A few years ago I took a trip to the Galápagos Islands and heard the sad tale of Lonesome George. No one knows how old George is, though he’s clearly getting on in years. George is a giant tortoise of a subspecies found only on Pinta Island—apparently the last remaining Pinta tortoise on the planet. When he was discovered, back in 1971, scientists hoped that a mate for him might soon be located—and that a pair of these creaky, winsome, deliberative creatures, an armored Adam and Eve, would repopulate the world in their own image. No mate was found.
I suppose there are different ways to view George’s fate. He might be regarded as a victor of sorts. These days, as another hell-bent American presidential campaign heats up, we’re repeatedly informed that the goal is to be the “last man standing.” Well, George is the last Pinta tortoise standing. Even so, one imagines it couldn’t be much fun for George to contemplate a day when the last Pinta shell will be as cold and lifeless as the surface of the moon.
A similar ambivalence attends the career of Stephen Sondheim, the Lonesome George of American musical theater. A quarter of a century ago, Leonard Bernstein said of him, “On Broadway, he’s now the most important theater man writing.” Succeeding decades have only confirmed and solidified Sondheim’s position, as an older generation of composers and lyricists have retired or died. He is the unquestioned monarch of an increasingly depopulated terrain.
It’s startling to contemplate how altered is the scene since Sondheim entered it half a century ago. When he graduated from Williams at the age of twenty, in 1950, he already knew what he wanted to do. He’d grown up under the wing of the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, a family friend who served as both mentor and “surrogate father,” and young Stephen quickly gravitated toward Broadway. By 1955 he’d completed his first full-scale musical, Saturday Night, the romantic tale of an ambitious, appealingly slick young man seeking to make his millions as the 1929 stock market collapse approaches. (For complicated reasons, Saturday Night went unproduced, and Sondheim himself eventually dismissed it as apprentice work.* But last summer I caught a resuscitated production by the fine Pegasus Players in Chicago, and was struck by how winning and precociously adroit was this piece of old-fashioned juvenilia.)
Back in 1955, as Sondheim went about plotting and polishing Saturday Night, he must have envisioned himself as laboring in a crowded and illustrious field. Rodgers and Hammerstein were bustling along, with Okla-homa! and South Pacific behind them and The Sound of Music ahead. Irving Berlin, that good businessman whose business was the manufacturing of hits, was still marching off to the office every day. Cole Porter’s greatest—in every sense—triumph, Kiss Me, Kate, was only seven years old and Can-Can less than two. Lerner and Loewe, whose Brigadoon had been one of the most popular musicals of the Forties, were readying the lovely My Fair Lady, much the most popular musical of the Fifties. Jule Styne, Johnny Mercer, and Frank Loesser were all flourishing.
It was also in 1955 that Sondheim joined a project that, even today, remains his most widely known accomplishment: West Side Story, for which he provided the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score. That collaboration, which also included choreographer Jerome Robbins and librettist Arthur Laurents, seems to have infused all participants with sanguine expectations. Although it has its moments of gaiety and sharp humor (“I Feel Pretty,” “Gee, Officer Krupke!”), West Side Story, with its knifings and gunshots, its dead hero sprawled in the street, successfully brought a new gravity to the American musical. Bernstein later wrote: “I was perfectly confident that there would be dozens of kids who would take the next step and pick up on the hints of West Side,” developing the Broadway musical into “some form of American opera” or “whatever it’s going to be.” And Sondheim must have felt fully justified in his optimism when, only a few years after West Side Story closed, he created both lyrics and music for the greatest commercial triumph of his career, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a comedy inspired by Plautus and set among ancient Romans. Nonetheless, and all the while, on that particular Galápagos island which is Broadway, an irreplaceable line of talent—Berlin, Kern, Hart, Arlen, Porter, Rodgers, Hammerstein—had already died or was dying out. The musical’s glory days were fading.
Why the near-extinction? The most common, and often tiresome, explanation usually plays some variation on the old adage “They don’t write them like that anymore.” The assumption is that Broadway lost the ability to carry a tune. Or the talent dried up. It’s an explanation which, so instinct tells me, explains very little. I know a number of gifted people, composers and lyricists, who at the outset of their careers, a couple of decades ago, hoped to make a living in musical theater. None eventually did. Confronting an altered, forbidding Broadway in which few new musicals get produced, and those that do can cost many millions of dollars, they moved in time to other ventures—to films, television, advertising, teaching.
The dominant music of our era, rock, is frequently cited as another culprit, probably with more justification. For all the ballyhooed success of an occasional rock-inspired “event,” like the Who’s Tommy or Leiber and Stoller’s Smokey Joe’s Café, the fact is that Broadway has never found a way to assimilate rock’s rumbling guitar lines and mumbled lyrics—all its anarchic raw energy—into a tradition of clean enunciations and carefully scripted turns. Speaking about “pop-rock,” Sondheim himself regretfully noted that its “lyrics rarely have a desire to be clear, much less to gleam. They seldom take joy in the pleasures of technique, such as rhyme and wordplay.”
