline, see NYPL-JRC 95/7 and 95/8. On 3
November 1986, Bernstein, Guare, Robbins, and Mosher recorded a conversation that they had about the
project at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. See Jerome Robbins, Bernstein, Guare, Robbins, Mosher,
Jerome Robbins Collection, *MGZTL 4-3298 JRC, discs 3 and 4, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New
York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
120
For a videotape recording of the 8 May 1987 workshop performance of The Race to Urga at Lincoln
Center Theater, see The Race to Urga (workshop), NCOV 2077, Theater on Film and Tape Archive, New
York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
121
Liz Smith, Big Guns Readying Broadway Surprise, San Francisco Chronicle, 4 June 1987, 62.
220

different. All the issues in 1968 no longer were vital in 1986. It was just a different

time. 122 In place of Zero Mostel, who had died in 1977, Robbins cast Mostels son, Josh,

who as Guare described, may have the physical size of his father but none of his

gifts. 123 Thomas Ikeda, a young Japanese actor, doubled as the Coolie and Judge.

Sondheim remembers attending one of the open rehearsals that Robbins staged over a

fortnight at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. At the time, he thought, Its not a viable

project. First of all it isnt complete. 124 Before Bernstein and Guare could finish the

musical, Robbins dropped out for a second time. In 1991, the third effort to bring the

show to the stage came not from Robbins but Mosher, who envisioned a big, splashy

production starring Nathan Lane. Robbins was willing to take yet another stab at Brecht,

but Bernstein was no longer alive to finish the score, and Guare was busy with other

work.

Over a period that stretched to twenty-three years, three of the members of the

West Side Story team, Robbins, Bernstein, and Sondheim, plus their new recruit, Guare,

tried to turn A Pray by Blecht into a Broadway musical, but the work ultimately joined

the ranks of hundreds of shows that never make it to opening night and instead left its

mark on musical theatre in what its collaborators later wrote. The project would have

been a substantial waste of effort for Sondheim had the unwilling exposure to

Brechtian techniques not rubbed off so productively on his later musicals, including

Company, Follies, and Assassins. Bernstein, too, seems to have drawn considerably on

122
Guare, interview.
123
Ibid.
124
Sondheim, interview.
221

his experiences, when, between 1972 and 1976, he collaborated with Alan Jay Lerner on

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which shares not only the frame of a play-within-a-play and

actors stepping outside of their historical roles to portray themselves as actors in

rehearsal, but also biting social commentary on race relations. With the Bernstein Estate

planning to publish the songs from A Pray by Blecht, there may be a future for Bernstein

and Sondheims contributions, but it remains highly unlikely that we will ever see Nathan

Lane in an inner tube as the Merchant. Even if someone would complete Bernsteins

score, a production of the show, perhaps as part of the Encores! Great American

Musicals in Concert series at New York City Center, would interest only a small segment

of the theater-going public: those who would flock to almost anything written by Saint

Sondheim and company.


222

Chapter 3

Metadramatic Aspects of Company

Stephen Sondheim had first encountered West Coast actor and playwright George Furth

in March 1963 during out-of-town tryouts for the musical Hot Spot, which ran for several

weeks at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia. Sondheim had contributed to the ill-fated

musical additional music and lyrics (Dont Laugh and Thats Good, Thats Bad),

and Furth acted in a minor role. Sondheim recalls, We met and began a friendship which

flowered and endured. 1 Furth would move back to California and work as a character

actor in such films as Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and

Shampoo. But, before he did, he lived in New York City where he tried to launch a career

as a playwright. In the late 1960s, Furth wrote eleven loosely connected one-act plays,

approximately ten- to fifteen-minutes apiece, about several couples with a single actor

playing all of the wives. (He would later reduce the number of plays to seven.) On 4

December 1968, the New York Times announced that Furths comedy, entitled Company,

would open on Broadway on 20 March 1969 with Tony Award-nominated actor Kim

Stanley as the multi-character tour de force and George Morrison, who had staged

improvisational revues off Broadway, as director: Miss Stanley and two male

performers, who have not been signed yet, will be seen in each of the seven segments.

1
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments,
Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany (New York: Knopf, 2011),
300.
223

The plot concerns various arrangements people make to sustain their marriages. 2 (Actors

John McMartin, Folliess future Benjamin Stone, and Ron Leibman, now known best for

his role as Rachaels father, Dr. Leonard Green, in the hit television sitcom Friends,

would later agree to costar.) In January 1969, when producers Porter Van Zandt and

Philip Mandelker, whose combined experience included several stints stage managing

plays and one (Van Zandts) disappointing stab producing, failed to raise enough money

to finance Company, Furth asked Sondheim for advice. Sondheim read Furths plays and

encouraged him to call producer-director Harold Prince: Hes the person whose advice I

would most respect. 3 The plays appealed to Prince, and he proposed that they would

provide a starting point for a musical, with music and lyrics to be written by Sondheim:

The reason that [Company] seemed to be a musical was that for the last
couple of years we had been talking about doing a kind of
autobiographical musical which would be about marriage today . . . I
thought, what if we could construct a musical about New York marriages
and if we could create a central character to examine these marriages. 4

On 14 March, two months after Furth contacted Sondheim, the New York Times reported:

Harold S. Prince has announced that he will produce and direct Companya musical

comedy without a singing chorus or major dance numbersearly next year on Broadway

. . . The book will be done by George Furth; the music and lyrics by Stephen

Sondheim. 5 The following month the trio retitled their show Threes. 6 Although the new

2
Kim Stanley Takes Role in Coming Play, New York Times, 4 December 1968, 55.
3
Meryle Secrest, Stephen Sondheim: A Life (New York: Knopf, 1998), 190.
4
Craig Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 2nd ed., updated (New York: Da Capo, 1994), 117.
5
Sam Zolotow, Perkins to Star in Stage Musical, New York Times, 14 March 1969, 48. In the days that
followed, other reporters published similar announcements: Kevin Kelly, New Hal Prince Theater Pleases
224

name lasted only until summer, when the creators reinstated the original title, vestiges of

the numeric moniker would structure parts of the final version of the show. 7

Before Sondheim and Prince could move ahead with Company, Sondheim had to

set aside a project that he had been working on (and off again) for four years, The Girls

Upstairs, his original musical with James Goldman about Ziegfeld Follies chorines. In

1965, Sondheim had offered The Girls Upstairs to Prince to produce, but he had turned it

down. I found the script to be awful, Prince remembers. I didnt know how to cushion

how bad I thought it was. 8 David Merrick and Leland Hayward subsequently agreed to

produce the property but, in 1969, they changed their minds. With no producer on the

horizon, Sondheim and Goldman wrote another draft, and Blecht producer Stuart Ostrow

offered to look at it. He, however, had reservations and withdrew for personal reasons. 9

As a favor to Sondheim, Prince read this latest draft too:

I still didnt like it but because I had now read it for the second time, I
began to think about it, and I wrote three thousand words for them of what
I thought was wrong with it and what I thought it should be, just as a
friend, and I sent them over the letter and there was no reply. They didnt
like what I had to say, I suppose, or they didnt want to hear it. It was too
all-encompassing. 10

the Boy Wonder, Boston Globe, 18 March 1969, 41 and Lewis Funke, Gulliver Travels to Town, New
York Times, 23 March 1969, D1.
6
Lewis Funke, The Year of the Adamses, New York Times, 20 April 1969, D1.
7
Instances of threes include groupings of characters in scenes, tripartite formal designs, vocal
combinations (Act I contains three trios), meter (three successive numbers unfold in triple time), and actual
song titles (Side By Side By Side).
8
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 119.
9
Stuart Ostrow, A Producers Broadway Journey (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 105.
10
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 119. Unfortunately, Princes three-thousand-word critique of Sondheim and
Furths working draft of The Girls Upstairs has not survived. Three years after writing his response, when
he faced reading a draft of the script for the third time, Prince and his secretary searched for it without
success. Neither Sondheim nor Furth seems to have retained a copy for their own records.
225

In July 1969, Sondheim realized that time was running out. He had two half-baked ideas

for two musicals and only one had a producer. The Girls Upstairs cast was supposed to

start rehearsing in September, and the Company cast was scheduled to do the same in

February 1970. To make matters worse, Joseph Hardy, who had agreed to direct The

Girls Upstairs, asked for yet another revision of the script. Sondheim telephoned Prince,

who had traveled to Germany for the summer to film Something for Everyone. Sondheim

pleaded with him to postpone Company until the 1971-72 season so that he could

concentrate on the troubled showgirls project. Prince refused, I said I would not. And I

served notice: Im working. Im ready, my set is designed, my costumes are

designed. 11 Only when Sondheim claimed to be too discouraged to write the score for

Company did Prince agree to read the script for The Girls Upstairs again. He suggested

renaming the show Follies, and to Sondheims delight, Prince took on the project as

producer and replaced Hardy as director. But first, Prince insisted, they would mount

Company. Sondheim set to work on the new score.

Sondheim, Prince, and Furth started with one and one half of Furths original

scenes (he would write three new ones for the musical) and organized them into a series

of vignettes tied together by a thirty-five-year-old bachelor. Sondheim suggested naming

the protagonist Robert, which his friends could modify to Bobby, Bubby, Baby,

Robbie, Rob, and so on. Robert observes the marital relationships and bad manners

of five couples representing a cross-section of upper-middle-class Manhattan mores circa

1970, the year of Companys premiere. Roberts three frustrated girlfriends round out the
11
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 120.
226

small, fourteen-member cast. See figure 3.1 for a graphic representation of the

constellation of characters in Company.

Figure 3.1: Relationships between Characters in Company

Jenny
and
Susan David Amy
and and
Peter Paul

Sarah Joanne
and Robert and
Harry Larry

Marta April

Kathy

An additional four female singers in the pit (dubbed the vocal minority) augment the

voices on stage and supplement the orchestra, a technique borrowed from Promises,

Promises (1968), which featured orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and choreography by

Michael Bennett, both of whom would work for the first time with Sondheim on

Company.
227

On a piece of lined paper that survives among his draft lyrics for Company,

Sondheim wrote brief characterizations of nine of the characters (see figure 3.2, for his

handwritten note):

Sarah is glamorous, clever, engaging and very safe.

Jenny is maternal, warm, sweet and touching.

Joanne is smart, quick, perceptive and her pain shows. Shes vulnerable, the one Ill
never be withit would hurt too much. I cant take care of that much. Good for Larry.

Susan is amazing, open to the world, earnestly trying to make a happy relationship. If
silly has to be her cover, she makes it pleasant.

Amy hurts too much to talk aboutit could have been you, but I never looked. I became
her brother rather than her lover.

Peters my best friend because he wasnt afraid to lose me.

Larry I most respect but hes too universally human.

Harry is the most touching because hes goofy or not, his need for Sarah is almost
childlike.

David is frightened and worried and the most serious and he has to maintain a status
quo. 12

12
This page is part of a private collection of Stephen Sondheims papers held in his home. Stephen
Sondheim, Miscellaneous Notes, Company, private collection, New York, NY.
228

Figure 3.2: Stephen Sondheim, Notes for Company


229

Why did Sondheim adopt the perspective of Robert and write so many of these

descriptions in the first person? 13 Was Robert supposed to function as a narrator in

addition to his role as the glue holding the disparate plotlines together? Were these

characterizations part of the planning or working out a specific scene with dialogue or

lyrics, in which Robert introduced the couples or reflected on their personality traits? Or

did these descriptions function creatively as a way for Sondheim to enter into the mind of

the main character and imagine himself as Robert? Whatever the reason, the

characterizations reveal more about Robert than any of his friends, particularly the three

notes that appear below the handwritten line scrawled across the same page. They too

assume the viewpoint of the protagonist:

I want someone to love me and Im willing to let it show.

The craziness is what I saw, fed on, lived off and supported my status. Their love I
questioned. Theres something there and its love. Caring, whateverits love.

Theres a part of each wife Im in love with. But each is a halfthe other half is the
husband, so how could I? 14

The first comment sounds like Robert in his first solo, Someone Is Waiting, in which

he states his desire for someone to love him but says little about reciprocating that love.

The second comment brings to mind Roberts lyrics in the title number, Company:

Those / Good and crazy people, my married friends! And thats what its all about, isnt

13
Sondheim left these characterizations undated. It is difficult to ascertain when exactly in the creative
process he compiled these descriptions. He may have written them during or after a meeting with Prince
and Furth or jotted them down as part of his pre-compositional planning for a lyric.
14
Sondheim, Miscellaneous Notes.
230

it? (I, 1, 14) 15 But here, in the handwritten note, he seems more confused and conflicted.

When he reiterates its love, the words convey a degree of uncertainty. Perhaps Robert

is trying to convince himself that love really does provide the foundation of his friends

relationships. The third note intrigues, if only for the challenge of deciphering the precise

meaning of its second sentence. The first, Theres a part of each wife Im in love with,

returns to the sentiments that Robert projects in the lyrics for Someone Is Waiting.

Each wife has personality traits or physical attributes that appeal to him, but none of the

women has them all. But what, exactly, did Sondheim mean when he wrote: But each is

a halfthe other half is the husband, so how could I? Commentators have suggested

that Robert is a thinly veiled gay character, but Sondheim and Furth have both rejected

readings of Robert as homosexual. When a few directors have attempted to portray that

idea explicitly onstage, Sondheims lawyer and Furths estate have insisted that Robert

not be portrayed as gay.

Early in the creative process, Sondheim, Prince, and Furth decided on a

conceptual scaffold for Company and its cast of characters: parties celebrating Roberts

thirty-fifth birthday would bookend each of the two acts. Whether the parties mark

several different birthdays or parts of the same one or whether the action plays out in

actual time or in Roberts mind remains ambiguous. Finding a way to insert music into

the fractured, non-linear narrative was a challenge. Sondheim recalls:

We realized early on that the kind of song that would not work in the show
was the Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of song in which the characters

15
Quotations from the libretto will not have footnotes, but will be directly followed by a parenthetical note
indicating the act and page number. Refer to Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Company (New York:
Theatre Communications Group, 1996).
231

reach a certain point and then sing their emotions, because George writes
the kind of people who do not sing. To spend time exploring the characters
was wrong because George [Furth] writes the kind of people who do not
sing. To spend time exploring the characters was wrong because they were
primarily presented in vignettes, and as soon as youd try to expand them
with song it would be a mistake. 16

Sondheim suggested commentary numbers as a solution: The only approach I could

come up with was quasi-Brechtian: songs which either commented on the action, like

The Little Things You Do Together, or were the action, like Barcelona,but never

part of the action. 17 One month before Companys premiere, Sondheim tried to draw

attention to this aspect of his score:

Whats peculiar about [the score] is that the function of the songs is unlike
anything Ive ever done before, or anything most people have done. The
songs are never integrated in the Rodgers and Hammerstein sense. People
sing for the most unconventional reasons. The songs essentially are sub-
text, and-or comments on whats going on. Some songs even occur
between scenes, in limbo. Some, smack in the middle of a scene. 18

Was Sondheims approach to song function as idiosyncratic as he claimed? Did

Company depart radically from previous models? Indeed, using music as interruption and

punctuation stood in stark contrast to the widely recognized principles of the well-

integrated musical play, epitomized by the mid-century works and writings of Rodgers

and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. 19 Hammerstein argued that song should

function as a continuation of dialogue in order to minimize the startling effect of a

16
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 117.
17
Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81) with Attendant Comments, Principles,
Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010), 167 (emphasis his).
18
Stephen Sondheim, as quoted by Kevin Kelly, Sondheim Struggles to Write Words AND Music,
Boston Globe, 8 March 1970, A103.
19
Oscar Hammerstein II, Notes on Lyrics, in Lyrics (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Books, 1985), 15; and
Richard Rodgers, Musical Stages: An Autobiography, reprinted (New York: Da Capo, 2000), 227.
232

character shifting from speech to song, a problem long recognized and lamented in opera,

for which integration became the prevailing aesthetic in the nineteenth century. 20 For

several decades, creators of musicalsBoris Aronson, Leonard Bernstein, Oscar

Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Frank

Loesser, Jo Mielziner, Agnes de Mille, Oliver Smith, Richard Rodgers, and Jerome

Robbins, to name only a fewhad deliberately integrated the spoken, musical, danced,

and scenic dimensions of their musicals in an effort to create a seamless whole. 21

Sondheim exaggerated when he asserted, The function of the songs [in

Company] is unlike anything Ive ever done before, or anything most people have done.

Although he had to look beyond the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon and other popular

Golden Age shows, he was familiar with examples and models of commentary numbers

and alternative song functions in other Broadway shows. In 1966, for instance, John

Kander and Fred Ebb had written for the Emcee numbers sung in a sort of limbo that

framed the action in Princes production of Cabaret (Two Ladies, The Money Song,

and If You Could See Her Through My Eyes); in 1948, Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner

had styled songs as vaudeville numbers that commented on book scenes in Love Life

(Progress, Economics, Mothers Getting Nervous, Love Song, Ho, Billy O!,

Punch and Judy Get a Divorce, and the Minstrel Show finale to Act II); and, one year

earlier, Rodgers and Hammerstein, albeit with mixed results, had attempted to use a

Greek-style chorus to interpret the mental and emotional responses of the principal
20
Oscar Hammerstein II, In Re Oklahoma!: The Adaptor-Lyricist Describes How the Musical Hit Came
Into Being, New York Times, 23 May 1943, 11.
21
Geoffrey Block, Integration, in The Oxford Handbook for the American Musical, ed. Raymond Knapp,
Mitchell Morris, and Stacy Wolf (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 97.
233

characters in Allegro (One Foot, One Foot, What a Lovely Day for a Wedding, To

Have and To Hold, and Wish Them Well). None of these musicals, however,

employed commentary numbers to the same extent as Company. In fact, no other score

constructed almost exclusively of such songs comes to mind. That Sondheim featured

this song type in a musical may not have pushed beyond the conventions of the genre, but

his pervasive use of it certainly did.

For prototypes of shows saturated with commentary numbers, Sondheim had to

examine works in other genres and systems of theater, including Bertolt Brecht and Kurt

Weills collaborations, in particular Marc Blitzsteins highly successful English

adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, which ran Off-Broadway from 1954 to 1961. 22 The

Threepenny score, like Companys, predominantly contains songs that interrupt the

narrative to comment on the action: Barbara Song, for instance, suggests the belief that

women fall for brutes rather than gentlemen, and even the authors were undecided as to

which character should sing it and in what spot in the show. 23 Perhaps the most obvious

example of a commentary number in the Threepenny score and one that is more extreme

than anything in Company is Pirate Jenny. Before singing the number in I:2, Polly

Peachum steps out of the action in the stable, where she has just married the notorious

bandit and womanizer Macheath, to set up her own scene in response to Macheaths

request for a little entertainment. She volunteers: Well, gentlemen, if no one else will

22
Kim H. Kowalke, The Threepenny Opera in America, in Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera, ed.
Stephen Hinton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 117-18.
23
Polly Peachum and Lucy Brown both sang it during the initial run in Berlin, though it was assigned to
Polly in the published and rented performance materials; Blitzstein assigned it to Lucy, with the blessing of
Kurt Weills widow, Lotte Lenya.
234

sing, then Ill do a little something myself. 24 She explains to her onstage audience that

her song tells the story of a scrubwoman working at a ratty old pub. Polly pictures as her

customers members of Macheaths gang and rehearses briefly with them lines to say

(Now one of you must say . . . And somebody else says . . .) After she concludes her

set-up (Right, and now I start. Oh . . . you realize, Ive never been there personally. Its

just a song), 25 the lighting changes and a placard displays the song title. The number

stands apart from the plot or characterization to the extent that Jenny, in the Off-

Broadway production of Blitzsteins adaptation, appropriated the song (in the rental

materials, however, the song reverts to Polly in the stable scene).

Fractured Forms

Scholarly considerations of Company have frequently referred to its commentary

numbers as Brechtian (or, more accurately, Weillian), a designation that suggests

similarities between Sondheims approach and that of the works of Brecht and Weill. 26

For readers familiar with these collaborators, such a comparison helps explain how

audiences experience Sondheims commentary numbers within a narrative framework

that the songs break the spell of the narrative and encourage spectators to think critically

about the characters, situation, and theme. But the Sondheim literature has yet to focus on

24
Libretto of Marc Blitzsteins American adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt
Weill, rental only from The Rodgers & Hammerstein Theatre Library, New York City, p. 14.
25
Ibid.
26
Stephen Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 47
and Lee Frederick Orchard, Stephen Sondheim and the Disintegration of the American Dream: A Study of
the Work of Stephen Sondheim from Company to Sunday in the Park with George (Ph.D. diss., University
of Oregon, 1988), 142-45.
235

the ways in which Sondheim maximized the metadramatic effect of his commentary

numbers by fracturing their formal designs and interpolating Furths dialogue, from short

snippets to extended passages, and how examples from A Pray by Blecht and Brecht and

Weills output provided precedents for this technique.

Sondheim composed for Company four commentary numbers with fractured

forms that break the action into fragments: Little Things, Another Hundred People,

Poor Baby, and to a lesser extent, Being Alive. These numbers consist of two or

more sections of song separated by dialogue, without adhesive orchestral underscoring

instrumental music, that, in many musicals, is played during passages of spoken dialogue

as a connective device to bridge the dramatic gap between speech and song in an smooth,

unbroken sweep. Nowhere else in Sondheims output would interruptive structures

saturate the score to the same extent. In fact, few examples of other numbers with

similarly fractured formal designs in any of his other shows come to mind, with the

exception of The Ballad of Booth (Assassins), in which a passage of dialogue without

underscoring breaks up two sung sections of the song. 27

I:2 of Company opens in Sarah and Harrys living room after dinner, where the

couple and Robert chat. (Table 3.1 provides a musical design of Company.) With Robert

watching, Sarah tries out on Harry her newly acquired karate skills. What starts as a

playful performance for Robert soon escalates into a fierce competition between husband

and wife. Their physical struggle mirrors the aggression and power struggle in their

marriage. With Sarah holding Harry down, the orchestra starts to play the brief

27
Examples of fractured structures from opera include Osmins Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden and
Pedrillos In Mohrenland gefangen war ein Mdchen from Mozarts Die Entfhrung aus dem Serail.
236

introduction to The Little Things You Do Together, a one-bar vamp with repeated

major sevenths set against a sparse, syncopated accompaniment.


237

Table 3.1: Musical Design of Company


The Place: New York City
The Time: Now

Act Sc. Setting(s) Number Character(s)


1 Roberts empty apartment Company Robert and Company
2 Sarah and Harrys living The Little Things You Do Together (I, II, III) Joanne and Couples
room and limbo Sorry-Grateful Harry, David and Larry
3 Susan and Peters terrace Dialogue only Robert, Susan and David
I 4 Jenny and Davids den You Could Drive a Person Crazy April, Kathy and Marta
and limbo Reprise: Bobby-BabyUnderscore Robert and Couples
Have I Got a Girl For You Husbands
Someone is Waiting Robert
5 In the city and limbo Another Hundred People (I, II, III) Marta
6 Amys kitchen and limbo Getting Married Today Amy, Paul, Susan or Jenny, and Company
Reprise: Bobby-Baby Company
Marry Me a Little 28 Robert
1 Roberts apartment and Entracte with reprise of Bobby-Baby Orchestra and Vocal Minority
limbo Side By Side By Side / What Would We Do Without Robert and Couples
You
2 Roberts apartment and Poor Baby (I, II) Wives
limbo Tick Tock 29 Robert and April
II Barcelona Robert and April
3 Susan and Peters terrace Dialogue only Susan, Peter, Robert, and Marta
4 A private club and limbo The Ladies Who Lunch Joanne
Being Alive Robert and Couples
5 Roberts apartment Finale Ultimo Orchestra

28
Although cut from the original Broadway production of Company, Marry Me a Little is commonly reinserted in revivals.
29
Most revivals eliminate Tick Tock, a thrilling dance number arranged by David Shire and originally performed by Donna McKechnie. Tick Tock
has become a liability without a dancer of her caliber. Some productions, nonetheless, have restored the number, including the 1995 Broadway revival,
the 2004 Reprise! production in Los Angeles, and the 2011 staging with the New York Philharmonic.
238

The audience might have expected to hear Sarah and Harry expand on their dysfunctional

relationship or Robert complain about their antics, but instead Joanne, a character barely

introduced, appears in a different part of the stage and observes the couple frozen in one

of their karate holds. The entrance of the orchestra, followed immediately by Joanne

singing, redirects the action away from the trio of characters into metadramatic space

beyond the confines of the apartment. Singing directly to the audience in a presentational

manner that resembles Mayoress Coras knowing performance of Me and My Town in

Anyone Can Whistle, Joanne comments on what she and the audience just witnessed and

the ironies of marital camaraderie:

Its the little things you do together,


Do together,
Do together,
That make perfect relationships.
The hobbies you pursue together,
Savings you accrue together,
Looks you misconstrue together
That make marriage a joy.
Mm-hm (I, ii, 26-27)

The audience understands that Joanne, like a spectator watching a scene in a play, a

boxing match, or some other form of entertainment, sees Sarah and Harry inside the

ring but they cannot see or hear her. 30 Brecht had advocated returning theater to its

primitive forms, such as spectator sports, particularly boxing, where fans, sitting and

smoking in the brightly-lit hall, attend and judge the contenders without succumbing to

30
In 1995 Donmar Warehouse production of Company, director Sam Mendes maximized the metadramatic
impact of the scene by having Robert acknowledge Joannes presence while only Sarah and Harry froze.
This opened up various plausible interpretations of the scene: was Joanne a figment of Roberts
imagination, or was Robert replaying the memory of an actual conversation he had had with Joanne?
Natalie Draper, Concept meets Narrative in Sondheims Company: Metadrama as a Method of Analysis,
Studies in Musical Theatre 4/2 (2010): 176.
239

the hypnotic spell of character and motive. 31 Here, Joanne witnesses a literal bout and

she comments on itdirectly to the audience.

After singing the twelve-bar A section, Joanne stops, and Robert navigates the

audience back to the living room and the vignette of the moment (Thats very good).

The shift from song back to dialogue jars and forces the audience to consider its own

perspective as onlooker to the scenes that follow. When Robert, Sarah, and Harry resume

their conversation, the orchestra supplies no underscoring. The switch back to speech is

abrupt and unintegrated.

Following another round between Sarah and Harry, the instruments reiterate the

opening vamp of Little Things, and Joanne repeats the A section of the song with new

lyrics. With such a short introduction by the orchestra, the actors singing voice leaves

the audience little opportunity to suspend its disbelief. Joanne continues with an eight-bar

B section and another statement of A with a two-bar extension. She and the orchestra

stop again, and Robert triggers a return to the reality of the vignette when he poses a

spoken question (Could I have another bourbon?). Sarah and Harrys third tussle

ensues, and Robert finds himself inadvertently included in the struggle. The four other

couples then step out of character and location to assume the role of commenting chorus

and sing (at times in unison) the remainder of the song with Joanne. (Brecht and Weill

concocted a similar situation for Second Threepenny Finale, in which Macheath and

Mrs. Peachum first step out of character to comment on what keeps mankind alive, and

are then joined by the Company, who reiterate the message as an ensemble of actors

31
Bertolt Brecht, Schriften zum Theater, vol. 1 (Frankfurt-on-Main: Suhrkamp, 1965), 186.
240

rather than characters.) Sondheim found a logical reason to explain why the couples

express the same words simultaneously, just as he had in the choral sections of the Act I

finale of Whistle. In Simple, the chorus sings together only after Hapgood has changed

them into conformists who share the same sentiments. In Little Things, the couples

voice concerns as if their words represent thoughts running through Roberts mind. 32 At

the end of Little Things, Robert brings the narrative back into focus with an inarticulate

expression of bewilderment at the relationship he had just seen played out

(Whywowhow bout that? Huh?...) and excuses himself from Sarah and Harrys

apartment. Figure 3.3 outlines the fragmented structure of the opening of the scene.

32
See Chapter 1 for a discussion of Sondheims critique of choral singing, a convention he refers to as
peasant on the green.
241

Figure 3.3: Layout of the Opening of I:2 with the Musical Structure of
The Little Things You Do Together, Company

Section (part) Page/measure numbers 33


Character: opening lyric

Dialogue pp. 21-26


Sarah: Theres cinnamon in the coffee, Robert

Little Things (I) A pp. 26-27/mm. 1-14


Joanne: Its the little things you do together

Dialogue pp. 27-28


Robert: Thats very good

Little Things (II) A p. 28/mm. 15-25


Joanne: Its the little things you share together
B p. 28/mm. 26-33
Joanne: Its not so hard to be married
A p. 28/mm. 34-48
Joanne: Its sharing little winks together

Dialogue pp. 28-29


Robert: Could I have another bourbon?...

Little Things (III) C p. 29/mm. 49-61


Groups I and II: Its not talk of God and the decade ahead
A p. 29/mm. 62-71
Groups I and II: The little things you try together
B p. 30/mm. 72-79
Men and Joanne: Its not so hard to be married
A pp. 30-31/mm. 80-95
Jenny: Its people that you hate together

Dialogue p. 31
Robert: Whywowhow bout that? Huh?...

33
The page numbers refer to the libretto, Sondheim and Furth, Company and the measures numbers, to the
piano-vocal score, Stephen Sondheim, Company (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1970).
242

The interruptive structure distinguishes Little Things from the aforementioned

examples of commentary numbers. When, in Cabaret, the Emcee breaks the spell of the

preceding book scene between Frulein Schneider and Herr Schutz to sing If You See

Her Through My Eyes, he delivers the number from start to finish. The shift from

speech to song (and vice versa) thus takes place once at the outset of the song and once at

the end. Little Things, by contrast, starts or stops six times with its three separate

segments of song. Each fracture produces an effect at the metadramatic level akin to a

pair of scissors cutting the number into pieces.

Sondheim had at his fingertips precedents for commentary numbers with

fractured structures in the aborted project A Pray by Blecht. 34 The frame of the television

studio interrupts one of the numbers in the show, Merchants Paranoia Song, at its

midpoint. This structure originated with the Blecht project rather than the original play

itself. In I:6 of Brechts The Exception, the Merchant sings Sick men die! but the song

plays without interruption. The Coolies solo, Im on my way to Urga, which unfolds

in I:4, is the only song in The Exception that is parsed into sections separated by

dialogue. That the Merchant interrupts Im on my way to Urga with direct references to

the Coolies singing (Now just why do you sing? and I dont like your singing!)

increases the metadramatic impact of the scene (see figure 3.4).

34
See Chapter 2.
243

Figure 3.4: Layout of I:4 with Im on my way to Urga,


The Exception and the Rule, Bertolt Brecht

Section (part) Opening lyric

Im on my way to Urga (I) Coolie: Urga, Urga, Im on my way to Urga

Dialogue Merchant: This Coolie isnt worried, oh no!...

Im on my way to Urga (II) Coolie: Urga, Urga, The road is hard to Urga

Dialogue Merchant: Now just why do you sing?...

Im on my way to Urga (III) Coolie: Urga, Urga, My wife awaits me in Urga

Dialogue Merchant: I dont like your singing!...


244

Sondheim would have also known Street Scene, Weills 1948 Broadway opera

with Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes. It too features a number with an interruptive

design. In II:2, a pair of pram-pushing nurse-maids soothe their charges with the sardonic

Lullaby. Sections of unaccompanied dialogue separate the first stanza from the second

and the second stanza from the final statement of A (see figure 3.5).
245

Figure 3.5: Layout of the Opening of II:2 with the Musical Structure of
Lullaby, Street Scene, Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice
Section (part) Page/measure numbers 35
Character: opening lyric

Dialogue p. 243
First Nurse-Maid: This must be the place right here346

Lullaby (I) A p. 244/mm. 1-12


First Nurse-Maid: Sleep, baby dear, The picture is right here
A pp. 244-45/mm. 13-20
First Nurse-Maid: Rest, little chick, Maurrant came home too
quick
B pp. 245-46/mm. 21-30
First Nurse-Maid: Oh boy, that guy Maurrant looks mad
A pp. 246-47/mm. 31-43
First Nurse-Maid: Look at the blood all over his mug!...

Dialogue p. 247
First Nurse-Maid: Its worse than awful. Can you imagine what
those two must have felt like

Lullaby (II) A p. 244/mm. 1-12


Second Nurse-Maid: Hush baby, hush, Your daddy is a lush
A pp. 244-45/mm.13-20
First Nurse-Maid: No, darling no, Your mummy has a beau
B pp. 245-46/mm. 21-30
Second Nurse-Maid: Your parents are a loving pair
A pp. 246-47/mm. 31-47
Second Nurse-Maid: Until theres blood all over his mug!...

Dialogue p. 247
Officer Murphy: Keep movin, around here

Lullaby (III) A p. 248/mm. 48-61


Both Nurse-Maids: Sleep sweet and snug

35
Kurt Weill, Elmer Rice, and Langston Hughes, Street Scene: An American Opera (New York: Chappell,
1948).
246

Companys next fragmented number, Another Hundred People, is even more

kaleidoscopic, dramatically, than Little Things. The song, a solo sung by Roberts

girlfriend Marta in I:5, consists of three sections of song disrupted by vignettes in which

Robert converses with each of his girlfriends in turn. First he encounters April, a

charming but vacant stewardess; then Kathy, a city girl on her way to Vermont to marry

someone else, someone willing to commit; and, at the denouement of the number, Marta,

herself, who (now in an acted scene rather than commenting, in song, from the outside)

describes to Robert her unbridled enthusiasm for New York sophistication. Another

Hundred People did not shatter into this episodic structure until partway through

previews in Boston. At that time, the show was running more than three hourstoo long

for a Broadway musical. In an attempt to trim the fat, Sondheim, Furth, and Prince

eliminated twenty minutes of material, including Another Hundred People.

Unconvinced, Sondheim went back to his hotel room to find a way to reinstate the

number. He recalls: The solution turned out to be simple: I combined the three separate

girlfriends scenes in the first act into one scene by having them all take place on the

same park bench, and divided the song into three sections. 36 The connection between the

self-contained passages of dialogue is associative rather than linear. Shuffling and

assigning them new slots would change neither the message of the scene nor the theme of

the show: that contemporary relationships and marriage bear a resemblance to the delight

and isolation of living on the island of Manhattan. Figure 3.6 breaks down the scene into

a series of short sections.

36
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 180.
247

Figure 3.6: Layout of I:5 with the Musical Structure of Another Hundred People,
Company
Section (part) Page/measure numbers
Title or musical marking
Principal lyric
Key (tonal relationship)

Another Hundred People (I)


A p. 50/mm. 1-17
Dolce e leggiero
Marta: Another hundred people just got off of the train
C (I)
B p. 50/mm. 18-29
Its a city of strangers
a (vi)
C p. 50/mm. 30-43
Can find each other in the crowed streets and the guarded parks
E (III)
C p. 51/mm. 44-61
And they meet at parties through the friends of friends
D (II)

A p. 51/mm. 62-67
And another hundred people just got off of the train
C (I)

Dialogue pp. 51-52


April: I didnt come right to New York

Another Hundred People (II)


C p. 52/mm. 69-86
Marta: And they find each other in the crowed streets and the guarded parks
E (III)
C p. 52/mm. 87-104
And they meet at parties through the friends of friends
D (II)

A p. 52/mm. 105-10
And another hundred people just got off of the train
C (I)
248

Dialogue pp. 52-54


Robert (Putting her on): This is really exciting Kathy. Fascinating

Another Hundred People (III)


A Dolce e leggiero
p. 54/mm. 112-28
Marta: Another hundred people just got off of the train
C (I)

B pp. 54-55/mm. 129-40


Its a city of strangers
a (vi)

C p. 55/mm. 141-54
Or they find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks
E (III)

C p. 55/mm. 155-72
And they meet at parties through the friends of friends
D (II)

A p. 55/mm. 173-90
And another hundred people just got off of the train
C (I)

Dialogue pp. 55-57


Marta (Sitting next to Robert): You know why I came to New York?...
249

I:5 opens with no preliminary dialogue but directly with music: the four-bar

introduction to Another Hundred People. A frantic, syncopated eighth-note

accompanimental figure that continues relentlessly until the last ten measures of the

number evokes the pace and monotony of city life. Singing to the audience, just as

Joanne does in Little Things, Marta reflects on the anonymity, isolation, and perpetual

motion of living in Manhattan and thus adumbrates the exchange between April and

Robert. The vocal line consists of a repetitive string of scurrying eighth notes, moving

continuously, like the hundreds of anonymous people whom Marta describes:

Another hundred people just got off of the train


And came up through the ground,
While another hundred people just got off of the bus
And are looking around
At another hundred people who got off of the plane
And are looking at us
Who got off of the train
And the plane and the bus
Maybe yesterday. (I, 5, 50)

Repetition saturates other aspects of the music. The melody rises by third, repeating the

pitches E, then G, and B, and the harmonic content consists of a tonic pedal on C that

persists for the first seventeen measures until the arrival of a full cadence on the

submediant. The relative harmonic stasis of the opening A section contrasts with the

increased harmonic rhythm of the B (mm. 18-29) and two C (mm. 33-43 and 44-61)

sections that follow. The harmony shifts from A minor to a pedal on the dominant of the

new key of E major (mm. 24-29) and a pedal on the subdominant, C# (mm. 30-43).

At m. 40, the voice sustains a C# (crude remarks), which, by m. 43, functions as

an anticipation of the new tonic, D, of the next section, a modified version of the
250

previous C section. Sondheim employs the same technique at the end of this section too;

the voice sustains a note that anticipates the new tonic of the following section. This time,

the leading note C (service will explain) becomes a tonic at m. 58. The unprepared and

unexpected key change ushers in the return of the A section before April starts to speak,

interrupting the song. The music and lyrics of the remaining two segments of Another

Hundred People repeat with inconsequential variances the section just described. The

orchestra picks up the same rhythmically volatile vamp, Marta resumes her fast-paced

recitation, and the harmonies retrace the same sudden modulations.

The structure, musical language, and lyrics of Another Hundred People

characterize Robert and his three girlfriends and help convey Companys overall themes

about the lives and relationships of its contemporary audiences. Sondheim used various

tools to juxtapose fragmentation and repetition. The formal design of the scene and the

unusual harmonic leaps, for example, suggest a breaking up of components and a lack of

connection, whereas the pedal points, recurring melodic shapes and rhythms, and

repetitive lyrics (the title phrase repeats thirteen times including five successive closing

statements) evoke cyclic repetition. The interruptive characteristics reflect modern urban

life and the myriad of ways a New Yorker would experience interruptionwhether a

surprise party, a divorce, or the pulse of a telephones busy-signal. The repetitive aspects

of Another Hundred People, by contrast, illustrate aurally the rat race, the relentless,

self-defeating pursuit that preoccupies so much of modern existence. Robert, too, is

trapped in a maze or on a wheel and is settling for the same meaningless relationships

with the same wrong women.


251

Sung by the wives in II:2, Poor Baby melds commentary and narrative with two

sections of song divided by one passage of dialogue (see figure 3.7).


252

Figure 3.7: Layout of the Opening of II:2 with the Musical Structure of
Poor Baby, Company
Section (part) Page/measure numbers
Character: opening lyric
Key (tonal relationship)

Dialogue pp. 85-86


April: Oh! Its a darling apartment!...

Poor Baby (I) a pp. 86-87/mm. 1-10


Sarah: Darling
A D-flat major (I)

b p. 87/mm. 11-19
Sarah: Poor baby, all alone
D-flat major (I)

a pp. 87-88/mm. 20-27


Jenny: David
A G major (sharp-IV)

b p. 88/mm. 28-36 (extension, mm. 37-40)


Jenny: Poor baby, sitting there
G major (sharp-IV)

Dialogue pp. 88-91


April: Right after I became an airline stewardess...

Reprise: Overture pp. 92-93/mm. 41-56


Sarah: Robert
B G major (sharp-IV) D-flat major (I)

Poor Baby (II) a' pp. 93-94/mm. 57-60


Sarah: Dumb?...
A' A major (sharp-V)

b' p. 94/mm.61-70
Wives: Poor baby, All alone
G major (sharp-IV)
253

The scene opens in Roberts apartment, where he conducts an awkward conversation

with April. He shows her around and, when they reach the bedroom, they begin making

love. The lights come up on Sarah and Harry, just as they did at the same point in Act I,

and the orchestra plays the introduction to Poor Baby, a one-bar vamp heard earlier in

the Entracte (mm. 67-68) and in the first moments of the original cast recording (the

published score differs somewhat with opening eighth notes shifting to dotted quarter

notes [mm. 1-10] instead of sixteenth notes followed by quarter notes). When a voice

enters in Poor Baby, it imitates the accompanimental figure from the vamp by singing

on beats two and four what the instruments play on beats one and three (see example

3.1).

Example 3.1: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Company, II:2, Poor Baby,
mm. 1-2

Poor Baby from COMPANY


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music LLC and Rilting
Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
254

The first sung section divides into two nearly identical parts (AA): Sarah, with Harry

responding with one-syllable words and grunts, delivers the first and Jenny, with David

contributing the same monosyllabic reactions, sings the second. With the exception of

some small differences in the music (the second part is a transposition of the first) and

lyrics, the two sections are identical. Both halves subdivide further into two subsections

(abab).

Woman (mm. 9 and 26), which marks the end of the first subsection (a),

introduces a new accompanimental pattern with a gently rocking eighth-note figure. In

the second half of the measure, the solo E-flat clarinet plays a descending disjunct line

featuring blue notes (3) over tonic and dominant harmonies. The first statement of

the Poor baby theme signals the start of the next subsection (b) (see example 3.2).

Example 3.2: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:2, Poor Baby (theme), mm. 11-12

Poor Baby from COMPANY


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music LLC and Rilting
Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
255

The melody shares its intervallic material (C B A) with the last three notes

played immediately before by the clarinet (F E D), and it features syncopated

rhythms and other blue notes (the recurring 7 is particularly striking).

The opening AA sections end when April begins to speak. A grand pause, cued

dialogue, and a double bar-line indicate the point at which the dialogue between April

and Robert resumes in the score. At m. 41, the orchestra returns suddenly with music

from the overture. As Robert tries to woo April in bed, Sarah and Jenny interrupt one

another, just as the couples had at the opening of the show, but, instead of vying for

Roberts attention, the pair repeats critical remarks about his choice of companion. The

music starts to differ from the overture as Susan, Amy, and Joanne join in singing, and

the texture becomes progressively more contrapuntal until all five women are singing at

m. 53. The piece ends with the E-flat clarinet reiterating its earlier solo and a closing

echo played by muted trumpets.

Several characteristics of Sondheims music and lyrics for Poor Babythe

undulating accompanimental gesture, descending melodic shape, stylized representations

of sighing or weeping, blue notes, and repetitions of the word, babybring to mind a

mother singing a soothing lullaby to her sleeping child (as Porgy and Besss Clara does

in Summertime). Sondheim twists the reference into an unconventional variation that

acquires new meaning in contrast to the original context, a technique that forces the

audience to pull back from the proscenium. Instead of a woman lulling to sleep a child

cradled in her arms, two women sing to a grown man as he sleeps with another woman.

The inflections of blues give the number a seductive tone, as if the soothing that the
256

wives envisage is sexual rather than nurturing in nature. Robert/Bobby ought to have a

woman, Sarah and Jenny take turns cooing. And which woman do they have in mind?

Do they see themselves as better suited to satisfy Robert than his girlfriends? Is it

Roberts happiness that they seek or their own?

Sondheim was doing here what he had done in two of his most recent scores,

Whistle (Me and My Town, Theres A Parade in Town, Ive Got You to Lean On,

and The Cookie Chase) and, in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, A Pray by Blecht

(Han and In There): defamiliarizing the conventional, as though framing it between

quotation marks; mismatching music and text; inviting spectators to rehear and

reconsider recognizable musical content within new contexts. 37 In order for such

pastiche to work, theatergoers must know the point of reference, whether a specific text

or broad category of texts, so that they can appreciate fully the ways in which the familiar

material contributes to its new surroundings. By invoking a genre as common as the

lullaby, Sondheim could assume widespread recognition and some awareness, perhaps, of

other examples of bittersweet cradlesongs that have more to do with characterization and

commentary than sleep. Street Scenes aforementioned Lullaby seems an obvious

ancestor. It too features a pair of women, nannies with baby carriages, who take turns

recounting a recent murder story that they have read about in the Daily News. The music

contains all the hallmarks of a lullaby with deceptively simple vocal lines, but with lyrics

that bite and poke fun (Hush, baby, hush, / Your daddy is a lush, / Shut your eyelids

37
For an explanation of the term pastiche and discussions of these and other examples of pastiche from
Sondheims output, refer to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.
257

tight, / Hes plastered evry night). 38 Sondheim would use the genre of the lullaby again

in Assassins Gun Song, one of several generic points of reference made strange by

conflicting combinations of music, lyrics, and situation.