Any satisfyingly comprehensive explanation of the Broadway musical’s decline would doubtless require some sort of futuristic monster-computer that could absorb, quantify, and apportion a dizzying range of influences, including: the evolution of increasingly breathtaking cinematic special effects, rendering quaint the hocus-pocus of the stage; the rise of various forms of popular music, everything from folk to rap, that favor spontaneity and sincerity over the studied and the artificial; the omnipresence of television, with its own cadences and patterns of aesthetic payoff; escalating production costs and a consequent conservatism about new ventures, as in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a hugely successful musical evolved from a hugely successful animated film; an increasingly pervasive informality of dress and speech and manners, all conspiring to make theatrical spectacle look stilted; and, finally, something as elusive as a wholesale alteration in the national psyche.
In describing Sondheim as a solitary monarch, I’ve conveniently ignored the presence of a figure whose box-office appeal utterly dwarfs him, indeed dwarfs everyone: Andrew Lloyd Webber, the creator, along with his frequent lyricist Tim Rice, of Phantom of the Opera and Evita and Cats. More than anyone who has ever flourished on Broadway, Webber divides the world between admirers and detractors. I’m afraid I’m in the latter camp, his music leaving me feeling as though—like a lactose-intolerant person stranded in a Dairy Bar—I’m surrounded by gooey and indigestible things.
Any talk of the decline of the Broadway musical must confront a second, related complication: today’s hits are bigger than ever. Decline—what decline? Back in 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein rewrote the book on Broadway longevity, when Oklahoma! began its run of 2,212 performances (more than five times longer than any musical of the Thirties). A few musicals surpassed that record over the next few decades, but it wasn’t until the Seventies and Eighties, when A Chorus Line kicked through 6,137 shows, that an old notion—an inexhaustible gold mine, the show that “never closes”—suddenly looked feasible. In an era of an ever-replenishing supply of Manhattan tourists (many of them first-timers, drawn by cheap domestic and transatlantic fares), why couldn’t something run forever? Cats is now the longest-running musical in Broadway history, and shows no signs of stopping. Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Beauty and the Beast, the newly rampant Lion King—all have run, or look set to run, endlessly. To an audience with little regular exposure to Broadway, shows like these become “name brands”—whose desirable logos are stamped all over the dizzying variety of merchandise on sale in theater lobbies.
Yet audiences leave many of these shows, my guess is, not knowing who wrote the music or the lyrics. In the old days, the names of Irving Berlin or Cole Porter had luster. People went to a Rodgers and Hammerstein production; the team was the primary draw, and their often unorthodox subject matter may well have been secondary. We’ve entered a peculiar era in which blockbusterdom doesn’t necessarily translate into name recognition.
In this regard, too, Sondheim is unusual. If his productions are not spectacular hits, there’s a sizable audience out there who will go to see a new Sondheim show because it’s a new Sondheim show, however unlikely its subject. While Sondheim was still in mid-career, Bernstein predicted he would eventually shift genres—“He is suddenly going to write an opera that will knock your eyes out.” Sondheim has resisted calling any of his creations operas (although a number of them, particularly Sweeney Todd, have been taken up by opera companies), but questions of nomenclature aside, Bernstein was certainly correct in foreseeing that Sondheim would find the conventions of the musical increasingly confining. In the Nineties, he fashioned musicals about ugly souls (Assassins, in which John Wilkes Booth, John Hinckley, Lee Harvey Oswald, et al. are given voices) and ugly people (Passion, whose sickly, homely heroine pursues with pathological intensity a handsome soldier). The oddity of Sondheim’s position isn’t fully evident until one understands that this man who has repeatedly hauled the musical into new territory where it was seemingly never intended to go—the opening of Japan (Pacific Overtures), the creation of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Sunday in the Park with George), a serial killer who turns his victims into foodstuffs (Sweeney Todd)—has managed to maintain a traditional base of followers rooted in personal loyalty.
The twists and turns of Sondheim’s curious life are ably set out in Meryle Secrest’s recent biography, which draws on extensive interviews with its subject. An only child, born in 1930, Sondheim grew up in an apartment in the San Remo, on Central Park West. He was the son of a father who amassed a fortune in the fashion business, chiefly in women’s dresses, and a mother who was a dress designer. The turning point in Stephen’s childhood arrived in 1940, when his father abruptly abandoned his mother for another woman in the fashion business. Ten-year-old Stephen was left in the hands of his mother—a woman who was, by his own report, a “truly compulsive liar” bent on “poisoning his mind” against his father.