Conveying adequately on paper the interruptive nature of a number proves

difficult. In the published piano-vocal score of Company, a grand pause, full-bar rest with

a fermata, and concluding double bar-line, often indicate the point at which the number

stops and the interpolated segment of dialogue begins. The first and last few words of

dialogue from the script appear above the measure as a cue. The double bar-line provides

perhaps the best visual representation of the seam between the vignette and song but the

metadramatic implication of that shift eludes conventional musical notation and

publishing practices. The script includes the complete text so that the reader may see at a

glance the length of the vignette, but it too falls short in communicating fully the impact

of hearing the alternation of speech and song. Sondheims two volumes of collected

lyrics, Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat, reproduce numbers with little if any

indication of where breaks occur, what exactly takes place in those breaks, how they

shape the performance and interpretation of the song, and how they relate to the larger

narrative structure as a whole. In Little Things, for instance, a short stage direction

(Harry challenges Sarah again, but this time he blocks her) appears in lieu of dialogue

and offers no hint of the full page of missing spoken material. Similar omissions occur in

Another Hundred People, Poor Baby, and Merchants Paranoia Song. The reader

38
Weill, Rice, and Hughes, Street Scene, 244.
258

with no prior knowledge of these numbers might well assume that the songs unfold

uninterrupted from start to finish. 39

The original Broadway cast recording of Company cuts some of the spoken

material from Little Things, Another Hundred People, and Poor Baby. 40 Audio

recordings of musical theatre scores historically included abridged versions for both

aesthetics and practical reasons; reprises, dance music, or minor songs were often cut in

order for the score to fit on a single, forty-to-fifty-minute LP disc (earlier media had

called for even greater compromises). 41 Extended passages of dialogue were too much of

a luxury for inclusion on a cast album. Today, compact discs can hold up to

approximately eighty minutes of material, which provides listeners with a closer

representation of what exactly could be heard in the theater. But recordings still cut

virtually all dialogue, with the exception of lead-ins to songs and, occasionally, bits of

underscored dialogue (Assassins stands out as an exception). 42 Although music-only

recordings of musicals make sense from the perspective of marketing as they allow for

the uninterrupted enjoyment of the score, they may give listeners an incomplete

39
Chappells piano-vocal score of Street Scene, which includes all of the dialogue within and between
numbers, stands out as an exception. Weill, Rice, and Hughes, Street Scene.
40
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, Company, Original Cast Recording, Harold Hastings, music dir.,
Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy SK 65283, 1998.
41
Commercial recordings (or portions thereof) of original casts of Broadway musicals date back to 1890.
For a history of recording practices and technologies as they apply to American musical theater, see Mark
N. Grant, The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 203-
07.
42
Students of Assassins benefit from two cast recordings of the show, one performed by the original Off-
Broadway cast in 1991 and another by the Broadway cast in 2004. The former includes November 22,
1963, a passage of spoken dialogue, and the latter features five such passages. Stephen Sondheim and
John Weidman, Assassins, Original Cast Recording, Paul Gemignani, music dir., RCA Victor 60737-2-RC,
1991 and Assassins, Broadway Cast Recording, Paul Gemignani, music dir., PS Classics PS-421, 2004.
259

impression of the show. On the original cast recording of Company, twenty-six spoken

words separate the first two segments of Little Things instead of the seventy-eight

printed in the script. A vamp underscores the snippet of dialogue and thus creates a

continuous structure. With no break in the musical texture, no interruption to pair

ironically with the theme of repetition, the audience has no contradiction with which to

wrestle, and the seamless structure becomes the only metaphor in the number for

Roberts experiences in the city. The same recording eliminates the dialogue that slices

into sections Another Hundred People and Poor Baby. This gives a false impression

of the numbers as continuous, whereas in their staged versions they werelike the plot

fractured.

Robert sings a triumvirate of solos, Someone Is Waiting, Marry Me a Little

(added in revivals at the end of Act I), and Being Alive, which all play from start to

finish without interruptionor almost. Sondheim employed an additive technique in

designing the last of these, the penultimate number of the show, Being Alive, in which

Robert discovers or admits a desire for a lasting relationship. The song consists of eleven

sections alternating between underscored speech and song, including one segment of

singing for the members of the ensemble, who provide at the beginning of the number a

partial reprise of the Bobby theme from the overture, as though a full ensemble number

might ensue. Instead, after eleven measures of material, Robert interrupts his friends with

a spoken demand, Stop! What do you get? Acknowledging the voices changes the

function of the music from non-diegetic to diegetic. Whether Robert literally hears the

ensemble from a shared physical space or whether he hears the voices echoing in his
260

mind remains ambiguous. In either scenario, the constant shift in perspectives provides a

structural correlative to Roberts anxiety and indecision. As described in greater detail

below, Sondheim took a similar approach for Amy, the bride-to-be, who experiences cold

feet on the morning of her wedding day (Getting Married Today). As one way of

capturing her nervousness in music, Sondheim constructed a series of short sections that

shift between different perspectives. He had already experimented with this technique in

Whistle (Simple) and the Blecht project (Merchants Paranoia Song).

Robert sings five of the other sections of the song, constructed mostly of quatrains

that follow a simple abcb rhyme scheme. In early versions, which survive among

Sondheims lyric drafts, Robert uses the same pattern in listing negative perceptions of

meaningful relationships (for Sondheims handwritten version, see the two lower

strophes on the left-hand side of the page in figure 3.8):

Someone whos clipping your wings,


Someone you have to allow,
The hundreds of things,
Youd never allow . . .

Someone wholl always want more,


Someone wholl always be there,
Someone who rises above
Your angriest stare . . . 43

43
Sondheim, lyric drafts for Being Alive, Company, Sondheims private collection. The first quatrain
shares some similarities with the lyrics for Happily Ever After.
261

Figure 3.8: Sondheim, Lyric Draft for Being Alive, Company


262

Sondheim retained from these drafts some phrases for the final version; he kept one verse

Wholl always be there and changed it in another to Ill always be there. The

Someone who construction became Someone whose feelings you spare, / Someone

who like it or not . . . And he rhymed the word, there, with chair, spare, share,

care, and aware rather than stare (likely because the idea of rising above a stare

is awkward and clumsy, possibly suggesting, to the ear, the misleading rising above a

stair). This rhyme (c) recurs in most of the sections of the song. See figure 3.9 for a

layout of the number with its rhyme scheme and harmonic trajectory.

Being Alive almost unravels when the couples threaten the structural integrity

of the song with spoken interjections. Sensing that Robert is approaching the brink of

recognition and self-awareness, they urge him onward with gentle coaxing and

encouragement (Come on! Youre on to something, Bobby, Dont stop now! Keep

going!) The spoken admonitions function in at least two contradictory ways: they build

excitement like a coachs pre-game pep talk and they interrupt Roberts momentum, pull

him back, and keep him from breaking free from his isolation. The idea of interlacing

speech and song originated with choreographer Michael Bennett. Sondheim recalls,

That suggested to me a song which could progress from complaint to prayer. Thus,

Being Alive. 44

44
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 196.
263

Figure 3.9: Layout with the Musical Structure of Being Alive, Company

Section (part) Page/measure numbers


Character: opening or full lyric (rhyme scheme)

Dialogue p. 111
Robert: What do you get?...

Underscored dialogue p. 111/mm. 1-8


Larry: What happened?...

Reprise: Overture pp. 111-14/mm. 9-19


Jenny: Bobby
[]
Robert (spoken): Stop! What do you get?...

Being Alive (I) p. 114/mm. 20-28


A Robert:
Someone to hold you too close, a
Someone to hurt you too deep, b
Someone to it in your chair, c
And ruin your sleep . . . b

Underscored dialogue pp. 114-15/mm. 29-33


Paul: Thats true but theres more than that

Being Alive (II) p. 115/mm. 34-40


A Robert:
Someone to need you too much, d
Someone to know you too well, e
Someone to pull you up short f
And put you through hell . . . e

Underscored dialogue p. 115/mm. 41-47


Joanne: Youre not a kid anymore, Robert
264

Being Alive (III) p. 115/mm. 48-55


A Robert:
Someone you have to let in. g
Someone whose feelings you spare, c
Someone who, like it or not, will want you to share, c
A little a lot . . . h

Underscored dialogue p. 115/mm. 56-59


Susan: And what does all that mean?...

Being Alive (IV) p. 115/mm. 60-75


A Robert:
Someone to crowd you with love, i
Someone to force you to care, c
Someone to make you come through, j
Wholl always be there, as frightened as you, j
Of being alive, k
Being alive, being alive, being alive. k

Underscored dialogue p. 116/m. 76 (repeated vamp)


Amy: Blow out your candles, Robert

Being Alive (V) p. 116/mm. 76-136


A Robert:
Somebody hold me too close, a
Somebody hurt me too deep, b
Somebody sit in my chair c
And ruin my sleep and make me aware b/c
Of being alive, being alive. k
A Somebody need me too much, d
Somebody know me too well, e
Somebody pull me up short f
And put me through hell and give me support e/f
For being alive, k
Make me alive, k
Make me alive. k
B Make me confused, l
Lock me with praise, m
Let me be used, l
Vary my days. m
But alone is alone, not alive. k
265

A Somebody crowd me with love, i


Somebody force me to care, c
Somebody let me come through, j
Ill always be there c
As frightened as you, j
To help us survive k
Being alive, being alive, being alive. k

In his fourth iteration of song, Robert completes the melodic line with repetitions

of the title phrase, Being alive, and, for the first time in one of his sections of the song,

the harmonies cadence on the tonic. If the arrival of the tonic conveys a sense of

resolution, that feeling quickly dissipates when the music abruptly modulates up a

semitone, and another spoken voice breaks the mounting tension. The distraction is

fleeting though, and Robert is compelled to sing for the fifth and final time. He seems to

have overcome the interruptive structure that his friends imposed and, for the remainder

of the number, takes the reigns and delivers a thirty-two bar song in AABA forma

traditional length and form for Broadway.

Because Being Alive occupies such an important structural point within the

framework of Company, the number needs to capture in music Roberts pivotal moment

of self-discovery and propel the audiences emotions to new heights. As the intact AABA

section begins, Robert makes a significant grammatical change to his lyrics. In his

previous four attempts to sing, he uses the impersonal, second-person singular with an

infinitive and impersonal pronouns (Someone to crowd you with love), but, here, in the

fifth, he switches to the first person with the imperative and personal pronouns
266

(Somebody crowd me with love). 45 He otherwise recycles most of the lyrics from

previous sections in this final part. Sondheims characters rarely reiterate lyrics,

especially whole sections, a trait that makes the repetition in Being Alive seem

deliberate and meaningful, as if Robert has decided to correct himself or has changed his

mind. This variation also increases the dramatic intensity and immediacy of the situation,

from the abstract to the personal and from the hypothetical to the real. In the bridge,

Robert finally reaches a climax (But alone is alone, Not alive) and stretches to the top

of his vocal range to hold the tonic E over a dominant pedal (see example 3.3).

45
Orchard, Stephen Sondheim, 178.
267

Example 3.3: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:4, Being Alive, mm. 112-17

Being Alive from COMPANY


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music LLC and Rilting
Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
268

The range, harmony, and new syntax all point to the transformation of Roberts character.

Why then does Roberts longing seem inchoate and unconvincing? Why has he not

confronted fully his ambivalence towards marriage? Why does the number sometimes

fall short of satisfying the audiences appetite for dramatic fulfillment and resolution? 46

Part of the answer stems from the changes to the structure and lyrics that

Sondheim introduces in the AABA section. The newly connected formal design fails to

communicate adequately a meaningful change in Robert. And the grammatical alterations

and the acknowledgement of desire for somebody hardly amount to evidence of

emotional breakthrough. Groupings of threes in the lyrics persist like a rhetorical hint of

Robert as the third wheel within his circle of acquaintances. Each strophe, for instance,

with the exception of B, opens with three successive lines that all begin with the words

Someone or Somebody, and three iterations of the title phrase conclude the number.

Company could end with Being Alive and yet one scene follows. The ensemble

convenes in Roberts apartment to surprise him on his birthday, but the guest of honor

fails to arrive. A falling action plays out as the group expresses its shared sense of

disappointed resolution and eventually leaves. Robert then emerges unexpectedly from

the shadows neither to speak nor sing but sit on his sofa and blow out the candles on the

cake. The stage directions indicate that he smiles, but his situation remains uncertain.

With the exception of eight measures of instrumental music that punctuate the

46
Being Alive was Sondheims fourth attempt at composing this moment of the show. We had a lot of
trouble with the ending, he recalls. Stephen Sondheim, Theater Lyrics, Playwrights, Lyricists,
Composers on Theater, ed. Otis Guernsey Jr. (New York: Dodd and Mead, 1974), 92. The three alternative
endings before Being Alive include: Marry Me a Little, Multitude of Amys, and Happily Ever
After, the last of which shares lyrics with Being Alive. Sondheim comments on these numbers and
provides complete lyrics for each in Theater Lyrics, 92-97 and Finishing the Hat, 185-86, 193-96.
269

ensembles farewell and the final phrase of the show, Happy Birthday, Robert (another

instance of a grouping of three words), the scene unfolds with no music, which makes

Companys ending unusual, though not unprecedented. 47 Roberts self-imposed social

isolation and outsider status persist.

Pastiche as Fracture

The remainder of Sondheims score adheres to a more conventional structure:

songs play out from beginning to end without interruption. Sondheim, however, applied

to whole scenes the fractured format that he used to structure such songs as Little

Things. His penchant and prowess for writing pastiche, that technique of musical

characterization and commentary he employed in Poor Baby, provided him with a way

to set numbers apart from their realistic contexts and from the rest of the scoreto

maximize their difference from the wholelike an em dash in a string of words. In

addition to Poor Baby, Sondheim drew on pastiche in at least three other numbers:

You Could Drive a Person Crazy, Getting Married Today, and Side By Side By

Side.

You Could Drive a Person Crazy takes place in the middle of I:4. The action

involves Robert, Jenny, and David, who sit together smoking marijuana in the couples

living room. Robert tries to convince his friends that he is ready to make a lifetime

commitment to another person. His three girlfriends, April, Kathy, and Marta, stand

47
See, for example, the final scene of West Side Story, which also has been widely criticized for the
collaborators failure to musicalize the climactic conclusion.
270

outside the action and interrupt him to sing You Could Drive a Person Crazy as a sort

of Greek chorus in limbo. The number plays out continuously and comments backwards

and forwards on the spoken passages of dialogue that bookend the number. At a backers

audition for Company in 1970, Sondheim prefaced a performance of You Could Drive a

Person Crazy with the following explanation:

Its right in the middle of this speech, as Roberts phumphering around


trying to explain to himself, as well to the couple, why he isnt married and
how he intends to get married and whats wrong with it and whats right
with it, and just making all the ridiculous rationales, he keeps getting
distracted, because he sees these girls setting up a microphone, but of course
its in his head, so the others dont. 48

April, Kathy, and Marta paint an unflattering portrait of Robert and comment on romance

and the unenviable position of single women (of-a-certain-age) in contemporary, urban

society:

Knock, knock, is anybody there?


Knock, knock, it really isnt fair.
Knock, knock, Im working all my charms.
Knock, knock, a zombies in my arms.
All that sweet affection,
What is wrong?
Wheres the loose connection?
How long, oh Lord, how long? (I, 4, 43)

These double-edged lyrics also project the trio as a silly, shallow, girl-group, who lack

the ability to deliver a torch song, each on her own.

Sondheim dotted his lyrics with the colloquial markers and cynical undertones of

modern times (You could drive a person buggy, You could blow a persons cool). He

contrasts the sometimes-sharp text with a singing style that conveys the generally sweet

48
Stephen Sondheim, as quoted by Mark Eden Horowitz, Biography of a Song: You Could Drive a
Person Crazy, The Sondheim Review 13/2 (Winter 2006): 31.
271

yet breezy and sophisticated style of an earlier period. Sondheim has identified the

specific source of his pastiche: the Andrews Sisters, a three-part girl group that had

topped the charts during the late 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s. 49 They charted 113 of the

605 popular songs that they recorded, appeared in 18 films, crisscrossed America several

times and traveled to Europe for personal appearances, and made frequent radio

appearances, including regular performances with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. 50 The

Andrews Sisters version of the popular song, You Call Everybody Darlin, which

peaked at number 16 on the Billboard charts in August 1948, included this bittersweet

exchange, replete with knocks:

If you call everybody darlin,


Then love wont come a-knocking at your door.

(Knock, knock, knock)

Whos there?
Not love. 51

The Andrews Sisters broke up in 1951 but reunited five years later. Until the death of the

eldest sister, LaVerne, in 1967, the trio continued to appear regularly on television and in

nightclubs and to record extensively. Many artists have since kept the Andrews Sisters in

the spotlight by covering their songs. Post-Company, Bette Midler sparked, in her debut

album, The Divine Miss M, a renewal of interest in the group with her revival of the

classic jump tune Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, penned by Don Raye and Hughie Prince
49
Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, 177.
50
Maxine Andrews and Gill Gilbert, Over There, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in
World War II (New York: Kensington, 1993), Charles Garrod, Andrews Sisters: Discography (Zephyrhills,
FL: Joyce Record Club, 1992), and John Sforza, Swing It!: The Andrews Sisters Story (Lexington:
University Press of Kentucky, 1999).
51
Andrews Sisters, You Call Everybody Darlin, Decca Records 24490, 1948.
272

and recorded by the Andrews Sisters. 52 The original version of the song owes its fame in

part to the Abbott and Costello film, Buck Privates, in which the Andrews Sisters,

dressed in flattering military uniforms, performed Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy with

synchronized choreography. 53 In 2006, Christina Aguilera (with songwriter Linda Perry)

referenced the same source in the song and music video Candyman. 54

The Andrews Sisters started out as imitators of New Orleanss Boswell Sisters,

who had attained national prominence in the 1930s. 55 One of their hit songs, Crazy

People, which appeared in the Paramount feature film The Big Broadcast, featured the

following refrain:

Crazy people,
Crazy people,
Crazy people like me go crazy for people like you. 56

Sondheim, it seems, may have borrowed more than the characteristic close harmonies,

crisp dotted rhythms and syncopations, unexpected key changes, perpetual motion,

imitations of instruments and other vocal sound effects (doo-doos), strong sense of

ensemble, and performance styles of these girl groups. Might Furth have also derived

from the eldest Boswell sister, Martha, the name of one of Roberts girlfriends?

52
Bette Midler, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, The Divine Miss M, Atlantic SD7238, 1972.
53
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Buck Privates, dir. Arthur Lubin, Universal Studios, 1941. The Don Raye-
Hughie Prince song, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best
Original Song.
54
Christina Aguilera and Linda Perry, Candyman, Back to Basics, RCA 82876896342, 2006.
55
For a thorough study of the Boswell Sisters, see Laurie Stras, White Face, Black Voice: Race, Gender,
and Region in the Music of the Boswell Sisters Journal of the Society for American Music 1/2 (2007):
207-55.
56
Boswell Sisters, Crazy People, Brunswick 6847, 1932.
273

The musical reference in You Could Drive a Person Crazy may make the

women seem smitten and sincere, as if Robert imagines that they have his best interests at

heart, but some of the lyrics suggest otherwise. In the middle of the number, April,

Kathy, and Marta hurl insults at him (You turkey, idiot, son of a bitch, and so forth).

Their outburst exposes the dark emotions bubbling beneath the glossy, musical surface.

The pastiche thus becomes a mask behind which the women hide their real feelings about

Robert. That mask not only distorts the womens emotions but also their real identities;

they look more like versions of the same woman than unique beings. (Kathys brief solo

[When a persons personality is personable], punctuated by April and Martas

percussive doos, may make her stand out, but this section also looks back to the

Andrews Sisters and their practice of featuring short improvisations sung by youngest

sister Patti and supported by the other sisters.) If, as Sondheim suggested, Robert projects

You Could Drive a Person Crazy as a version of what his girlfriends would sing, then

he becomes the mastermind behind the performance. He harnesses the persuasive powers

of pastiche and forces April, Kathy, and Marta to adopt roles incongruous to their real

characters so that Jenny and David may perceive them as women in the mold of the

Andrews Sisters and therefore suitable life partners (even if the three vignettes from

Another Hundred People show that none of the them is a catch). In so doing, Robert

ultimately reveals just how little he knows his girlfriends and how incapable, or reluctant,

he is to connect with them. If the audience recognizes the role of the pastiche as a

carefully engineered faade, the sweet harmonies may sound contrived; the crisp

rhythms, self-conscious; and the doo-doos, frivolous.


274

Act I features another trio, Getting Married Today, sung by Jenny (or Susan),

Paul, and Amy, in which Sondheim uses music, lyrics, and character to pastiche a variety

of conventions from Broadway and beyond. Even the situationa wedding day

references a long tradition of staging such occasions in musicals, usually at or near the

end of a show. The scene opens in a way uncharacteristic of Company or Sondheim. Over

four measures, the woodwinds hold simple, tonic triads, and the cello and bass play in

octaves a stepwise, descending tetrachord, from tonic to dominant. An electric organ

doubles the material. The instrumentation and musical style, of course, evoke devotional

music, and the ground bass, typical of the lament, suggests a funeral, or some other

solemn occasion (see example 3.4).

Example 3.4: Sondheim and Furth, Company, I:6, Getting Married Today,
mm. 1-4

Getting Married Today from COMPANY


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music LLC and Rilting
Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
275

Jenny appears in a choir robe to sing as a soprano soloist. Her costume, her company of

choristers, and aspects of her vocal line and the accompaniment reinforce the general

impression introduced by the opening instrumental music: Jenny has adopted the role of

the amateur musician, at many weddings an acquaintance of the couple. Her melody (A),

marked Largo, consists of short, stately, repetitive phrases that culminate with long-

held high notes (Cs, Ds, Es, and Fs), showcasing the singers upper register, and frequent

opportunities for the novice to catch snatch breaths. A perfect authentic cadence with

inner voices tracing two decorative 4-3 (4-3-2-3) suspensionsperhaps the only such

instance in Sondheims entire outputarticulates a shift in harmony to the submediant

(C-sharp major), and punctuates the end of the section. Jennys lyrics, Husband joined

to wife, indicate that, despite the plodding of the bass, the ceremonial performance is

nuptial rather than funereal. She sings:

Bless this day, pinnacle of life,


Husband joined to wife,
The heart leaps up to behold
This golden day. (I, 6, 57) 57

Jenny directs her song to the audience, whereas Paul, the love-struck fianc,

whose entrance (Today) marks the onset of a new section, sings conventionally to

Amy, his bride-to-be and live-in girlfriend, as she busies herself shining a pair of his

shoes in their apartment (B). His ten measures of music paint a somewhat different aural

landscape with closer ties to the stage than the altar. His musical and textual pastiches

reference the conventions of an enamored juvenile, usually a young tenor and a staple of

57
The lyric, The heart leaps up to behold, resembles My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (The
Rainbow), a famous poem by William Wordsworth. The simple structure, language, and sentiment could
have provided a straightforward source for Sondheim to adapt and imitate.
276

musical theatre, particularly operettas. (My Fair Ladys Freddy Eynsford-Hill is an

obvious predecessor.) Soaring leaps of a ninth showcase Pauls abilities as a singer. The

melodic shape of his lines may be less prosaic and more melodically ambitious than

Jennys but his lyrics are similarly hackneyed. He repeats one of the words (day in

today) and end rhymes (life and wife) from Jennys section. These parallels couple

the characters as vestiges of an earlier era when holy nuptials, marital bliss, and

unwavering fidelitythe subjects that pervade their respective textsrepresented ideals

rather than clichs.

At m. 28, Amy offers her perspective on the impending wedding (C). If Jerome

Kern or Richard Rodgers had written Getting Married Today, Amy might have

responded to Paul in imitation, a common form of musical rhetoric to signal that a couple

is fated to be mated. Or if Amy resembled one of Sondheims own ingnues, Philia,

Joanna, the Celestes, or Rapunzel, then she might have used her light soprano voice to

reiterate in some way Pauls sentiments. Instead, Amy insists, Im not getting married

today. (I, 58) Twisting a romantic pairs duet into a battle of viewpoints has its own

tradition, which Sondheim knew from such forerunners as An Old-Fashioned Wedding

(1966 revival of Annie Get Your Gun), in which Frank and Annie take turns describing

versions of the perfect wedding. He pictures a simple wedding, whereas she wants

champagne and caviar and insists If I cant have that kind of a wedding, / I dont want

to be married at all. To highlight their difference of opinion, Frank and Annie sing

music with contrasting melodic and rhythmic characteristics (he delivers ascending lines

with largely steady rhythms, while she adopts an animated recitation-like style with lots
277

of repeated notes and syncopations). In Getting Married Today, Amy counters Pauls

sweeping lines by rattling off twelve measures of unrelenting patter in eighth notes,

hovering around middle C and consisting mainly of repeated notes with some melodic

movement by tone and semitone. The frenzied pace of this treacherous performance

slows slightly, with the introduction of quarter notes and repeated intervals of a perfect

fourth (m. 40). Amys musical voice, her patter, stands in stark contrast to Pauls (and

Jennys) lyricism. Juxtaposing Amys segment of the song with those of the other two

characters exaggerates the differences between their contrasting states of mind and modes

of performance.

Prior to 1970, Sondheim had written for Whistle Everybody Says Dont, a

patter song in which humor derives from the rapid-fire delivery of words. He would

include in almost all of his subsequent scores an example of this song type: The God-

Why-Dont-You-Love-Me Blues (Buddys Blues) (Follies), Now (A Little Night

Music), Please Hello (Pacific Overtures), The Contest (Sweeney Todd), Franklin

Shepard, Inc. (Merrily We Roll Along), Sunday in the Park with George, Color and

Light, and Its Hot Up Here (Sunday in the Park with George), Your Fault (Into the

Woods), and The Ballad of Czolgosz (Assassins). 58 Sondheims patter songs share with

well-known precursors by Gilbert and Sullivan (I Am the Very Model Of A Modern

Major-General, The Pirates of Penzance; My Eyes Are Fully Open, Ruddigore; and

The Nightmare Song, Iolanthe), and Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill (Tchaikovsky,

58
Within the context of Sunday in the Park with George, the style of singing required for a patter song
contributes special meaning as a musical reflection of the pointillist technique that Georges Seurat
employed in painting Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte. See Chapter 4 for this and other
analogies of Seurats style.
278

Lady in the Dark) an important characteristic: with few exceptions, male characters sing

them. 59 (The female operatic counterpart to this technique, coloratura, makes its

characters seem similarly ridiculous, overheated, and hilarious.) 60 Why did Sondheim

pick a masculine declamation as the defining feature of music sung by a woman in a

stereotypically feminine rolea bride-to-be? What meaning does this choice reveal

about Amy and her situation? Amy may embody a feminized state, generally speaking,

but as someone suffering from a bad bout of cold feet, a traditionally though not

exclusively masculine ailment, she seems somehow less womanly. The patter thus

matches the gendera performed genderthat her actions signify best.

Three sections follow in quick succession: two installments of Jennys

ecclesiastical music, performed with the addition of a humming chorus, separated by a

second and substantially longer section of patter for Amy (ACA). See figure 3.10 for a

layout of the sections.

59
Although operatic precedents for patter extend back to at least 1702 (Non ti voglio in Alessandro
Scarlattis Tiberio imperatore dOriente), this style of vocal declamation remained uncommon until the
second half of the eighteenth century, when it became a common feature in buffo solos (La vendetta in
Mozarts Le nozze di Figaro) and in generating humor (Giovannis Fin chhan dal vino from Don
Giovanni).
60
See, for instance, Cunegondes Glitter and Be Gay (Candide) with music by Leonard Bernstein and
lyrics by Richard Wilbur.
279

Figure 3.10: Layout with the Musical Structure of Getting Married Today,
Company

Pastiche (part) Page/measure numbers


Tempo marking
Character: opening lyric

Devotional music A p. 57/mm. 1-17


Largo
Jenny: Bless this day

Operetta B pp. 57-58/mm. 18-27


Paul (spoken, then sung): Amy, I cant find my shoes
anyToday is for Amy

Patter C p. 58/mm. 28-47


Presto
Paul (spoken): Amy, were really getting married
Amy: Pardon me, is evrybody there?...

Devotional music A p. 58/mm. 48-59


Tempo I (Largo)
Jenny: Bless this day (with humming chorus)

Patter C pp. 59-60/mm. 60-123


Presto
Robert (spoken): Paul cant find his cufflinks
Amy: Listen, evrybody

Devotional music A p. 60/mm. 124-36


Tempo I (Largo)
Jenny: Bless this bride

Patter and Operetta B/C pp. 61-63/mm. 137-82


Presto
Paul: Today is for Amy.../Amy: Go! Cant you go?

Patter, Operetta, Devotional pp. 62-63/m. 165ff.


A/B/C Choir: Amen!...
280

Jenny repeats her melody in G-flat major, the key of Paul and Amys previous sections.

This tonality forces Jenny to reach a high A. The tessitura invites the singer to produce

a somewhat less pleasant, screeching tone so as to better parody the stereotypical sound

of a less-than-impressive soprano. If her singing fails to elicit giggles from the audience,

then the modified repetition of her text likely will: pinnacle of life becomes tragedy of

life, leaps up becomes sinks down, golden day becomes dreadful day, and so

on.

Amys intervening patter unfolds in three continuous parts: two sections of patter

(mm. 60-83 and 100-123) sandwich a comparatively slower part (mm. 84-99), a brief

repose and practical necessity for the singer. Whereas the lyrics in the patter segments

avoid rhyme and resemble an unedited, unrestrained avalanche of stream-of-

consciousness, the lyrics of this inner passage feature several instances of different types

of rhyme and such repetitive textual-rhetorical devices as assonance and consonance, the

repetition of the same vowel or consonant sounds, respectively, within the same word or

group of words:

Go! Cant you go?


Why is nobody listening?
Goodbye! Go and cry
At another persons wake.
If youre quick, for a kick,
You could pick up a christening,
But please, on my knees,
Theres a human life at stake!

The extent of explosive consonants, [t], [d], [g], [k], [p], and [b], in combination with

short vowels, gives Amy a sense of newfound vitality, intelligence, polish, and wit.
281

In the final section of Getting Married Today, Sondheim pastiches the

convention of combination songs, in which two or more previously sung melodies with

different lyrics recur simultaneously in counterpoint, usually as a way of expanding a

section of continuous music without exact musical repetition and building excitement at

the end of a musical number. An Old-Fashioned Wedding, for instance, culminates

with the combination of Frank and Annies seemingly disparate melodies. Sondheim had

employed this technique to varying degrees in Whistle (Me and My Town, Simple,

and Theres a Parade in Town). He would perfect the art of combination songs by

juxtaposing in Follies the perspectives of Young Ben and Phyllis (Youre Gonna Love

Tomorrow) with Young Buddy and Sally (Love Will See Us Through) and then, to

the surprise and delight of the audience, contrapuntally layering them. 61 Combination

songs, in fact, would become a core component of his approach to constructing expanded

song forms; he would include one in most of his subsequent shows. 62

Despite the extent to which their music and lyrics differ earlier in Getting

Married Today, at mm. 137-64 (B/C), Amy and Paul sing in counterpoint, the nearest

we come to a love duet in Company, as Stephen Banfield points out. 63 Amys melody

remains intact, but Pauls deviates somewhat, a difference that projects a hierarchy for

the respective viewpoints. The contrapuntal texture then gives way to an imitative

passage of call and response, for which Paul, perhaps on account of his lack of control

within the duos dynamic or out of a desire for reconciliation, adopts a fragment of
61
See Chapter 1 for a complete list of Sondheims combination songs.
62
Chapter 1 lists examples of combination songs that Sondheim wrote later in his output. See also Steve
Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2005), 227.
63
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 157.
282

Amys melodic material, characterized by descending fourths and previously sung to the

words, Thank you all, Thanks a bunch, and Im not well. To the same notes (sung

an octave lower) he adds new lyrics: One more thing, / Softly said: / With this ring / I

thee wed. If Amy hears Paul, she does not seem to recognize his gesture of

conciliation as she responds emphatically with three more reiterations of Im not getting

married. Definitive A-mens from the choir punctuate their exchange. Amy and Paul

then sing in unison (a first for a romantic pair in Company). Slight differences to their

respective lyrics, however, make the meanings of their texts contradictory. Paul sings,

Let us pray, / And we are / Getting married today! while Amy declares, Let us pray /

that were not / Getting married today! 64 The number thus concludes ambivalently: the

music symbolizes with contrapuntal and homophonic textures the couples compatibility

and foreshadows Amys sudden change of heart at the end of the scene, whereas the

lyrics demonstrate their unresolved differences. These divergent expressions of emotion

compel Robert to say to Amy: Marry me! And everybodyll leave us alone! (I, 6, 68)

Amy responds to his impromptu proposal by explaining, You have to want to marry

somebody, not just somebody. (I, 6, 68) In the dialogue that follows, Amy decides to

marry Paul, but the unsettling close to Getting Married Today lingers, leaving the

couples future ambiguous.

Act II opens with a production number replete with ensemble singing, spoken

interruptions, and extensive choreography. Side By Side By Side / What Would We

Do Without You? consists of two parts, as the double-barreled title suggests, which

64
In the script, Amys final lyrics reads slightly differently: Let us pray / That Im not / Getting married
today! Sondheim and Furth, Company, 63.
283

together comprise the scores longest number: nearly 500 measures occupying 28 pages

of the 195-page piano-vocal score, and almost 9 minutes on the original cast recording.

Act II starts with a familiar situation from the beginning and the end of Act I, a gathering

of friends celebrating Roberts birthday in his apartment. As an introduction, the

orchestra plays four measures of the Bobby-Baby theme, thereby recapitulating the

start of Act I and signaling the onset of an ensemble number. But a tempo change to a

moderate 2 interrupts the reprise and a muted trombone solo plays a new eight-bar

melody, characterized by long-held notes and leaps of a fourth, third, and second, over a

simple, syncopated accompaniment for strings and guitar. The new soft-shoe idiom

supports the entrance of Roberts voice.

Sondheim borrowed aspects of Side By Side By Side (including Roberts

melody) from Side By Side, a hit song with music and lyrics by Harvard-educated, Tin

Pan Alley songwriter and pianist Harry Woods (1896-1970). Dozens of artists have

performed and recorded the song since it was first published in 1927. Kay Starr revived

Side By Side with a rendition that reached number three on the US charts in 1953.

Companys thirty-five-year-old protagonist (and the shows audience) would have been

familiar with Side By Side and the pleasant, carefree sentiment that its music and lyrics

project (example 3.5).


284

Example 3.5: Harry Woods, Side By Side, mm. 21-28


285

Side By Side By Side shares with its precursor the same moderate tempo

marking, alla breve meter, short phrase lengths, bass accompaniment, and several

melodic characteristics (example 3.6). The chorus of Side By Side begins with a

stepwise melody, decorated by neighbor tones, including lower chromatic neighbors on

the second syllables of the words, bar-rel, rag-ged, and tra-vel. The last three notes

of the eight-bar phrase (two half notes followed by a whole note) contain upper neighbor

motion and set the title phrase. Robert starts Side By Side By Side with two lower

chromatic neighbor notes for the two instances of the words, Isnt it, and closes with a

lower neighbor and the same combination of two half notes plus a whole note for the

words, Side by side. Sondheim lengthened the final whole note and tagged to the end

of the phrase two more notes for the extra iteration of by side.
286

Example 3.6: Sondheim and Furth, Company, II:1, Side By Side By Side,
mm. 13-20

Side By Side By Side from COMPANY


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Copyright 1970 by Range Road Music Inc., Jerry Leiber Music, Silver Seahorse Music LLC and Rilting
Music, Inc.
Copyright Renewed
All Rights Administered by Herald Square Music Inc.
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
287

Both songs follow repetitive formal structures in which these two melodies (A) repeat

extensively. Woodss song adheres to a standard AABA thirty-two-bar song form.

Sondheims sophisticated adaptation expands with several short sections of solo and

group singing, underscored interjections, and dance music.

If the music of Side By Side By Side subtly evokes Side By Side, then its

lyrics and alliterative title make that connection obvious. Woodss quatrains feature tight

rhymes that mirror the closeness celebrated in the lyrics:

Oh! We aint got a barrel of money, a


Maybe were ragged and funny, a
But well travel along, singin our song b
Side by side. c

Dont know whats comin tomorrow, d


Maybe its trouble and sorrow, d
But well travel the road, sharin our load e
Side by side. c

Through all kinds of weather, f


What if the sky should fall? g
Just as long as were together, f
It doesnt matter at all. g

When theyve all had their quarrels and parted h


Well be the same as we started h
Just travelin along, singin our song b
Side by side. c

Sondheims lyrics share with Woodss not only a close-knit rhyme scheme but also a

vocabulary of imagery and expressions that conjure up the casual, comfortable

atmosphere and colloquial tone of an earlier era. Similarities include timeworn

descriptions of friendship (side by side), the use of conjunctions (Oh! We aint got a
288

barrel of money, Aint we got fun?), and references to climate (weather, sky,

Permanent sun, No rain) and time (tomorrow, Year after year).

Side By Side By Side starts as a salute to companionship in the style of the

mock-friendship song Ive Got You to Lean On from Whistle. Like Cora, Robert paints

a rosy picture of the close relationships that he enjoys with his companions. His gratitude

for their unwavering love and support seems genuinely heartfelt:

Isnt it warm?
Isnt it rosy?
Side by side . . .
. . . by side?

Ports in a storm,
Comfy and cozy,
Side by side . . .
. . . by side? (II, 1, 77)

Roberts so-called friends take turns contributing spoken interjections that reinforce the

generally warm-and-fuzzy tone (Hes such a cutie. Isnt he a cutie?, Were just so

fond of him, Hes a very tender guy). They deliver their lines with such gusto and

execute a variety of dances with such exuberance that their words and actions become

empty, insincere, and as hackneyed as the performers song-and-dance routine.

As a way of seguing into the second part of the number (What Would We Do

Without You?), Robert performs a simple finger rhyme and game for young children:

Here is the church,


Here is the steeple.
Open the doors and
See all the crazy, married people! (II, 81)

Robert alters the familiar rhyme by prefacing people with the words, crazy, married.

The word, crazy, appears twice earlier in this number (Joanne: Hes just crazy about
289

me; Couples: Were so crazy, / Hes so sane) and eleven other times in the book, most

prominently, in the title and lyrics of the girlfriends trio, You Could Drive a Person

Crazy. 65

To best convey and exaggerate for comic and ironic effect the couples child-like

enthusiasm, What Would We Do Without You? evokes a rousing march in the style of

John Philip Sousa. The music features a brisk tempo (marked presto), repetition with

stepwise modulations (E-flat majorE majorF majorG major), alternating V-I

harmonies, dynamic extremes, instrumental effects and novelties (brass flourishes,

fanfares, glissandi, tremolos, ratchet, police whistle, etc.), and repeated refrains. The

lyrics and choreography draw on conventional markers for building excitement, including

extended passages of vigorous octave unison singing, ascending melodic trajectories

(You who sit with us), vocal contrasts (whispers, shouts, spoken interjections,

rhythmically-notated audible exhalations, etc.), successive reiterations of lyrics (How

would we ever get), a seemingly endless lineup of dance routines from the vaudeville

era (hat-and-cane routine, cakewalk, and tap dance), tug-of-war, and a parade. The four-

bar melody that sets the title phrase, What Would We Do Without You?, repeats ad

nauseam; that this motive resembles the four notes that open Side By Side By Side

(Isnt it warm?) and replicate therein intensifies the sense of relentless repetition. 66

Neighbor notes characterize both phrases. This constant shifting suggests not only the

65
Contrasting insanity with sanity also looks back to Anyone Can Whistle, with its the tour-de-force act-
closer Simple and highly choreographed number, The Cookie Chase.
66
Swayne has noted the similarity between the melodies that open Side By Side By Side and What
Would We Do Without You? Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound, 105.
290

feeling of friendship (the notes are literally side by side) but also Roberts own

indecision.

Pulling out all the stops functions as an analogy of the effort exerted by the

couples as they create and maintain allusions of marital bliss. The group hides their real

feelings behind this musical-theatrical smokescreen. Theatergoers initially may delight in

identifying Woodss Side By Side as the original text and the compendium of clichd

excitement builders and dance routines in What Would We Do Without You? But these

spectators may distance themselves from the action when they realize that Sondheim has

manipulated these references, with the sentimental and enthusiastic responses that they

usually provoke, and has twisted them into something strange, emotionally void, and

toneless, repeating them until they become grating. The ways in which the actors

originally performed the choreography helped to create this effect. Bennett recalls:

Side by Side by Side was best when you felt you were watching the New
Rochelle P.T.A. performing. They were delightful amateurs; thats what
made the number work and it needed that Look, Mommy, Im on stage
attitude from all those grown-up people in order to make the fun and
excitement of it happen. 67

Requiring actors to compromise their abilities to sing, dance, or act may push spectators

beyond their limits for suspending their disbelief. Cabarets Sally Bowles, for instance,

must sing in a manner just bad enough that her job at the nightclub seems plausible but

good enough that she maintains the audiences interest and sympathy. Sondheim would

face a similar problem when George activates his doomed artistic invention in

67
Zadan, Sondheim and Co., 123.
291

Chromolume #7 (Sunday). 68 In Side By Side By Side / What Would We Do

Without You and these other examples, deliberately amateurish performances become

diegetic and heighten the metadramatic effect of the number and situation.

If the distinctly presentational and amateurish performance style of Side By Side

By Side / What Would We Do Without You fails to establish the diegesis, Roberts

rhythmically notated spoken exclamation surely does: Okay, now everybody! (II, 83)

The group answers his directive with another rendition of the opening melody and lyrics

of Side By Side By Side, now set as a cakewalk. Pairs of brief tap breaks, performed by

the husbands and then answered by the wives, punctuate the phrases. When Robert takes

his turn, stunning silence follows. All except Robert then reiterate the main theme and,

with another nod to musical and textual devices that ignite excitement, they sing the title,

Side By Side By Side and repeat another eleven times by sideas if to signify each

of the five husbands, five wives, and Robert.

***

If Whistle and A Pray by Blecht provided Sondheim with forums to experiment

with metadramatic devices, and if Company allowed him to hone those new skills, then

Company also afforded him the opportunity to cultivate another talent that he would

perfect in his subsequent endeavors: incorporating into the score of a Broadway musical

aspects of minimalism. In 1970, musical minimalism was associated with a nebulous

68
See Chapter 4 for a discussion of Chromolume #7.
292

stylistic movement, still in its infancy, with adherents exploring various paths. By

contrast, Ludwig Mies van de Rohes call for Less is more! had long since resounded

through the halls of architecture. That aphorism and another, God is in the details, also

attributed to Mies van de Rohe, have become Sondheims maxims, which he has repeated

in interviews and his own writing. 69 A nod to the poster boy of the minimalist aesthetic in

architecture comes in Side By Side By Side, when David tells the ensemble that Robert

brings to his mind the Seagram Building, Mies van de Rohes Park Avenue skyscraper

completed in 1958. Despite the proclivities (and mottos) he shares with the architect,

Sondheim has said even less about Mies van de Rohe and the movement with which he

most closely identifies than about Brecht. Yet aspects of minimalism emerge in

Sondheims scores starting with Company: the repetition of the busy-signal on Roberts

telephone; the evocation of electronic music in the orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; the

functionalist set deigns by Boris Aronson; the simple, repetitive musical and textual

vocabulary of Another Hundred People; the small cast of characters; and the

abbreviated, twelve-bar overture. 70

Minimalist music stems from the avant-garde tradition but it and the

commercial success of some of its composers may seem at odds with Sondheims

classical background and his studies with composer Milton Babbitt. But, as Sondheim

attests, Babbitt shared with minimalist composers a principle of composition: to make the

69
See, for instance, the inside covers of Sondheims collected lyrics: Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a
Hat.
70
Raymond Knapp, The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2006), 296.
293

most out of the least. 71 Only he implemented that tenet using a different set of

approaches: he taught Sondheim how to underpin expanded musical forms with long-line

structures, for instance, and how to employ a small but potent palette of motives to

generate large stretches of continuous music.