Sondheim later spent decades in therapy and his interviews with Secrest have the practiced, ratiocinative feel of someone who has frequently surveyed his internal terrain. He explains: “When my father left her, she substituted me for him. And she used me the way she had used him, to come on to and to berate, beat up on, you see.” The “coming on” was an act of psychological seductiveness: “Well, she would sit across from me with her legs aspread. She would lower her blouse and that sort of stuff.” He adds: “She was completely inept, even when she was trying to commit suicide.” She died, at the age of ninety-five, of natural causes. Sondheim did not attend her funeral.
For all his family’s money, young Stephen, shuttled from one nanny to another, from summer camp to boarding school, was precariously situated, with an absent father and an erratic and often absent mother. In his religion, too, he was unsettled. Although his parents were Jewish, his mother falsely claimed a convent education, and Secrest reports that Stephen first entered a synagogue when he was nineteen.
It’s easy to see where Sondheim came by the ambivalence and the wariness that serve as both the governing style and occasionally the content of his musicals. At times to the detriment of his work, he avoids rousing conclusions, stirring affirmations. As many of his collaborators acknowledge, he has had trouble with second acts and final scenes—precisely the moment when musicals are traditionally at their most rousing. I’m hardly alone in thinking that Company, which centers on a thirty-five-year-old emotionally withdrawn man surrounded by friends in bad marriages, fails to find a satisfying resolution for its irresolute hero; that the first acts of Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods, which seek chiefly to enchant rather than to resolve, are far more gratifying than what follows; that the last number of Pacific Overtures, which catalogs the business triumphs of modern Japan, is a thumping answer-that-is-no-answer.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Sondheim’s life was his decision to devote himself to a genre for which he would seem temperamentally maladapted. His long and splendid career can be viewed as a highly resourceful attempt to bend the cheery conventions of the American musical into forms congenial to his clever, eclectic, circumspect, and often cynical disposition. Or as he put it: “I can’t bear the phony vitality of musicals.”
The obstacles in his way were spotted at the outset by an avuncular Oscar Hammerstein, who, asked to evaluate one early Sondheim effort, fretted that it offered neither appealing characters nor happy events: “I feel quite certain that you will not succeed in getting an audience’s interest, and certainly not in sustaining this interest throughout an evening for this group of characters.” There’s something wonderfully implausible to the notion that Sondheim, the creator of desolate little songs like “My Husband the Pig” (“The swaggering bore/ I’ll do anything for./What a pig!”) and “Every Day a Little Death” found a mentor in the man who set the Alps echoing to “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” It’s as though T.S. Eliot apprenticed under James Whitcombe Riley, or Thomas Pynchon studied at the knee of Booth Tarkington.
Of course in his professional life Hammerstein was never quite the genial rube that others would have him. (As Sondheim has observed, he was “more hard-headed and more quirky than people who think of him as a naive and dreamy idealist might expect.”) Nonetheless, he was someone who open-heartedly yearned to see his audience leaving the theater with untroubled grins on their faces and jolly lyrics on their lips. Arguably, Sondheim hasn’t aspired to any such thing since A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, in 1962. In Into the Woods, his reworking of a number of classic fairy tales, it’s not surprising that the “happily ever after” refrain closes the first but not the final act. Still to come are knives, wandering blind women, murders, and betrayals. It’s a disenchanted tale of enchantment.
Nor is it surprising to read in Secrest’s book that romance was slow to enter Sondheim’s life. By his own account, he was “very late blooming”—slow to recognize and slower still to act on his homosexuality—and he reached his mid-thirties before taking up with a man he had a strong “emotional crush” on. True love didn’t arrive until he was past sixty. In a detail just right for an icy, affecting Sondheim lyric, he suffered a heart attack years before love first opened his heart.
More than a hundred years ago, W.S. Gilbert, writing for his composer-partner, Arthur Sullivan, produced the line “If we’re weak enough to tarry ere we marry, you and I….” It would later form part of a duet in Iolanthe. Tarry ere we marry? Gilbert must have smiled at setting those three disyllabic rhymes in immediate succession. So far as I know, there’s no prosodic term for this little feat, but it’s a comic turn with a purpose, one opening up fertile possibilities of repetition and variation for the composer. Sondheim must have smiled as well when he did the same thing in “Please, Hello,” from Pacific Overtures: “Com-modore Perry very merry.” And smiled more broadly still when he did Gilbert one better, setting a trio of trisyllabic rhymes in immediate conjunction:
But no one dared to query ‘er
Sondheim has the born light verse writer’s love of verbal pirouettes and somersaults. He once called lyric writing an elegant form of puzzle, and he has had a lifelong interest in games. One impressed, but evidently somewhat wearied, Sondheim house guest has reported being confronted with “charades, anagrams, arithmetical puzzles, double-acrostic crosswords…, three-dimensional noughts and crosses, four-handed chess, jigsaws constructed from abstract paintings or cut out of black-and-white circles…, elaborate toy mazes, boxes and trays and jars of colored marbles, numbered bricks, geometric shapes, which must be arranged in sequences of patterns.” It’s like Sondheim as well to adopt an unusual form of rhyme, sometimes called pararhyme or rim rhyme (the linking of two words like love and leave, whose internal vowels differ but whose exterior consonant sounds are identical), and to play one twist after another upon it:
What’s the muddle
In the middle?