Sondheim would continue to experiment with minimalism and write with the

less is more dictum in mind when he composed his scores for Pacific Overtures (1976),

which brings to life Japanese culture (the minimalist culture), 72 and Sunday in the Park

with George (1984). The score of Sunday, as the next chapter reveals, looks and sounds

more like some of the music of Steve Reich and John Adams than anything else in

Sondheims output, or any other Broadway musical, for that matter.

71
Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound, 53.
72
Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow, 2010), 157.
294

Chapter 4

Chromoluminarism: The Musical

My God, this is all about music, Stephen Sondheim exclaimed, as he studied the

paintings of nineteenth-century Neo-Impressionist artist Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-

91). He experimented with the color wheel the way one experiments with a scale. 1

Motivated by his study of scientific theories of color and vision, Seurat pioneered a

technique that he referred to as chromoluminarism (known now as divisionism or

pointillism): rather than mix all of his paints on a palette, he meticulously juxtaposed

thousands of tiny brushstrokes of color on a canvas, which the eye of the viewer

combined optically. He employed this laborious method to create the oil painting for

which he is most famous, Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday

Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) (see figure 4.1). When seen from a distance,

the pixel-like colors do indeed merge and impart the painting and its subjects a

shimmering luminosity. Sondheim studied a photograph of Seurats canvas with

playwright-director James Lapine. Seurat and his painting so captured their imaginations

that he became the central figure in Sunday in the Park with George, the first Sondheim-

Lapine musical. Although few actual events from Seurats biography ended up in the

1
Craig Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 2nd ed., updated (New York: Da Capo, 1994), 303.
295

fictionalized plot, his chromoluminarism left significant marks on the conception of the

show, its structure, characters, score, and lyrics.


296

Figure 4.1: Georges Seurat, Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte (1884-86), Oil on canvas, 81 x 121 in. (207.5 x
308.1 cm), Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Photography The Art Institute of Chicago.
297

Sondheim recalls how, at first, he arranged the twelve notes of the chromatic scale

in combinations of seconds, just as Seurat grouped his twelve colors into pairs:

I thought: Isnt this interesting that Seurat had, on his palette, eleven colors and
white. And I thought, eleven and one make twelve. And how many notes are there
in the scale? Twelve. And I thought, ooh, isnt that interesting. So I thought I
would utilize that in some way, shape, or form. 2

Realizing that this approach would limit the score to strings or stacks of seconds,

Sondheim looked for other waysboth musical and non-musicalto emulate Seurats

technique. The number twelve, for instance, appears in a variety of guises throughout the

musical: Act I includes eleven different numbers plus the opening prelude, the narrative

unfolds in a total of twelve settings, and the original orchestrations consist of eleven

instrumental colors plus the conductor. 3

Such instances of the number twelve, however, are more than clever references to

chromoluminarism, as they led Sondheim to draw meaningful connections between the

two seemingly disparate acts. Act I, for example, takes place on a series of Sundays from

1884 to 1886, when George (to avoid confusion, I will refer to the character in the

musical as George and the actual painter as Seurat), a young man in his twenties, was

working on Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte. Georges tireless

devotion to the pursuit of art pushes his pregnant mistress and model, aptly named Dot,

into the arms of another man. Act II jumps ahead a century into the present, 1984, and

2
Mark Eden Horowitz, Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow, 2010), 91.
3
The original cast recording augmented the size of the orchestra from eleven to twenty-five. Stephen
Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, Original Cast Recording, Paul Gemignani,
music dir., RCA RCD1-5042, 1984. For a comparison of orchestrations in Sondheims Broadway musicals,
from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to Into the Woods, see Stephen Banfield,
Sondheims Broadway Musicals (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 83.
298

shifts across the Atlantic to urban America, where Georges fictional great-grandson, also

named George, struggles in the modern art establishment as a multimedia light sculptor.

With the help of his ninety-eight-year-old grandmother Marie (Dots daughter), George

unveils his latest work, the seventh installment in a continuing series of Chromolumes,

to an audience of curators, critics, patrons, fellow artists, and friends assembled in an art

museum where Seurats painting hangs. (The painting is now a jewel of the permanent

collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.) Despite his moderate success, George finds

himself at creative crossroads and turns to his artistic roots for professional and personal

renewalto connect, as the musical continually reiterates. The story closes as it begins

with George reciting words that had become his great-grandfathers mantra: Design.

Symmetry. Tension. Composition. Harmony . . . So many possibilities . . . These words

that frame Sunday will provide this chapter with its structural scaffolding. The first

section, Design, starts with Sondheims graduation from Williams College, more than

three decades before Sunday would open on Broadway.

Design

When Sondheim received the 1950 Hubbard Hutchinson Prize, a cash award

given to a member of the Williams College graduating class to support work in the arts,

he chose to spend the money on two years of private composition lessons with avant-

garde and closeted show composer Milton Babbitt. 4 Sondheim applied to his score for

4
Chapter 1 includes an overview of Sondheims lessons with Milton Babbitt, including Sondheims
reasons for choosing him as a composition teacher, examples of the repertoire they studied, and an
explanation of such analytical and compositional approaches to expanded forms as long-line reduction,
299

Sunday a concept that he had learned during these lessons with Babbitt. This concept,

which Babbitt had called, architectonics, or large-scale structural parallels, helped

Sondheim link Acts I and II in meaningful ways. He remembers:

I thought, okay, these two acts are so different, and I know people are
going to be discombobulated by the fact that the first act seems like the
end of the play; and then weve got this whole other show to give them.
And I thought one way to tie the two acts together would be to makethis
is a word I learned from Milton Babbitt, and I loved itarchitectonic
similarities . . . In Sunday, the second act is an entirely separate entity
its another shipso the way to link them together, it seemed to me, was
to make some kind of parallel structure. 5

That parallel structure connects the acts with an intricate web of character doublings,

dramatic reflections, and musical and textual motives. Sondheims use of architectonics

not only highlights similarities between Acts I and II, but, from an abstract perspective,

also reflects Seurats chromoluminarism. Just as Seurats viewer combines the small

swirls of color on the canvas in order to perceive the figures and landscape in La Grande

Jatte, so Sondheims audience may step back and blend the characters, musical

numbers, dramatic events, and motives in order to connect the acts and see the musical

as a whole. In so doing, viewers may garner a greater understanding and appreciation of

the notoriously problematic second act, which so many of Sundays critics have

dismissed as an unnecessary and disappointing postscript. 6

Sondheims term for a practice of graphing that resembles Schenkerian analysis without Schenkers degree
of graphic coding.
5
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 101.
6
For unfavorable reviews of Sunday in the Park with George, see, for example, Clive Barnes, Grass
Could Be Greener in Sondheims Sunday Park, New York Post, 3 May 1984, rpt. New York Theatre
Critics Reviews (45/7), 284-85; Howard Kissel, Sunday in the Park with George, Womens Wear Daily,
3 May 1984, rpt. New York Theatre Critics Reviews (45/7), 285; and John Simon, Whats the Point?,
New York, 14 May 1984, 79.
300

Perhaps the clearest example of a large-scale relationship between the acts is

character doublings. Correspondences in the casting are both conceptual and practical. In

the original 1984 Broadway production at the Booth Theatre, Mandy Patinkin, fresh from

his Tony Award-winning portrayal of Che Guevara in Evita, played the older and

younger Georges, and Bernadette Peters, whose most recent performance as Mabel in

Mack & Mabel had earned her a Tony Award nomination, performed both Dot and her

daughter Marie. Other couplings are similarly predictable: the actor playing Georges

mother in Act I returns in Act II as an opinionated art critic; and Jules, one of Georges

established but less-talented rivals, embodies the late twentieth-century art

establishment as museum director Bob Greenberg. Even so minor a character as the

crass, culturally ignorant American tourist, referred to ambiguously as Mrs., has a logical

counterpart; she becomes Harriet Pawling, a patron of the arts with dubious (or ap-

palling) taste. 7 And Louis, Dots sweet but insipid fianc, returns as Harriets clueless

boyfriend, Billy. In fact, all of the twelve singing characters in Act I have a recognizable

double in Act II. Each pair represents a broad character type: artist, loved one, critic,

competitor, prospective patron, or lackluster mate (see figure 4.2). 8

7
The actress playing Mrs./Harriet triples as the Old Ladys Nurse.
8
If Louis, who sings negligibly in Its Hot Up Here, is included, the tally reaches a bakers dozen.
301

Figure 4.2: Character Doublings in Acts I and II of Sunday in the Park with George
(as performed in the original 1984 production)

ACT I ACT II

George, an artist* --------------------George, an artist*


Dot, his mistress* --------------------Marie, his grandmother*
Old Lady, his mother* --------------------Blair Daniels, an art critic*
Her Nurse* --------------------Harriet Pawling, a patron of the arts*
Jules, another artist* --------------------Bob Greenberg, a museum director*
Yvonne, his wife* --------------------Naomi Eisen, a composer*
Louise, their daughter
A Boatman* --------------------Charles Redmond, a visiting curator*
Franz, servant of Jules and Yvonne* --------------------Dennis, a technician*
Frieda, his wife and cook of Jules and Yvonne* --------------------Betty, an artist*
A Soldier* --------------------Alex, an artist*
Mr. and Mrs., an American couple (Mrs. triples as Nurse) --------------------Lee Randolph, the museums publicist* (and Harriet)
Louis, a baker* --------------------Billy Webster, Harriets friend*
A Woman with baby carriage --------------------A Photographer*
A Man with bicycle --------------------A Museum assistant*
A Little Girl
Celeste #1, a shopgirl* --------------------Elaine, Georges ex-wife
Celeste #2, another shopgirl* --------------------A Waitress
A Boy bathing in the river
A Young Man sitting on the bank
A Man lying on the bank (played by Louis)

* Singing characters
302

Sundays character doublings do double duty: they put Babbitts architectonics into

practice by functioning as obvious connections between the acts, and, at the same time,

analogize the twelve complementary colors on Seurats palette. Whereas Seurat

juxtaposed contrasting colors that the eye of the viewer, with the trick of perspective,

recognizes as a single, uniform color, Sondheim and Lapine used a single actor to

perform two corresponding characters, who, despite living on different continents more

than a century apart, portray parallel identities and are thus made to seem far more

similar than they first appear.

Within each act, many of the secondary characters appear in duos, both romantic

and platonic. Like the pairs of pigments on Georges canvas that fuse to form a single

color, these roles often represent two versions of the same archetype. Some of their

names make the twosomes explicit (Celeste #1 and #2, Franz and Frieda, and Mr. and

Mrs.) and others less so (the Soldier and his deaf-mute cutout companion as well as the

dog, Spotwhose name provides another nod to Seurats techniqueand the pug, Fifi).

Sharing similarly colorful names, museum director Bob Greenberg and the visiting

curator Charles Redmond also form a complementary pair. (In the initial workshop

production at Playwrights Horizons, the two roles were designated somewhat differently

as Robert Blackmun and Charles Green.) The names of Louis and Jules daughter Louise

seem to suggest a link between the two characters. Louis and Louise may be regarded as

Georges rivals, one romantic and the other, professional. Louise, after all, claims that

she too wants to be a painter when she grows up. (II, 131)
303

Whereas Sundays character doublings across the acts may seem obvious, its twin

plot developments, require some explanation. In both acts, George loses a close friend

who, in the end, returns in order to assist him with one final creative endeavor. In Act I,

Dot, despite her feelings for George, chooses to immigrate to America with the baker,

Louis, and Georges baby, Marie. But Dot comes back to take part in a beguiling moment

of stagingan effect that looks back to Ben Ali Haggins tableaux vivants in the Ziegfeld

Follies of the late 1910s and 1920swhen Seurats painting magically takes shape

before the eyes of the spectators. 9 Dashing about the stage rearranging figures and trees,

George transforms Dot and the other living characters promenading across the park into a

frozen image that evokes Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte. Perhaps out

of his devotion to Dot, George positions her downstage, or at the foreground of the

painting. In Act II, Dennis, the technical mastermind behind the Chromolumes, tells

George that he intends to leave the art world and resume his work at NASA. Dennis

claims, There is just too much pressure in this line of work. (II, 151) 10 Dennis, too,

reappears in the story when George requires his expertise for a special performance of the

Chromolume on the Parisian island that his great-grandfather had painted. What at first

glance look like two seemingly unrelated incidents emerge as comparable turning points

that help the two Georges attain a sense of resolution in their lives, despite their shared

inability to connect with others. For George the painter, Dots decision to leave pushes

9
Mark N. Grant, The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical (Boston: Northeastern University Press,
2004), 233-34.
10
Quotations from the script will not have footnotes, but will be directly followed by a parenthetical note
indicating the act and page number. Refer to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with
George (New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1991).
304

him further into his work and allows him to complete what would become his crowning

achievement; for George the contemporary light sculptor, Denniss compassion and

desire to move on encourages George to forge a new path of his own. 11

Symmetry

Musical, or aural, connections across the acts give cohesion and balance to the

show. In addition to the obvious reprise of Sunday at the end of Act II, most of the

music in Act Ifrom single numbers to sequences of numbersfinds a partner in the

second. In fact, only two numbers in the score, one in each act, lack clear counterparts

(Opening Prelude and Lesson #8). 12 Table 4.1 lists the seven pairs that link the acts.

11
For a compelling reading of Denniss role as not only Georges employee but his lover, see Steve
Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2005), 217-19.
12
Opening Prelude finds a partner of sorts at the end of Sunday when, in the last few measures of
Sunday (reprise), the white canvas drops and George reiterates words from the opening of the show.
Lesson #8 also has a pair: the passage of dialogue that falls between Gossip Sequence and The Day
Off, in which Dot and George refer to the grammar books Lesson number eight. (I, 45-47)
305

Table 4.1: Seven Pairs of Musical Numbers and Sequences in


Sunday in the Park with George

Act I Act II
1. Sunday in the Park with George Its Hot Up Here

2. No Life Eulogies

3. Color and Light Chromolume #7

Gossip Sequence
The Day Off
4. Everybody Loves Louis Putting It Together
The One on the Left
Finishing the Hat

5. We Do Not Belong Together Move On*

6. Beautiful Children and Art*

7. Sunday Sunday (reprise)

*In Act I, We Do Not Belong Together precedes Beautiful, but their Act II complements,
Move On and Children and Art unfold in reverse order, separated by Lesson #8.
306

The fourth pair, which groups five successive numbers in Act I, from Gossip Sequence

through Finishing the Hat, with the multi-sectional magnum opus Putting It Together

in Act II, consists of a collection of short vignettesyet another analogy to

chromoluminarism. (Present participles in two of the titles reinforce the connection

between the two segments of the show.) In Act I, George sketches as he observes

episodes that play out between various secondary characters; Act II mirrors these

exchanges with a string of brief conversations between George and guests at a cocktail

party in the museum where Seurats painting hangs. Both fragmented structures fulfill a

similar goal: they connect the Act I and II complements and invite spectators to recognize

parallel and contradictory experiences between the two Georgesone who devotes

himself entirely to the creation of his art at the expense of his personal life, and the other,

who preoccupies himself with the business of art at the expense of his art.

Sondheim has pointed out several of these reflections of Act I in Act II, including

Sunday in the Park with George / Its Hot Up Here and Color and Light /

Chromolume #7, but he has been reluctant to explain why or how he coupled so

many. 13 Explaining why leads back to Babbitt: parallels between musical numbers gave

Sondheim yet another opportunity to highlight similarities between characters, contexts,

and themes and thereby tie the two acts together with large-scale connections. Faced with

the task of bridging distinct musical numbers that unfold more than an hour apart,

Sondheim turned to the use of motivesthe howa technique that he had found

increasingly useful tool for integrating his scores:

13
See Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 98-99 and Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 301-03.
307

Im very much a leitmotif manI really like the notion that an audience
will register certain tunes or rhythmic ideas, or even harmonies, with
given characters. And you can build on that. Its very convenient. I dont
know why more people dont do it. 14

Motives, as Sondheim knows, give clues, depict surroundings, introduce

characters, project correlations, convey subtext, and heighten the comprehensibility and

expressivity of dramatic musiceven if the spectator fails to pick up on them on a

cognitive level. 15 I believe in the subliminal power of music in theater, Sondheim

asserts: that you can play a theme that the audience associates with a character. 16 He

saturated his Sunday score with so much repetition that the two acts sound far more

similar than the plot synopsis, catalog of characters, or song list suggests. In Sunday,

motives also provided Sondheim with yet another aural analog to Seurats technique.

Perhaps there is no better analogy to chromoluminarism than the palette of generative

musical motives that help pair musical numbers and saturate virtually all of the musical

material in the score (see figure 4.3). Although Stephen Banfield and Steve Swayne,

taking cues from Sondheim, have discussed parallels between musical numbers in

Sunday and, in Swaynes case, has traced selected motives through the score, neither

14
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 73.
15
Chapters 1 and 3 detail some of the motives that permeate Sondheims scores for Anyone Can Whistle
and Company, respectively. For Company, see also Stephen Blair Wilson, Motivic, Rhythmic, and
Harmonic Procedures of Unification in Stephen Sondheims Company and A Little Night Music
(Ph.D. diss., Ball State University, 1983), 1-58.
16
Steve Swayne, Hearing Sondheims Voices (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1999),
334-35.
308

scholar has framed these motives within the context of Seurats technique or Babbitts

instruction. 17

Although he has referred to some of these motives in interviews, Sondheim has

yet to identify or comment on their significance as a group. By the end of the tenth

number, George and Dots duet, We Do Not Belong Together, seven motives have

been introduced and four, including what I refer to as the Creating, Dreaming,

Working, and Loving motives, have appeared many times. 18 Creating and

Dreaming, in fact, permeate the musical texture of almost every number in Sondheims

score (see table 4.2).

17
See Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 353-79 and Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound,
197-256.
18
What Swayne refers to as the Reverie motive, I have chosen to call Dreaming. Swayne, How
Sondheim Found His Sound, 236-38.
309

Figure 4.3: First Statements of Motives in Sunday in the Park with George

Creating from Opening Prelude, mm. 1-2

Dreaming from Sunday in the Park with George, mm. 77-78

Working from Color and Light, mm. 1-2

Gossiping from Gossip Sequence, m. 1


310

Table 4.3 (continued)

Relaxing from The Day Off (I), mm. 49-50

Finishing from Finishing the Hat, mm. 27-28

Loving from We Do Not Belong Together, mm. 51-52


311

Table 4.2: Statements of Motives in Sunday in the Park with George

Act I: A series of Sundays in 1884-86 Act II: 1984


Musical Number Motive(s) Musical number Motive(s)
Opening Prelude Creating

Sunday in the Park with Creating, Dreaming Its Hot Up Here Dreaming
George

No Life Dreaming Eulogies Dreaming


Color and Light Working, Dreaming Chromolume #7 Working, Creating, Dreaming
Gossip Sequence Gossiping, Dreaming Putting It Parts I, VII, IX, XIV: Cocktail music
Together II-III: Gossiping
The Day Off Part I: Working, Dreaming, IV: Relaxing, Gossiping
Relaxing V: Relaxing
II: Creating, Relaxing VI: Creating, Dreaming, Finishing,
III-V: Relaxing Working
VI: Gossiping, Relaxing VIII: Creating, Finishing, Working
VII: Relaxing, Gossiping X: Working, Finishing
XI: Creating, Finishing, Working
Everybody Loves Louis Dreaming XII: Finishing
XIII: Relaxing
The One of the Left Working XV: Finishing
XVI: Gossiping, Finishing
Finishing the Hat Relaxing, Dreaming, XVII: Dreaming, Finishing,
Working, Finishing Gossiping, Relaxing
We Do Not Belong Together Dreaming, Working, Children and Art Dreaming, Working
Creating, Loving
Lesson #8 Dreaming

Beautiful Working Move On Dreaming, Loving, Creating

Sunday Creating, Working Sunday Creating, Working


312

With seven pairs of numbers in the score (plus seven identified parts in The Day

Off and the numerical reference in the song title, Chromolume #7), one wonders if

Sondheim and Lapine had the number seven in mind as they wrote their musical. Sunday

is, after all, one of the seven days of the week (indeed the seventh by traditional

reckoning: the Sabbath or the day of rest). One of the earliest appearances of the number

seven in Sondheims and Lapines work on Sunday can be gleaned from a preliminary,

undated sketch of the scheme of the show, which survives among Sondheims general

notes for the project. 19 The outline lists seven sections, four in Act I (two promenades in

the park alternating with two interludes) and three in Act II (two promenades separated

by one interlude).

The number seven offered Sondheim and Lapine a telling correlation between the

visual arts and music: the seven colors of the spectrum and the seven notes of the diatonic

scale. From his study of the color theories of Ogden N. Rood, Seurat was familiar with

Isaac Newtons experiments, which showed that white light, when refracted through a

prism, subdivided into seven discernible colorsin other words, that color was light.

Newton organized the colors into a wheel and labeled each segment with the name of a

color (Red, Orange, Yellow, etc.). At the points at which the pieces of the pie meet (i.e.,

the spokes of the wheel), Newton added letter names of the seven musical tones of the

scale (A, B, C, etc.). 20 See figure 4.4.

19
Banfield reproduced this draft layout for Sunday in his Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 359.
20
Sir Issac Newton, Opticks: Or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and Colors of Light
(London: printed for Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, 1704), 154.
313

Figure 4.4: Isaac Newtons Color Wheel, Opticks, 1704

When Newton undertook his Opticks experiments in the late seventeenth century, color

wheels conventionally consisted of six colors, with three primary (red, blue, and yellow)

and three secondary colors (green, orange, and violet), or twelve, with six tertiary colors.

By including indigo, Newton brought the total number of colors to seven, perhaps in an

attempt to correspond the colors to such givens as the seven (at the time) known

planets, the seven days of the week, and the seven notes of the diatonic scale or mode. 21

21
Hajo Dchting, Georges Seurat, 1859-1891: The Master of Pointillism (London: Taschen, 1999), 36-37.
314

The number eight also figures prominently in Sunday. That it too appears in an

Act II song title (Lesson #8) and a total of four times in the script surely is not

coincidental. Sondheims and Lapines interest in the number may again derive from

historical circumstances: in 1886, Un dimanche aprs-midi lle de la Grande Jatte

made its debut at the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition, a fact that Marie highlights in her

presentation with George. The number eight, as the new first in the cycle of seven

musical notes and in the days of the week, also carries broader significance as the number

of salvation, resurrection, and regeneration. 22 As such, it symbolizes twentieth-century

Georges rebirth, literally, as the progeny of his great-grandfather and Dots, whose own

act of creation has resulted in a child, Marie. (Dot is eight months pregnant when she

visits George in the studio to ask him about a painting before she leaves for Charleston,

North Carolina.) The number eight also signifies new endeavors in Dots life; after

leaving George, Dot learns how to read and write. In the park, he hears her reading aloud

from a red grammar book, Lesson number eight: Pro-nouns. (I, 45) When, in Act II,

George reencounters Dots grammar book, he adopts its simple, childlike language and

third-person point of view to reflect on his professional and personal shortcomings

(Lesson #8). From this objective perspective, George offers an introspective account of

his situation. He decides to break from his seven-part cycle of Chromolumes and search

for new creative undertakingsto find his new first.

22
Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 156-63.
315

Tension

Sondheim seems to have extrapolated from his initial preoccupation with intervals

of a second when he designed the underlying harmonic structure of Sunday. Musical

analysis unearths harmonic connections between several of the seven pairs of numbers,

and this demonstrates further attempts to connect Acts I and II. We Do Not Belong

Together and Move On, for instance, unfold in keys separated by a minor second, C

major and B major, respectively. Beautiful plays out in D major, whereas Children

and Art starts in D-flat major and continues to descend chromatically with a final

section in C major. The series of numbers in Act I, extending from Gossip Sequence

through Finishing the Hat, and its Act II counterpart, Putting It Together, open in E

major and E-flat major, keys a minor second apart, and close in G-flat major and A-flat

major, a major second apart. 23 Other numbers reveal interesting correlations: Color and

Light and Chromolume #7 both end in E-flat major; Sunday and its reprise share the

same tonic key so that both acts conclude in G major; and the acts and score as a whole

begin and end in tonalities a third apart (Act I opens in E-flat major, and Act II starts in

B-flat major). The four musical numbers that bookend the acts thus outline an E-flat

major triad. (See table 4.3, for the initial and final keys of each number and figure 4.5, for

the overall harmonic trajectory of the show.)

23
Swayne has shown that a draft of the opening of Putting It Together (then titled, Party Sequence
Part I) shares with Gossip Sequence the key of E-flat major: While this will be transposed to E major
in the published score, Swayne asserts, the manuscripts key makes the musics debt to act Is Gossip
Sequence even clearer. Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound, 225.
316

Table 4.3: Tonal Relationships in Sunday in the Park with George


ACT I ACT II

Musical number Opening Key Ending Key Musical number Opening Key Ending Key
Opening Prelude E-flat major E-flat major Its Hot Up Here B-flat major B-flat major

Sunday in the Park with George E major F major

No Life C major C major Eulogies A major ?

Color and Light B-flat E-flat Chromolume #7 E-flat E-flat


minor major major major
Gossip Sequence E major D-flat Putting It Together E-flat A-flat
major major major
The Day Off C major E major
Everybody Loves Louis F-sharp A major
major
The One on the Left E-flat E-flat
major major
Finishing the Hat C major G-flat
Children and Art D-flat C major
major major
Lesson #8 B major E-flat major
We Do Not Belong Together C major C major
Beautiful D major D major
Move On B major B major

Sunday G major G major Reprise: Sunday G major G major


317

Figure 4.5: Large-Scale Harmonic Structure of Sunday in the Park with George

ACT I ACT II

M3
_________________________________________
| |
E G B G
|_____________| |____________| |_____________|
M3 m3 m3

Chains of ascending and descending minor seconds play out at the beginning and

end of the musical, reminding us again of Sondheims fixation with close intervals: from

the initial E-flay major sonority that launches the Opening Prelude, the harmony rises

by step to E major with the beginning of Sunday in the Park with George and, in the

final pages of that number, shifts to F major, creating a series of rising minor seconds. In

Act II, the tonal areas of Children and Art and Lesson #8 descend by step from D-flat

major to C major to B major. Although these harmonic relationships would be audible

only to a highly trained musician, they form yet another bond between the actsas if the

characters living one hundred years apart inhabit the same aural landscape.

Composition

As he started to compose Sunday, Sondheim considered assigning a different

pitch to each color in Seurats painting as another way of analogizing the artists

technique; in other words, every time George sang the word blue he would sing the
318

same note and the same would occur for red, yellow, green, and so on. 24 Sondheim,

however, realized again that these mappings were too restrictive and, alternatively, tried

to limit himself to short, monosyllabic words as a way of using lyrics to imitate

chromoluminarism. Color and Light demonstrates best the effect of this constraint.

Positioned on opposite sides of the studio, George and Dot immerse themselves in their

private concerns. George, living in a world of specks, feverishly dabs paint on his canvas,

while Dot, posed in a likeness to Seurats painting La Poudreuse, prepares for an evening

excursion. Sitting at a vanity and gazing at her reflection, she powders and plucks with

the same rhythmic intensity as George paints. Despite the physical distance and

emotional disconnect separating the pair, they perform their duet with synchronous

strokes. As he paints, George unleashes a passage of virtuoso patter:

Red red red red


Red red orange
Red red orange
Orange pick up blue
Pick up red
Pick up orange
From the blue-green blue-green
Blue-green circle
On the violet diagonal
Dia-ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-o-nal-nal
Yellow comma yellow comma
[...]
Blue blue blue blue
Blue still sitting
Red that perfume
Blue all night
Blue-green the window shut
Dut dut dut
Dot Dot sitting

24
For Sondheims discussion of this abandoned idea, see Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 117.
319

Dot Dot waiting


Dot Dot getting fat fat fat
More yellow
Dot Dot waiting to go
Out out out but
No no no George
Finish the hat finish the hat
Have to finish the hat first
Hat hat hat hat
Hot hot hot its hot in here
Sunday!
Color and light! (I, 37-38)

In thirty lines, George sings almost entirely monosyllabic words, with the exception of a

few two- or three-syllable words (mostly present participles). The fragmented, repetitive

lyrics and rhymes and, in the original cast recording, Patinkins disjointed delivery mimic

the application of tiny brushstrokes to a canvas.

Sondheim and Lapine saturated their Pulitzer prize-winning script with more

overt allusions to pointillism as well. 25 Characters speak of dabs, spots, specks, pigments,

caring for a dotty mother, connecting the dots, and putting it together bit by bit.

And point, the French translation of dot, returns several times to create various

ingenious puns: Jules tells George, Let us get to the point, (I, 72), George fears he may

be straying from the point (II, 130), George explains that Maries mother had pointed

to this woman (II, 138), Marie adds, And she pointed to a couple in the back (II, 138),

and Alex and Betty sing, Theres not much point in arguing. (II, 157)

25
In 1985, Sunday joined a select group of musicals that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (years
given are those in which the prize was awarded): Of Thee I Sing (1932), South Pacific (1950), Fiorello!
(1960), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1962), A Chorus Line (1976), Rent (1996), and
Next to Normal (2010). A special award for Oklahoma! in 1944 was made at the discretion of the Pulitzer
Prize Board, as the drama jury was unable to agree upon a play. See John Hohenburg, The Pulitzer Prizes:
A History of the Awards in Books, Drama, Music, and Journalism, Based on the Private Files over Six
Decades (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 206.
320

Another aural equivalent of Seurats color scheme, Sondheim has

acknowledged, was repeating certain key words and phrases. 26 He has referred to this

textual way of analogizing Seurats technique as pointillist talk and pointillist

phrases. 27 A close examination of the lyrics and book will demonstrate the accuracy of

Sondheims assertions and the extent to which he and Lapine relied on a relatively small

palette of repeated words and textual phrases. Several of Georges lyrics in Color and

Light, for instance, recur elsewhere in Sunday. The words, color and light, which

close the aforementioned excerpt, repeat 6 other times in Sondheims lyrics and Lapines

book, and color and light appear independently 14 and 37 times, respectively. A

conspicuously large number of instances of words relating to sight and the act of seeing

figure in the textunsurprising, perhaps, for a story about a visual artist: look (used as

both a verb and noun) is uttered the most, with 69 references in the 123-page script, and

see is heard 64 times. (For a compendium of all 69 and 64 instances, see tables 4.4a

and 4.4b.) Other words that apply to visual perception also pervade the text: eye(s) (26

examples), stare (9), vision (8), watch (5), notice (3), view (3), blind (2),

blink (2), recognize (1), and spy (1).

26
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 301.
27
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 359.
321

Table 4.4a: The Look Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George

Incipit Page(s)
George: Now. I want you to look out at the water . . . 18
George: Look out at the water . . . 19, 23
Dot: Look. Look who is over there . . . 26
Man: Look at the lady with the rear! . . . 27
George: Look at the air, Miss . . . Look over there, Miss . . . 34
Dot: But how George looks. He could look forever . . . 38
Dot: What is he thinking when he looks like that? . . . 38
George: Look at this glade, girls . . . 38
George: Look at her looking . . . 39
Dot: And you look inside the eyes . . . 39
George and Dot: I could look at him/her / Forever . . . 40
Boatman: The water looks different on Sunday . . . It looks different from the 41
park . . .
Celeste #1: Look whos over there? . . . Looks like Louis the baker . . . 41
Nurse: Looks like the baker . . . 41
Yvonne: Look at him . . . 42
Spot (George): You look forward to the grass . . . 49
George: And that interesting fellow looking over . . . 52
Celeste #1: Look . . . 53
George and Franz: Ah, she looks for me . . . 54
Franz: We are only people he looks down upon . . . 55
Boatman: Sitting there, looking everyone up and down . . . 58
Mr.: Paris looks nothin like the paintings . . . Lookin at those boats over there 61
makes me think of our return voyage . . .
George: Yes, she looks for megood. / Let her look for me . . . 65
George: Stepping back to look at a face . . . 66
George: Jules is coming over to look at it . . . 68
Yvonne: So Jules can look at Georges work . . . 70
George: Look at the canvas, Jules. Really look at it . . . 72
George: I do not believe he even looked at the painting . . . 72
Old Lady: And now, look across there . . . 77
Old Lady: As we look . . . 79
George: Look! . . .Look! . . . 79
Dot: Perhaps if you would look up from your pad! . . . Can you not even look at 81
your own child? . . .
George: I cannot because I cannot look up from my pad . . . 81
Soldier: Look who is watching us . . . 83
Jules: Darling, I came out here looking for Louise . . . 85
Celeste #2: Look who is talking . . . 85
Yvonne: Nothing. Look . . . 85
Soldier, Nurse, Yvonne, and Louise: Well, look whos talking . . . 125
George: So it was, lying in my bed, looking at the wall . . . 130
322

Table 4.4a (continued)

Incipit Page(s)
Chorus: Any way you look at it . . . 143, 149
Marie: George, look . . . 144
Harriet: My family has a foundation and we are always looking for new 146
projects . . .
Dennis: I took a look at the book . . . I look forward to seeing what you come up 165
with next . . .
George: George looks around . . . George looks ahead . . .George looks 166
within . . . George looks behind . . .
George: George looks around . . . 167
Dot: Look at what you want . . . Look at all the things youve done for me . . . 169
Dot: Look at what youve done . . . Look at all the things . . . 170
George: Things I hadnt looked at . . . 170
George: . . . how George looks . . . he can look forever . . . 173
323

Table 4.4b: The See Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George

Incipit Page(s)
Franz: Perhaps we will see each other later . . . 27
George: Have you seen the painting? . . . 30
George: See what I mean? . . . 34
Dot: As if he sees you and he doesnt all at once . . . 38
Dot: What does he see? . . . 38
George: What does she see? . . . 39
George: Seeing all of the parts and none of the whole . . . 39
Old Lady: I dont like what I see today, Nurse . . . 46
Nurse: What do you see? . . . 46
Celeste #2: I want to see . . . 47
Jules: Good to see you, George . . . 56
George: See the new work . . . 57
Jules: Now why did I see her arm-in-arm with the baker today? . . . 56
Boatman: Since youre drawing only what you see . . . I see what is true . . . 57
Boatman: Studying every move like you see something different . . . 58
Mr.: I dont see any passion, do you? . . . 61
George: Its the only way to see . . . 66
Yvonne: When I have seen George drawing you in the park . . . 70
George: Cant you see the shimmering? . . . 71
Jules: You cannot even see the faces! . . . 71
George: I want it to be seen . . . He can only see you as everyone else does . . . 72
Dot: A mission to see . . . 76
George: See? / A perfect tree . . . 78
Old Lady: You were always in some other placeseeing something no one else 82
could see . . .
Yvonne: Franz, have you seen Louise? . . . 83
Yvonne: There, you see . . . 84
Louise: Hes with Frieda. I saw them . . . 84
Nurse: Nobody can even see my profile . . . 123
Louise: I cant see anything . . . 124
Celeste #2: See, I told you they were odd . . . 125
Nurse: Even if they never see you . . . 129
George: A mission to see, to record impression. Seeing . . . recording . . . seeing 130
the record then feeling the experience . . .
George: Lying still, I can see the boys swimming in the Seine . . . I can see them 130-131
all, on a sunny Sunday in the park . . .
Soldier: I would see him sketching . . . 131
Marie: Too dark for the painting to truly be seen . . . 135
Greenberg: Now, I hope to see you all at the reception . . . 137
Harriet: This is the third piece of yours Ive seen . . . 144
George: If no one gets to see it . . . 146
Naomi: You see, George . . . 150
324

Table 4.4b (continued)

Incipit Page(s)
Blair: It was fun seeing the two of you . . . 153
Blair: I enjoyed seeing you on stage . . . 158
Elaine: I dont remember seeing her so happy . . . 160
Marie: You should have seen it, / It was a sight! . . . 161
Marie: Just wait till were there, and youll see 163
George: Did you see this tree? . . . 164
Dennis: I see you brought the red book . . . 165
George: Ill see you back at the hotel . . . 165
Dennis: I look forward to seeing what you come up with next . . . 165
George: He sees the park . . . George sees the dark . . . 166
George: See George attempting to see a connection / When all he can see . . . 167
George: George would have liked to see . . . 167
Dot: Taught me how to see . . . 169
Dot: Give us more to see . . . 171
George: . . .what does he see? . . . 173
325

Textual motives permeate the lyrics and book of Sunday to so extensively that

Sondheim and Lapine must have used them deliberately and intentionally. Indeed,

Sondheim admits, Id never used word and phrase motives so extensively [than in

Sunday]. 28 For what purpose did the two collaborators return to the same group of

textual motives? Perhaps for the same reasons that Sondheim relied so much on musical

motives: first, the collection of motives analogize Seurats technique, and second, they

make the two acts sound connected even if the audience neglects to recognize the

repetitions as such and absorbs them subliminally. The characters that populate Sundays

two acts sing much of the same musical material and speak the same language

literallydespite their contrasting names, nationalities, and circumstances.

For their musical set in two different centuries, Sondheim and Lapine peppered

the script with repeated references to the passage of and measures of time, one of the

shows overarching themes. Sunday, in particular, recurs as a word motive (see table

4.4c for a list of all 68 examples) and as a temporal setting. Much of Sunday takes place

on Sundays: three of the scenes in Act I unfold on Sundays and reference to a fourth

Sunday arises in Act II, when Dennis informs George that he must wait until tomorrow

for parts of the Chromolume to arrive (They dont make deliveries on Sundays. [I,

164]). The word, Sunday, in addition, supplies the title for the only full reprise in the

score as well as part of the title of the show, the title number, and Georges light show,

which he calls Sunday: Island of Light. (II, 139) Other words that relate to aspects of

time also abound: day (27 examples), today (22), week (14), and yesterday (2).

28
David Savran, Interview with Stephen Sondheim, in In Their Own Words: Contemporary American
Playwrights (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988), 231.
326

And the word, sun, a component of Sunday, appears independently (3) and in

sunny (2) and sunlight (1).


327

Table 4.4c: The Sunday Word Motive in Sunday in the Park with George

Incipit Page(s)
Dot: Sunday in the park . . . 22, 23
(twice), 25
(twice)
Dot: Than staring at the water on a Sunday . . . 22, 25
Dot: On an island in the river on a Sunday . . . 22
Dot: On a Sunday . . . 25
Nurse: It is Sunday, Madame . . . 26
Old Lady: Young boys out swimming so early on a Sunday? . . . 26
Nurse: And working on a Sunday . . . 27
George: So composed for a Sunday . . . 36
George: Hot hot hot its hot in here / Sunday! . . . 38
Boatman: The water looks different on Sunday . . . 41
Boatman: People all dressed up in their Sunday-best pretending? Sunday is just 41
another day . . .
Boatman: Sunday hypocrites! . . . 42
George: A few Sundays ago . . . 47
Spot (George): You look forward to the grass / On Sunday . . . Roaming around 49-51
on Sunday . . . Nose to the ground on Sunday . . . Everythings worth it
Sunday . . . Begging a bone on Sunday . . . Sunday . . .
Fifi (George): Out for the day on Sunday . . . Yapping away on Sunday . . . 50
Everythings worth it Sunday . . . Being alone on Sunday . . .
George: Taking the day on Sunday . . . Getting away on Sunday . . . Everyones 52
on display on Sunday . . .
Nurse: Still Sunday with someones dotty mother / Is better than Sunday with 52
your own . . . On Sunday . . .
Jules: Working on Sunday again? . . . 55
Chorus: Taking the day on Sunday . . . Getting away on Sunday . . . 58
Solider: This magnificent Sunday . . . 64
The Celestes: Oh, Sunday . . . 64
Celeste #1 and Soldier: Its certainly fine for Sunday . . . 64, 65
Celeste #2: Its certainly fine for Sunday . . . 65
Old Lady: You would rise up early on a Sunday . . . 76
Old Lady: Sundays, / Disappearing . . . 77
Old Lady and George: Sundays 79
Celeste #1: Sundays are such a bore . . . 83
Franz: But its Sunday . . . 83
Chorus: Sunday, / By the blue . . . 87, 173
Chorus: Pausing on a Sunday . . . On an ordinary Sunday . . . Sunday . . . 88
Sunday . . .
Chorus: By a river on a Sunday . . . 128
George: I can see them all, on a sunny Sunday in the park . . . 131
Soldier: I would spend my Sundays here . . . 131
328

Table 4.4c (continued)

Incipit Page(s)
George: I was commissioned by this museum to create an art piece 133
commemorating Georges Seurats painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of
La Grande Jatte . . .
George: His second painting, A Sunday Afternoon . . . 135
George: I would like to invite you into my Sunday: Island of Light . . . 139
Dennis: They dont make deliveries on Sunday . . . 164
George: Out strolling on Sunday? . . . Strolling on Sunday 166, 167
Chorus: On an ordinary Sunday . . . Sunday . . . Sunday . . . 173-174
329

George and the other characters utter the word paint and its variants (painter,

painting, painted, repainted, etc.) a total of 60 times, almost as many as Sunday.

Specific objects in Georges painting are also mentioned repeatedly; among the most

prolific are tree (29), hat (28), park (15), grass (14), water (12), and flower

(3). Other word motives include various French words, said and sung in scenes set on

both sides of the Atlantic: Madame (14), Monsieur (7, including Mr.s bastardized

version, Excusez Masseur), parasol (7), Mademoiselle (3), La Grande Jatte (3),

rouge (3), violet (3), Bonjour (2, which translates literally as good day),

nouveau (2), Ansires (1), cabaret (1), gavotte (1), La Coupole (1), pardon

(1), pass (1), and salon (1).

Some characters return to the same word motives; the Old Lady, for instance,

circles around tree (10 examples plus 19 said by several other characters) and George,

the words hat and connect (6 examples plus 4 said by others), among others. Spot,

the dog, reiterates his love of grass and when Jules, on three separate occasions, picks

up the same word and expresses his longing for tall grass, in particular, the shared

vocabulary highlights a similarity between Jules and the Boatmans four-legged friend.

Perhaps we are meant to think of Jules as a dog for philandering with his servant Frieda?

Even she brings to mind Spot when she directs Jules to a secluded place for their next

tryst: I see a quiet spot over there. (I, 83)

The absence of certain word motives is just as significant as their prevalence.

Nineteenth-century George evades completely the words art and artist, whereas his

great-grandson repeats the former 12 times and the latter 3 times. This modern George is
330

preoccupied with arriving at something new, a word mentioned only 3 times in Act I

but 15 in Act II (in addition to the two instances of the French equivalent, nouveau).

The older George never utters the word new, and prefers to focus on his work, a term

heard a total of 58 times, 28 in Act I and 30 in Act II.

Shared verbal motives and pointillist sentence fragments in the two musical

numbers that open Sundays acts provide a clear link across the two halves. Dots initial

quips about the heat (God, its hot out here . . . God, I am so hot! [I, 22, 25]) recur in

Its Hot Up Here. 29 Comparable declamatory formats also conjoin the numbers. In the

former, Dot bursts forth with a long-winded stream of thinly concealed indignation that

recalls Amys explosive rant in Getting Married Today from Company:

Well, there are worse things


Than staring at the water on a Sunday.
There are worse things
Than staring at the water
As youre posing for a picture
Being painted by your lover
In the middle of the summer
On an island in the river on a Sunday. (I, 25)

In Its Hot Up Here, the disgruntled and hotheaded characters stuck in Georges

masterpiece offer a slightly different version chronicling, instead, the trials and

tribulations of being frozen in time as figures in an objet dart:

29
Sunday in the Park with George and Its Hot Up Here join a group of Broadway act openers that use
heat as a trope. In each one, characters grumble about unbearable temperatures: Summertime (Porgy and
Bess), Aint It Awful the Heat (Street Scene), Too Darn Hot (Kiss Me, Kate), and Gonna Be Another
Hot Day (110 in the Shade).
331

All: Well, there are worse things


Than sweating by a river on a Sunday.
There are worse things
Than sweating by a river
Boatman: When youre sweating in a picture
That was painted by a genius
Franz: And you know that youre immortal
Frieda: And youll always be remembered (II, 128)

In addition to sharing similar subjects and structures with its predecessor, Its Hot Up

Here adopts a fast-paced, three-note melodic turn accompanied by a dissonant staccato

vamp first heard in Sunday in the Park with George.

Harmony

The two consecutive numbers, Color and Light and Gossip Sequence, follow

George as he works studiously first on canvas in his studio and later with a sketchbook

outside on the island. The pair thus focuses on the planning and working out of Georges

chromoluminarism. Color and Light and Gossip Sequence, introduce to the score one

new motive each played by the orchestra: the Working motive and Gossiping motive,

which have several characteristics in common (figure 4.3 notates these motives earlier in

this chapter). Both consist of steady eight-notes that continue without reprieve or

rhythmic varietyas unrelenting as George engrossed in the repetitive, physical act of

applying precise strokes to his canvas and pad. Sondheims detached articulation

markings (Working is labeled dtach and notated with staccatos, and Gossiping is

marked secco) and Michael Starobins percussive orchestrations help project the cold,

mechanical nature of Georges work.


332

In the first 24 measures of Color and Light, the Working motive repeats 6

times, and, in the first 18 measures of Gossip Sequence, the Gossiping motive recurs

36 times. On the weak beats of each measure, slight changes to the shape of the

Working motive gradually widen its narrow range upwards from a perfect fourth (B

to E) to a minor seventh (B to A) and form new patterns and variations. But, just as

the melodic line introduces new notes, it turns back to B, which keeps sounding four

times per measure. At m. 50, when George calls for color and light for the first time,

the Working motive adopts a somewhat new form that recurs, with slight variations,

elsewhere in Color and Light (see example 4.1). With the same eighth-note rhythm, the

texture augments to four-parts that repeat a succession of alternating and slowly evolving

chord clusters. This manifestation of the Working motive uses not only rhythm to

imitate Seurat at his canvas but also clusters of notes to realize aurally his combinations

of specks.
333

Example 4.1: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George,
I, Color and Light, mm. 50-55

Color and Light from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission

The Gossiping motive, by contrast, undergoes fewer changes and repeats

throughout virtually the entire length of the 82-bar score for Gossip Sequence. The

Working and Gossiping motives emerge as accompanimental patterns in several

subsequent numbers (see tables 4.5a and 4.5b).


334

Table 4.5a: Working Motive in Sunday in the Park with George

Song Incipit Measures


Color and Light (under action) George stands on a scaffold, behind a Part I: 1-71
large canvas . . .
(under dialogue) Dot: Nothing seems to fit me right Part II: 72-83
. . .
(under dialogue) George: Are you proper today, Part II: 134-143
Miss? . . .
George: Red red red red red red orange . . . Part III: 151-
191
(under dialogue) George: The creamy skin . . . Part III: 204ff.
(under dialogue) George: Damn . . . Part IV: 222-
251
(under scene change to park) 11-23
The Day Off (under action) George, who has been staring at his Part I: 1-5
sketch of Spot, looks over and sees that Dot and
Louis have left . . .
George: More like the parasol . . . Bum-bum bum . . Part I: 13-26
.
Finishing the Hat George: As I always knew she would . . . 16-22
We Do Not Belong Together (under dialogue) George: I cannot divide my 6a-15
feelings as neatly as you . . .
Beautiful George: Pretty isnt beautiful . . . 43-54
Chromolume #7 (under action) Part II: 6 (II), 8
(Horn)
Putting It Together George: Its time to get to work . . . (then under Part VI: 13-18
dialogue)
George: Start putting it together . . . (then under Part VIII: 10-17
dialogue)
George: A visions just a vision / If its only in your Part X: 11-17
head . . . (then under dialogue)
George: The art of making art . . . Part XI: 45-48
335

Table 4.5b: Gossiping Motive in Sunday in the Park with George

Song Incipit Measures


Gossip Sequence (under dialogue) 1-43
Old Lady: Those girls are noisy . . . 46-54
Boatman: Over-privileged women . . . 59-65
The Day Off Spot (George): Piece of chicken . . . Part I: 68-117
Chorus: Taking the day on Sunday . . . Part VII: 3-28
Bustle (instrumental passage) (under action) 6-10
Chaos (instrumental passage) (under action) 1-8
Chromolume #7 (under action) Part II: 8
Putting It Together Harriet: I mean, I dont understand completely . . . Part II: 1-10
Greenberg: Its not enough . . . Part III: 1-10

In each statement of the Working motive, George is visibly at workpainting,

sketching, or observingor he is referring to his work. At the outset of We Do Not

Belong Together, for instance, when Dot accuses him of caring only for things not

people, the orchestra starts playing a variation of the motive as he defends himself: I

cannot divide my feelings as neatly as you and, I am not hiding behind my canvasI am

living it. (I, 74) A similar situation takes place in Putting It Together: on four separate

occasions, remarks about Georges workwhich is now less about making art and more

about making moneytrigger statements and variations of the Working motive as well

as contrapuntal combinations with other motives. 30 When the orchestra plays the

Gossiping motive, George does not participate in the action; instead he adopts the role

of observer and listens as others express their opinions.

The Working and Gossiping motives consist of a tetrachord rich in minor

seconds. In terms of set theory, they constitute two pitch-class sets (pcsets): {321t} and

30
For an analysis of the multiple motives at work in Putting It Together, see Swayne, How Sondheim
Found His Sound, 222-42.
336

{10e8}. 31 Comparing the normal forms of both pcsetsthe most compact and

compressed representations of the setsmakes it easy to see similarities between the two

sonorities (see figure 4.6): 32

Figure 4.6: The Normal Forms of the Working and Gossiping Motives

Working motive (Set 1) Gossiping motive (Set 2)

Both orderings contain the same interval succession 3-1-1. The Working and

Gossiping motives thus are transpositionally equivalent pcsets, Set 2 = T 10 (Set 1), and

share the same set class (sc), [0125].

A music sketch for Sunday evinces Sondheims familiarity with twelve-tone

music and its basic theoretical concepts (see figure 4.7).

31
For a comprehensive discussion of pitch-class set terminology, see Allen Forte, The Structure of Atonal
Music, 2d ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).
32
Joseph N. Straus, Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, 2d ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall,
2000), 31.
337

Figure 4.7: Sondheim, Tone Rows for Sunday in the Park with George 33

Sondheim described this sketch as some kind of attempt at a row . . . I was

experimenting with using tone rows to respond to the colors. These are early sketches

where Im feeling my way into the score. 34 And yet these two rows look similar to the

one that emerges in Eulogies, the axis point that marks the passage of time from 1891

(the year of Seurats death) to 1984 (the present). 35 This number follows the Act II

opener, Its Hot Up Here, and unfolds in a sort of limbo. Nineteenth-century George

has died, and the figures in his painting take turns directly addressing to the audience

their spoken reflections on the artist. Once they have completed their tributes, the

33
These two rows come from the last two staves in example 4.14 of Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 118.
34
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 118.
35
That Eulogies consists entirely of underscored speech likely explains why neither the original cast nor
the London cast recordings of Sunday in the Park with George include the number. Sondheim and Lapine,
Sunday in the Park with George, Original Cast Recording and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine,
Sunday in the Park with George, London Cast Recording, Caroline Humphris, music dir., PS Classics PS-
640, 2006. See Chapter 3 for a discussion of some of the conventions that govern recording practices for
Broadway musicals.
338

characters exit, and pieces of scenery fly out until the stage is bare. The piano-vocal score

for Eulogies includes the full spoken text of each remark above its thirteen unmetered

measures. The synthesizer adds a new pitch as the characters begin to speak, and the

pedal sustains each new note until the twelve-tone aggregate sounds simultaneously

across more than four and one half octaves. With twelve pitches in the series and thirteen

characters in the scene, the first pitch accompanies two characters, the Celestes. (The

Boatman responds to Louises and Friedas remarks but he then waits for the penultimate

pitch of the row before contributing the last miniature eulogy on George.) Table 4.6

compares the two aforementioned rows from Sondheims sketches with the twelve-tone

series in Eulogies. The table also includes the order in which the characters speak as it

suggests relationships and hierarchy. Reading the list of characters as two sets of six

names reveals parallels: Franz and the Boatman, the two characters who question the

value of Georges work and exhibit a certain sense of integrity, occupy the fifth positions,

and Dot and George take up the sixth spots.

Table 4.6: Series for Sunday in the Park with George with Characters

Sketch 1: A G# D# A# C# B E A F C() F(#) B G


Sketch 2: A G# D# A# C# B E C G F D F --
Eulogies: A G# D# A# C# B E C G F D F# --
Yvonne
Celeste 1 and 2

George (and Marie)


Old Lady
Dot
Franz
Boatman)

Boatman)

Nurse
Soldier

Louise (and

Frieda (and

Boatman
Jules

Characters:
--
339

The twelfth note of the series in Eulogies ushers in a temporal shift to the auditorium of

a modern museum and the entrance of contemporary George who pushes his

grandmother, Marie (played by Dot), in a wheelchair. The technician Dennis follows with

a control console, and an immense white machine (II, 133)Georges Chromolume

#7takes center stage. With the row now complete and the aggregate still audible, the

same series of notes repeats at an increasingly accelerated pace until George switches off

his light machine (example 4.2).

Example 4.2: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II, Eulogies,
m. 13

Eulogies from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
340

The Eulogies series subdivides into two self-complementary hexachords

[012357] that relate by T 3 I. One of the tetrachordal subsets of this hexachord and the last

two tetrachords in the twelve-tone row share with the Working and Gossiping

motives the same sc, [0125]. Figure 4.8 organizes the Eulogies series into subsets and

indicates its repetitive qualities and theoretical connections.

Figure 4.8: Tone Row employed in Eulogies with Hexachordal and Tetrachordal
Relationships

T3 I
_________________________________
| |

[012357] [012357]
__________________________________ __________________________________
| | | |

A G# D# A# C# B E C G F D F#

|______________________| |_____________________| |______________________|

[0127] [0125] [0125]

|_______________________|

T6 I

Repetition of these set classes for the sake of establishing familiarity, even at a

subconscious level, seems unlikely. Too much time and too many other musical numbers

separate the earliest iterations of the tetrachord [0125], heard most prominently in Color

and Light and Gossip Sequence, from its statements in Eulogies to make the

seemingly unrelated twelve-tone series sound even remotely recognizable.


341

The ear is less likely to detect the use of set theory in Color and Light or

Gossip Sequence than Eulogies. Although the title of the number suggests a

connection to Seurat and the legacy of his work, contemporary George appears for the

first time in the final measure, accompanied by straightforward repetitions of the twelve-

tone series. Using set theory to mark his arrival indicates how the aesthetic has shifted for

George. The real modernist George buried himself in his work, whether in the creation

of the hat or the parasol. Twentieth-century George concerns himself with only what is

considered new and art, not good or profound.

Sondheim envisioned the next number in the score, Chromolume #7, as a piece

of performance art, Laurie Andersons version of the Grande Jatte. 36 Yet instead of

composing the piece himself, he passed the reins over to his orchestrator, Michael

Starobin. Sondheim had previously assigned the task of arranging dance music to an

assortment of orchestrators and arrangers, including Betty Walberg (Anyone Can

Whistle), David Shire (Company), John Berkman (Follies), and Daniel Troob (Pacific

Overtures), but he had yet to leave such an authorial gapa virtual black holeat such a

structurally and dramatically significant point at the center of a score.

When Sondheim started writing Sunday, he was not looking for a new

orchestrator. He had already worked with Jonathan Tunick on all six of the Prince

collaborations and Into the Woods. After Sunday, Tunick would orchestrate three more of

Sondheims scores and re-orchestrate several others. Why didnt Sondheim hire Tunick

to work on Sunday? What prompted him instead to pick Starobin, who had yet to

36
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 371.
342

contribute to a Broadway musical? Sundays genesis did not follow the conventional

trajectory of that of a Broadway musical. It grew from a workshop production at

Playwrights Horizons where Starobin worked as the house orchestrator and where he had

met Lapine during March of the Falsettos. Lapine encouraged Sondheim to bring in

Starobin for Sunday. With Tunick engaged with other projects, Sondheim agreed to give

Starobin a chance. First, though, he would audition by orchestrating four of Sondheims

songs from the Sunday score. 37 When Sondheim heard the initial results, he was

disappointed: It was overorchestrated, he claimed. Then Sondheim asked Starobin for

new orchestrations without extra contrapuntal lines or new harmonies. And he slimmed

down, Sondheim recalls, and then he did this brilliant job. 38

Starobins audition pieces may have been brilliant, but Chromolume #7 was

not. When it came time to write the piece, Starobin faced a unique challenge. The

presentation of the Chromolume needs to build excitement and reach a climax in order

for theatergoers to sympathize with the modern George and invest interest in his journey

as an artist; the audience must be able to take his work seriously. And yet, the machine

has to be shown as an artistic failure big enough to trigger Georges crisis. Chromolume

#7 is presented as diegetic music composed by Georges friend and musical

collaborator, Naomi Eisen, for the unveiling of the light machine. Starobin evoked the

strength and soullessness of Eisen, the surname of Georges musical partner, which

translates from German as iron, by using synthesizers and sequencers that alter, repeat,

37
Sean Patrick Flahaven, Starobin Talks about Sunday, Assassins, The Sondheim Review 5/2 (Fall 1998):
21-23.
38
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 229.
343

and layer electronically fragments of motives, predominantly Working, Creating, and

Dreaming. The resulting piece of music, which spans only twenty-two seconds, tries so

hard to project a modernist aesthetic that it becomes a parody of itself. 39 Even the most

impressive pyrotechnical display usually fails to distract audiences from the inadequate

musical accompaniment. Chromolume #7 undermines the light sculpture and

characterizes its creator as artistically inept and incapable of approaching the level of

innovation that Seurat achieved or the degree of recognition that he earned posthumously.

The perfunctory slide show, Maries unscripted remarks, the electrical short, and

Greenbergs bid for condo sales further undercut the Chromolume with scorn and

ridicule.

For the Menier Chocolate Factorys 2005 production of Sunday, the 2006 London

cast recording, and the subsequent 2008 Broadway revival, orchestrations by Jason Carr

replaced Starobins and earned Carr a Tony Award nomination for Best Orchestrations

(and, presumably, an invitation to orchestrate the 2008 London revival of A Little Night

Music, which transferred to Broadway the following year). 40 Sondheim yet again gave up

the opportunity to compose his own Chromolume #7. Why would he again refuse to

write the definitive version of the number? Could he really find no solution to the

problem of facing his own reflection? Although Carrs adaptation of Starobins

Chromolume #7 stretches slightly longer with thirty-seven seconds of music, his is

virtually subsumed by enthusiastic exclamations from the gallery of onlookers. For

39
Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, Original Cast Recording.
40
Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, London Cast Recording.
344

approximately two-thirds of the recording, the music is barely audible beneath the

overpowering remarks from the people so eager to embrace Georges latest piece. Their

overt display of approval is unconditional, a reflective social gesture with no significance

as a barometer for the artistically extraordinary. This alternative version thus mocks not

only George and his artwork but also his audience, which, extends metadramatically to

include theatergoers and Sondheims and Lapines own spectators. Perhaps the task of

composing music for a pre-destined failure was an impossible one; Starobin and Carr

succeeded well enough, by creating mercifully brief versions.

At the dnouement, a more evocative repetition, rearrangement, and

recombination of motives play out in Move On. Disillusioned by the debut of his latest

Chromolume and deeply affected by Maries recent death, George makes a pilgrimage to

his great-grandfathers world on the island of Grande Jatte, where he confronts his artistic

limitations and personal failures in a surreal encounter with Dot, his deceased great-

grandmother. In a nebulous space that blends the stories of the first and second acts, the

living and dead, past and present, reality and imagination, Dot recognizes George as both

the nineteenth-century painter and the modern light sculptor. George responds to her in

the first person, as though inhabiting two personas simultaneously, one that expresses his

present struggle in creating art and another that voices his great-grandfathers desires. In

this strangely removed context, George can finally communicate his deep affection for

Dot. She ultimately restores his creativity by reminding him of his part in the great family

tradition of art making and encouraging him to keep looking for something new, to

Move On. The circumstances surrounding this otherwise quite wonderful song are
345

contrived and improbable to such a degree that they challenge the suspension of disbelief

with several questions: was there no better way, no logical way, of resolving the plots

conflicts and finding an excuse to reunite the two leading actors for one final duet than

relying on a deus ex machina? Is the problem of creating meaningful art in the late

twentieth century so unsolvable and hopeless that Georges artistic renewal must come

from Dot, whoas a sort of wish-granting fairysuddenly and unexpectedly resurrects

herself so that Sunday may conclude conventionally with a happy, albeit artificially

imposed, ending? Can the audience really believe that the same George who was

responsible for the abominable Chromolume and who will continue working in the

stifling conditions of the modern art world has the vision, talent, and wherewithal to

create meaningful art? Does he even want to?

The bizarre conditions that bring together George and Dot have less to do with

unimaginative storytelling and more to do with one of Sondheims biggest flaws: that he

only rarely has permitted himself to write heartfelt music and lyrics for characters to sing

to one another directly, unambiguously; usually there has to be a gimmick. Sondheim

relies on metaphor so his duets become more about ideasin this case, the seemingly

insurmountable challenges of making artthan characters. Move On exemplifies

Sondheims best attempt at composing a romantic duet and yet the pair of characters

singing could not possibly be mistaken as romantically involved. They make an

unbelievable combination: a middle-aged great-grandson with his long-dead great-

grandmother.
346

Despite the dramatic constipation that limits George and Dots expression, Move

On builds to a climax with the repetition of familiar motives. Sondheim remembers,

When I got to Move On, I thought, Okay, heres the culmination, whatll I do? I

know, Ill take all the themes and put them together. And thats what I did. 41 Sondheim

went a bit too far with this claim. While there is no doubt that Move On represents the

pinnacle of Sunday, or, as Steve Swayne asserts, packs the most emotional punch, it

includes only a small number of motives, those associated with George and Dot,

Dreaming, Creating, and Loving. 42 (The same group also appears in George and

Dots earlier musical number, We Do Not Belong Together). In the last measures of

the Act I duet, Dot foreshadows the title of Move On with the words, I have to move

on (I, 76). A textual reprise in the closing section of the second duet, when Dot changes

the familiar phrase, We do not belong together to Weve always belonged together

(II, 171), makes the connection between the two songs obvious.

As George sings, And the care, And the feeling, And the life, (II, 171) a

powerful harmonic sequence, not heard elsewhere in the score, unfolds. A B-flat major

first inversion chord with a D in the bass functions as a fake dominant, as Sondheim

refers to it, and shifts to G, which tonicizes the Neapolitan chord on C in the tonic, B

major. 43 The result is a straightforward progression of harmonies that outline the circle of

fifths from D G C. When George utters the crucial words, Moving on! and Dot

overlaps with Weve always belonged together!, the harmony reaches a cadential 6/ 4

41
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 94.
42
Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound, 201.
43
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 94.
347

and the resolution of a glorious cadence in B major (see example 4.3). At this point,

George repeats the same words and, for the first time in the score, he and Dot sing in

octave and rhythmic unison. Although the harmonic resolution and unison singing

symbolize, in musical terms, reconciliation for George and Dot, without real characters or

a believable situation, the potential that the music and lyrics offer in heightening the

emotions of and eliciting a poignant response from the audience is not fully realized. That

George (or both Georges) and Dot unite at the level of artistic inspiration and creativity,

not the merely personal level, undercuts the power of the music. For people who

inhabit only the world of the arts, that aesthetic level is sometimes the only one, and that

is perhaps what saves the number after alland also gives the members of the audience a

glimpse of a different kind of existence than their own.


348

Example 4.3: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II, Move
On, mm. 118-32
349

Move On from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
350

According to Sondheim, the oscillation between major and minor that

characterizes the motives in Move On makes an impact on the listeners ears. When

youre hearing you have to move, under the on, after the cadence there, you hear

the major and minor and they alternate. And what you get is a sense of moire . . . I think

it makes it satisfying. 44 Sondheims terminology, borrowed from moir patterns in

physics, evokes a visual effect not unlike those prompted by Seurats paintings that

happens with an interference pattern in which, for instance, two grids (rather than colors)

are superimposed and rotated at an angle. Sondheim explains why the moire elicits

such a heightened emotional response:

I really believe that in Move On when that alternation occursthat little


major/minor alternationthat the ear blends those two things and it comes
out to be this unsettled, but very poignant chord. At least it does for me. I
really hear it that way . . . Ordinarily, that kind of uncertainty between
major and minor would unsettle the audience. In Move On, I think it
feels like a cadence. And I think its because its been set up. 45

The set-up to which Sondheim refers takes place most prominently in We Do Not

Belong Together, where, following Dots final assertion, I have to move on, the inner

voice of the accompanying figure shifts between major and minor harmonies by

articulating alternating E-naturals and E-flats within the context of C major (example

4.4). (The pitch of E and the pervasive use of thirds realize at the surface the scores

underlying triadic harmonic progression.) After Dot sings, You have to move on and

Just keep moving on, in Move On, the same pattern emerges a minor second lower.

44
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 93.
45
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 93-94.
351

For Dot, the thrill and strain of moving on translates musically into vacillating major

and minor tonalities.

Example 4.4: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, I,
We Do Not Belong Together, mm. 89-97

We Do Not Belong Together from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
352

The crucial conflict between E and E, the arpeggiated texture, and the technique

of deconstructing and reassembling various repetitive patterns could have been lifted

from Stravinskys Symphony of Psalms, parts of which Sondheim, during his tenure at

Williams College, sang informally with a small group of friends. 46 In 1980, when he

appeared as a castaway on the BBCs Desert Island Discs, Sondheim included

Symphony of Psalms among his eight favorite pieces of music. 47 The same work would

remain on his modified list of desert island discs when he returned to the program twenty

years later. 48 Two similar passages for the piano, both from the first movement of

Symphony of Psalms, bear a particularly striking resemblance to the textures that pervade

Move On (see examples 4.5a and b).

46
Swayne has traced Sondheims familiarity with Symphony of Psalms back to his college days, when
Sondheim admits to performing on street corners with like-minded friends the four-part chord progressions
that set the four syllables of Psalm 150s Al-le-lu-ia. Its the only time Ive ever indulged in such
silliness, Sondheim claims. But the whole piece is wonderful. Swayne, How Sondheim Found His
Sound, 26. See also pp. 25 and 252.
47
Stephen Sondheim, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 16 August 1980. Sondheim also included on his
list the following seven works: Ravels Valses nobles et sentimentales and Piano Concerto in D Major for
the Left Hand, Bartoks Concerto for Orchestra, Gershwins Porgy and Bess (last act trio), Brahms Piano
Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, and Sondheims own Poems (Pacific Overtures) and The Ballad of
Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd).
48
Stephen Sondheim, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 31 December 2000. This second compilation
retained some of Sondheims previous selections by Ravel (Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand),
Brahms (Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major), Stravinsky (Symphony of Psalms), and himself (The
Ballad of Sweeney Todd). He changed his favorite number from Porgy to Where is Bess? and added to
the list Coplands Music for the Theatre and his own The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the
Sea (Pacific Overtures) and Finishing the Hat (Sunday).
353

Example 4.5a: Igor Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms (I), mm. 12-21

Example 4.5b: Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms (I), mm. 47-52


354

So many possibilities

Although the score for Sunday has been called minimalist, the scope of

Sondheims interest in and knowledge of minimalism and its composers has yet to

receive critical attention. 49 Sondheim owned multiple recordings of music by Philip

Glass and Steve Reich, and he has admitted admiration for Reichs music (Steve Reich

is a personal hero to me). 50 Composer Ricky Ian Gordon claims to hear Reichs Tehillim

in Sunday. 51 But Sondheim himself has not been forthright about his influences. He has,

however, pointed out, When I met Steve Reich, he told me how much he loved Pacific

Overtures . . . Its similar to his own music, because so much of it is influenced by

oriental music. 52 To which aspects, exactly, of oriental music is Sondheim referring?

Do Sondheim and Reich share the same sources of influence, or have specific elements of

Reichs compositions informed Sondheims scores directly? Are there other minimalists

who have left a mark on Sondheims music? In short, just how much has minimalist

music and its proponents shaped the development of Sondheims own voice?

The score for Sunday grew directly out of the minimalist aesthetic that Sondheim

had used for Pacific Overtures and his desire to translate into music the less is more

aesthetic that provides the foundation of so much Japanese art. Someone in a Tree, for

instance, with its long sections of repetitive music articulating the same chord, rhythm,

49
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 357-58, 366 and Martin Gottfried, Sondheim, enlarged and
updated ed. (New York: Abrams, 2000), 156.
50
For a complete inventory of Sondheims record collection, see Swayne, How Sondheim Found His
Sound, 8-10. For Sondheim on Steve Reich, see Frank Rich, Conversations with Sondheim, New York
Times Magazine, 12 March 2000, 40 and Gottfried, Sondheim, 156.
51
Ricky Ian Gordon, If I Knew Then..., The Sondheim Review 19/1 (Fall 2012): 21.
52
Horowitz, Sondheim on Music, 158.
355

and accompanimental pattern (accentuated by Tunicks scoring for Eastern instruments),

seems to evoke some of the aesthetic qualities and additive techniques of music by Reich

(Four Organs, 1970; Music for 18 Musicians, 1974-76). Sondheim gives Someone in a

Tree a sense of direction, momentum, and finally a point of arrival by making subtle

changes over time to the rhythm, texture, and the placement of chords over time.

The size of Sundays orchestra seems to adhere to the same maxim that less is

more: Starobins orchestrations require only eleven musicians (2 reeds, 2 horns,

percussion, piano/celeste, harp, synthesizer, 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello)roughly half

as many players as required in Sondheims eight previous Broadway musicals: A Funny

Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (26 musicians), Anyone Can Whistle (25),

Company (26), Follies (28), A Little Night Music (25), Pacific Overtures (26), Sweeney

Todd (26), and Merrily We Roll Along (20). 53 The unusually small number of Sundays

accompanimental forces stems from its conception as a workshop production in a not-for-

profit theater. The orchestrations started virtually as improvisation with a piano-vocal

score distributed among players. When Sunday moved to Broadway, the number of

musicians stayed small because the pit in the Booth Theatre holds only eleven players.

For the 2005 production of Sunday at Londons 169-seat Menier Chocolate Factory

Theatre, Jason Carrs new orchestrations reduced the orchestra to just five musicians (2

piano/synthesizer, 1 violin, 1 cello, and 1 flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/alto saxophone).

Pianist Caroline Humphris doubled as musical director. With no trumpet or horn to play

the Sunday melody, characterized by a rising minor sixth, Carr reassigned the

53
Banfield, Sondheims Broadway Musicals, 83.
356

memorable phrase to the alto saxophone, an especially misguided substitute for a part

suggested by the bugler in Seurats painting. When, in 2006, the production transferred to

the West End, Carrs orchestrationsand lackluster saxophonecame with it. 54 That

year, the London cast made an audio recording with the same five players plus three

additional musicians, which the liner notes list by name but not instruments. Although

the synthesizer fills out the sound when the music calls for thicker textures, many

numbers on the recording, particularly Sunday, seem thin and lose some of their power.

(The ensemble singing is weaker here than on the Broadway album.)

The extent to which Sondheim employed pattern-repetitive techniques in

Opening Prelude, Color and Light, Finishing the Hat, We Do Not Belong

Together, Chromolume #7, Putting It Together, Move On, and selected music for

scene changes reveals a conscious debt to minimalist music. Putting It Together

exhibits best the application of minimalist techniques in generating large-scale structure.

Its length alone, 17 numbered sections, 47 pages in the 246-page vocal score (close to

one-fifth of the entire score), and almost 7 minutes on the original cast recording, mimics,

albeit on a smaller scale, the extended durations typical of many minimalist

compositions. The perpetual motion of Sondheims repetitive or slowly evolving eighth-

note accompanimental figures articulating simple, alternating, and sometimes-ambiguous

harmonies invokes some of the music of John Adams. Compare, for instance, an excerpt

of Georges solo material from Putting It Together (XI) (example 4.6) with the opening

of Adamss China Gates (1977) (example 4.7).

54
Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, London Cast Recording.
357

Example 4.6: Sondheim and Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, II,
Putting It Together (XI), mm. 1-7

Putting It Together from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE


Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
1984 RILTING MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by WB MUSIC CORP. All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
358

Example 4.7: John Adams, China Gates, mm. 1-15


359

Putting It Together (XI) unfolds in repetitive melodic patterns of four, six, and sixteen

notes with an unremitting subtactile pulse (see table 4.7). Counting and grouping notes

according to changes in melodic content or tonality reveals an intricate framework of

alternating sections.

Table 4.7: Proportional Design in Putting It Together (XI),


Sunday in the Park with George

Measures Incipit No. of Groupings of Eight- Tonalities Form


Eighth-Note Note Patterns
Pulses
1-2 (safety) Bit by bit . . . 80 ||: 6, 6, 4 :|| 6, 6, 4, 4, 6, G/A A
and 1a-6 6, 6, 6, 4
7-16 Only way to make a 80 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, G/C B
work of art . . . 6, 6, 6, 6, 4
17-28 Putting it together . . 96 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, G/A A
. 6, 4, 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 4
29-34 Adding up to make a 48 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 4 G/C B
work of art . . .
35-48 Take a little cocktail 96 16, 16, 16, 16, 16, 16 D/C C
conversation . . .
49-54 Is putting it together . 48 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 4, 6, 6, 4 G/A A
. .
Total: 448

Pairing minimalism with chromoluminarism seems a compatible coupling.

Minimalism depicts in music the repetitive nature of Seurats (and nineteenth-century

Georges) approach to painting. As maximally repetitive music, minimalism also

captures the spinning hamster wheel on which modern George runs, as he churns out

Chromolume after Chromolume and performs the seemingly meaningless, creatively

void, and yet all-consuming task that sustains his existence as an artist: rigorously

marketing himself within the climate of advanced capitalism in the hope of finding
360

adequate financial support for his artistic endeavors. 55 George tells the audience directly

in Putting It Together:

Advancing art is easy . . .


Financing it is not . . . (II, 146)

Sunday ends as it began with George standing in front of a white canvas (another

interpretation of minimalist technique) and promising smugly, So many possibilities

He has learned that, in order to move on and create meaningful art, he needs to embrace

his modernist roots. With George as an Artist, a virtual stand-in for Sondheim and

Lapine, his character invites comparisons with its creators. Was Sondheim explicitly

identifying with Seurat? Was he, like George, turning his back on commercialism and

attempting to redefine himself as a modernist, searching for the new, moving on without

regard to success or audience? It was, indeed, a turning point in his journey as a

collaborative musical dramatist, the first work in the new post-Prince period of his career.

55
Minimal music as cultural practice in post-war America is the cornerstone of Robert Finks fascinating
monograph, Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2005), x.
361

Epilogue

Becoming Stephen Sondheim

We dare not rest our oars. Todays invention is tomorrows clich. We must continue to
invent and improvise. That is the only way that theatreand we of the theatrecan
remain healthy.
Alan Jay Lerner and Kurt Weill, quoted in The Story of Love Life by Wolfe
Kaufman, Love Life souvenir program, 1948, p. 9.

Its only new for now


Nouveau.
But yesterdays forgotten.
And tomorrow is already pass.
Theres no surprise.
That is the state of the art, my friend,
That is the state of the art.
Stephen Sondheim, Putting It Together, Sunday in the Park with George (New
York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1991), 141.

Sondheim has produced a huge body of music and lyrics and amassed an impressive list

of honors and awards, including, three years ago, as part of the cornucopia of benefit

concerts and festivities celebrating his eightieth birthday, becoming the namesake for a

Broadway theatre. His longevity as a composer-lyricist commands respect, especially

when considering the great extent to which Broadway, and the world beyond it, has

evolved and how few other composers and/or lyricists have managed to survive at all

let alone match Sondheims God-like status. That he maintained such esteem in an

Age of the McMusical without the backing of a corporate production powerhouse


362

seems all the more impressive. Yet Sondheim has had considerable help. Collaborators

and critics have assisted in constructing a narrative in which Sondheim has achieved

eminence as innovator. It, of course, helps that his biography has all the makings of a

good story: a noble birth, villainous mother, heroic surrogate father and mentor,

colorful cast of friends and collaborators, famous avant-garde teacher, promising early

experiments, endearing flops and false starts, full-blown hits, and, finally, widespread

recognition, and now veritable sainthood. With so much attention on his life and

career, Sondheim has attracted a formidable fan base, which supports two periodicals

dedicated solely to chronicling and promoting his work, the UK-based Stephen Sondheim

Society, and a host of websites offering information about his oeuvre and upcoming

productions. 1 Some websites also sell a variety of Sondheim memorabilia, ranging from

box sets of CDs and DVDs to bumper stickers (Sondheim is God and I Wish).

Sondheim has become a near-household namebut not because audiences

worldwide have clamored to attend productions of his works. (Sondheims shows still

seem to attract only a small, elitist segment of the theatergoing public.) Some of his

recognition can be attributed to his own willingness to step into the spotlight by granting

interviews and writing extensively about his output. If his persona has not all but

displaced his shows as the principal object of interest and scrutiny, he has certainly

become the chief commentator concerning his own musicals, which has sometimes had

the effect of short-circuiting or obviating the need for genuine scrutiny. Scholars have felt

1
Sondheim The Magazine has printed issues bimonthly since 1993, and The Sondheim Review has
published quarterly since 1994. The most useful websites on Sondheims life and career include:
www.sondheimguide.com, www.sondheim.com, and www.sondheim.org.
363

obligated to consider, and usually accept, what Sondheim has said about his work, much

as Wagner and then Brecht succeeded, at least for a time, in influencing with their

writings the reception and perception of their works. To date, few critics or scholars have

attempted to chip away at decades of received wisdom handed down from the Creator

Himself. But Sondheim cannot and should not have the last word when it comes to his

works.

Sondheim gave what seems to be his first substantive interview in the early

1960s. 2 Here he referred to his role as composer-lyricist, that double-barreled term that

largely fails to convey the full impact of a score in establishing tone, dictating action,

contributing subtext, and adding meaning to a musical. In this interview, Sondheim

criticized the formulaic approach that had satisfied many contemporary musical theater

practitioners:

People are still writing Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. I find that a
rut. Instead of writing what Rodgers and Hammerstein had to offer and
inventing on top of it and adding to it, and expanding it, they have been
copying, and that seems to be a great mistake, a waste of time, and
unlikely to be successful. 3

Sondheim argued that the problem with many of these imitative shows started with the

nature of their source material:

Theyre choosing well-made properties, putting them on the stage and


adding some songs. I dont think thats the way musical theatre is going to
stay alive . . . I am more interested in originals or very loose adaptations of
non-theatre works. Theres more of a chance of turning out a good, fresh
or exciting musical if you deal with original material.

2
David Dachs, Anything Goes: The World of Popular Music (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), 294-96.
3
Ibid, 294.
364

To keep the genre fresh, an adjective he reuses several times in describing his aesthetic

views of the Broadway stage and the principles that govern his own writing, Sondheim

recommended experimenting with a variety of existing forms:

Experimentation consists of new ways of exploiting old systems.


Experimentation with form, so to speak; short songs, songs with no
refrains, sung pieces without an orchestra going on. Sung speech, all sorts
of things, an amalgamation of ancient techniques used in new and fresh
ways. 4

Now was the time for change, Sondheim argued: The public is anxious for out-of-the-

ordinary musicals. The barriers are going down in both subject matter and form. That is

what makes it a period of transitions. 5

Sondheim was doing here in 1964 what Bernstein had done in October 1956 on

one of his Omnibus television programs, a historical survey of American musical theater

entitled American Musical Comedy. Standing in front of a piano, a young and

charismatic Bernstein marveled at the strides musical theater practitioners had taken with

their recent offerings: For the last fifteen years, we have been enjoying the greatest

period our musical theater has ever known . . . Each [new musical] is a surprise; nobody

ever knows what new twists and treatments and styles will appear next. 6 At the end of

the seventy-six-minute program, Bernstein concluded:

We will always have with us the line of gorgeous girls, the star comic, and
the razzle-dazzle band in the pit. But theres more in the wind than that.
We are in a historical position now similar to that of the German popular
musical theater just before Mozart came along . . . We are in the same
position; all we need is for our Mozart to come along. If and when he does

4
Dachs, Anything Goes, 294-95.
5
Ibid., 296.
6
Leonard Bernstein, The Joy of Music (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 174.
365

. . . what well get will be a new form . . . And this can happen any second.
Its almost as though it is our moment in history, as if there is a historical
necessity that gives us such a wealth of creative talent at this precise time. 7

With Candide poised to open on Broadway in December and West Side Story in progress

for the following season, perhaps Bernstein envisioned himself as the wunderkind who

would elevate the genre to the level of an art form. It seems strange that someone

collaborating with the likes of Robbins, Laurents, Prince, and Sondheim would have

called for a Mozarta composerto raise the bar. 8

In 1964, Sondheim did not go so far as Bernstein, but he did say that Broadway

needed experimentation and originality in order to say fresh, and he directed attention to

the innovative aspects of his creative output, or intentions, by subtly suggesting that he

was cognizant of precedents (ancient techniques). Sondheim left it to the reader to

connect the dots and fill in the blanks. His proclivity for musicals with original books and

experimentation reflected several of the choices that he made in the 1960s. When Anyone

Can Whistle closed after nine performances, Sondheim showed little remorse: I dont

mind putting my name on a flop as long as weve done something that hasnt been tried

before. 9 Emphasizing experimentation, resisting formula, and remaking the past echo

the modernist aesthetic that Babbitt, among others, had propounded in the early 1950s.

More than compositional techniques, then, seem to have rubbed off on Sondheim during

his private studies with the prominent avant-gardist.

7
Bernstein, The Joy of Music, 174-79.
8
See Kim H. Kowalke, The Golden Age of the Musical, original English version of Das Goldene
Zeitalter des Musicals, in Musical: Das unterhaltende Genre, ed. Armin Geraths and Christian Martin
Schmidt, 137-178 (Laaber: Laaber Verlag, 2002), 48.
9
Zadan, Sondheim & Co., 95.
366

This dissertation has examined how Sondheim became Sondheim several times

over: first in the 1960s, a crucial period when a sea change was underway for the

American musical theater, as a mirror of American culture, and for Sondheim, who was

then struggling to find his bearings with different collaborators on these turbulent waters.

Another critical point in his career arrived in the 1980s, when the commercial theater

could no longer sustain the Prince spectaculars and Sondheim looked beyond Broadway

for alternative forms of theater. If this dissertation does not assess fully how Sondheim

became Sondheim, it is because, as he says, only rarely has he been the initiator of the

topics, characters, or plots of his musicals. He depended on collaborators, and he

believed, like Kurt Weill, that every show had to create its own style, its own soundscape.

Therefore, unlike, for instance, the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, what we learn

about A Little Night Music does not carry over much to Pacific Overtures, and far less to

Merrily We Roll Along or Assassins. Why? The answer lies with Sondheims multi-show

bookwriter co-dramatistsArthur Laurents, Burt Shevelove, James Goldman, George

Furth, Hugh Wheeler, John Weidman, and James Lapinewho represent very different

approaches to musical dramaturgy and subject matter. A genuine assessment of

Sondheims becoming would have to look beyond the Mozart and take into account

how Sondheim became a different Sondheim with each bookwriter, if not each show (see

Table 5.1).
367

Table 5.1: Sondheims Multi-Show Bookwriters and Their Output

Arthur Laurents West Side Story, Gypsy, Invitation to a March (play), Anyone Can
Whistle, The Enclave (play)

Burt Shevelove A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim: A Musical
Tribute, The Frogs

James Goldman Evening Primrose, Follies

George Furth Company, Merrily We Roll Along, Getting Away with Murder (play)

Hugh Wheeler A Little Night Music, Candide, Pacific Overtures (additional material),
Sweeney Todd

John Weidman Pacific Overtures, Assassins, Road Show

James Lapine Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion, Sondheim on
Sondheim

Widening the lens to include Sondheims other multi-show collaborators moves

to the center the contributions of at least fifteen artists who, as directors, choreographers,

set designers, lighting designers, and orchestrators, have also helped Sondheim find new

voices for each show (see Table 5.2).


368

Table 5.2: Sondheims Other Multi-Show Collaborators and Their Output

Collaborator Role Show


Boris Aronson Set designer Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific
Overtures

Michael Bennett Choreographer Company, Follies

Leonard Bernstein Composer West Side Story, A Pray by Blecht, Candide

Patricia Birch Choreographer A Little Night Music, Candide, Pacific Overtures

Jules Fisher Lighting designer Anyone Can Whistle, Do I Hear a Waltz?

Larry Fuller Choreographer Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along

Eugene Lee Scenic designer Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Bounce (Road
Show)

Tharon Musser Lighting designer Follies, A Little Night Music, Candide

Richard Nelson Lighting designer Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods

Harold Prince Producer and Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific
director Overtures, Side by Side by Sondheim, Sweeney Todd,
Merrily We Roll Along, Bounce (Road Show)

Jerome Robbins Director and West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on
choreographer the Way to the Forum (show doctor), A Pray by
Blecht

Herbert Ross Choreographer Anyone Can Whistle, Do I Hear a Waltz?

Michael Starobin Orchestrator Sunday in the Park with George, Assassins

Tony Straiges Scenic designer Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods

Jonathan Tunick Orchestrator Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Frogs, Pacific
Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Into
the Woods, Passion, A Funny Thing Happened on the
Way to the Forum, Putting It Together, Road Show
369

Even now, as he approaches his eighty-fourth birthday, Sondheim continues to set

the terms and boundaries for the discourse that addresses his artistic contributions. Forty-

six years after that first substantive interview, in an epilogue to the second volume of his

collected lyrics, Sondheim reaffirmed his role as modernist:

Most jobs get easier over time, or at least less stressful . . . Writing, or at
least writing songs for the theater, is different. You would think that the
more you write, the easier it would get, but no such luck. Technical facility
gets easier; invention does not. It gets harder chiefly because you
becomeor should becomemore aware of pitfalls, especially the danger
of repeating yourself. I find myself using the same chords and the same
tropes over and over, and I fight against it. 10

Sondheim has pushed himself to move onto find something new before becoming

passand so must Sondheim scholarship. Many questions still need to be addressed:

how has Sondheim reinvented himself since Sunday? What existing forms and techniques

has he employed? How has he remade the past? How has he used other forms of media

(film, television, etc.) to project himself? How has the high-modernist aesthetic shaped

the rest of his output? Can a portion of his work be read as autobiographical? Much other

work remains to be done: archival research, as documentation becomes accessible, so as

to better understand his creative and collaborative processes; readings of his post-Prince

musicals, which have generally been regulated to the periphery and remain largely

unexplored critically; his revues and anthologies; his smaller assignments; his working

relationships and divisions of labor with his orchestrators; his role in shaping the course

of the American musical theater; his productions from the perspective of ethnography;

10
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments,
Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany (New York: Knopf, 2011),
429-30.
370

and investigations of the works of his contemporaries and progeny, who compose in his

shadow and may at times suffer from the anxiety of his influence: Ricky Ian Gordon,

Jeanine Tesori, Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel, and Jason Robert Brown, to

name but a few. Perhaps the biggest lacuna in Sondheim scholarship is the dearth of

inquiry into the ways in which Sondheim puts the music itself together. My own remarks

in the preceding chapters hint at some ways in which the notes work and interrelate in

different scores. But the American musical theater has garnered little attention from

music theorists, and Sondheim, with few exceptions, has been all but ignored. 11

Thorough musical analyses of his scores could shed insight into the nature of Sondheims

harmonic language, his use of non-functional harmony inside and outside the contexts of

his pastiches, and the ways in which his tonal compositions might be well served by

reductive, perhaps even Schenkerian, analysis. So much more work must be done to

understand the roles that Sondheimand his collaboratorshave played in the creation,

transformation, and elevation of a uniquely American art form.

11
Two dissertations, written almost thirty years apart, exemplify music-theoretic approaches to Sondheim:
Stephen Blair Wilson, Motivic, Rhythmic, and Harmonic Procedures in Stephen Sondheims Company
and A Little Night Music (Ph.D. diss., Ball State University, 1983) and Peter Charles Landis Purin, Ive
a voice, Ive a voice: Determining Stephen Sondheims Compositional Style Through Music-Theoretical
Analysis of His Theater Works (Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 2011).
371

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Sondheim, Stephen. Papers. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

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