That’s the puddle
Where the poodle did the piddle.
Better stop and take stock
While you’re standing here stuck
On the steps of the palace.
It’s a very short road
From the pinch and the punch
To the paunch and the pouch and the pension.
This last example has the look of empty or forced rhymes, but actually Sondheim has his eye set fixedly on his subject: a young woman’s contrary tuggings between girlish romance and maternal respectability (“There are mouths to be kissed/Before mouths to be fed”). The journey that devolves from the amorous pinch to the sedentary pension yawns before her.
Sondheim has spoken slightingly of Richard Rodgers’s first collaborator, Lorenz Hart (“You try for surprise but not so wrenchingly that the listener loses the sense of the line. Larry Hart is full of that kind of wrenching, that’s why I’m so down on him”), but he shares with Hart (in addition to a fascination with hustlers and con men) an ear that readily disassembles and reconfigures word sounds, discovering rhymes in word fragments. When Sondheim rhymes common with (phe)nomen(on), or chameleon with really un(derneath), he’s venturing firmly into Hart terrain. Both men are rhyme-mad. One difference between them is that Hart, feeling defensive about his talent, downplayed it (“Everyone knows me for triple rhyming,” he lamented, insisting that he knew how to put together a “simple lyric”), whereas Sondheim over the years has confidently, defiantly rolled out one verbal tour de force after another.
Where Sondheim turns defensive is when he is confronted with the frequently repeated accusation that his songs aren’t hummable: “Obviously if it can be sung, it can be hummed. When people say it’s not melodic, not hummable, it makes my blood boil. It’s really a question of how many times you hear it. People have lazy ears.” Lazy or not, to my ears Sondheim has a sizable but finite gift as a melodist—like Cole Porter or Hoagy Carmichael, and unlike George Gershwin or Richard Rodgers, who apparently warehoused an inexhaustible store of tunes in their heads.
In the long, glorious tradition of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley lyric-writing that comprises Hart and Porter and Hammerstein and Fields and Mercer, few can match Sondheim for wit. He can be as nimble and funny as Hart or Porter. And he has explored a wider and more surprising range of incidents and psyches than either of them, displayed a greater dramatic or novelis-tic breadth; in a genre that thrives on “types”—the bombshell bimbo, the thuggish boss—he has worked hard to create rounded characters. His imaginative gifts have made possible a range of projects that sound, on their face, foredoomed. A musical about Georges Seurat as he paints La Grande Jatte? Surely, a musical about a painter painting is the theatrical equivalent of a film about a writer writing—and, as Hollywood has repeatedly learned, the largely internal process of scribbling words on paper makes for poor cinema.
Yet in Sunday in the Park with George, with its restless, often staccato themes (reminiscent of Seurat’s discrete dabs of pigment)and its insistent, recurrent clusters of words, Sondheim evokes something authentic about the obsessive, exultant nature of artistic creation, as where Seurat contemplates the breakup of a love affair while going about the business of painting a lady’s hat:
And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
But the woman who won’t wait for you knows
That, however you live,
There’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat…
Finishing a hat…
Look, I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat…
Anyone who has stood awhile underneath Seurat’s colossal canvas, one of the glories of the Art Institute of Chicago, knows what an improbable triumph it is. How could he have done it—capturing for all time, with dots of simple color, and blocky shapes, an afternoon of sunny leisure in fin de siècle France? Sondheim’s lyrics, in their clean understatement, succeed in translating Seurat’s simple, mysterious accomplishment:
By the blue
Purple yellow red water
On the green
Purple yellow red grass,
Let us pass
Through our perfect park,
Pausing on a Sunday
By the cool
Blue triangular water
On the soft
Green elliptical grass
As we pass
Through arrangements of shadows
Toward the verticals of trees
The close of the first act may well be Sondheim’s artistic apogee. The painter, arranging each of the actors on stage into the ordained poses of La Grande Jatte, at last beholds his vast canvas as a totality. All chatter is silenced. All movement is frozen. The actors are no longer actors but immaterial immortals, and Sondheim has brought about something rare in American theater, and all but nonexistent in the American musical: a tableau of shimmering wonder.
On the subject of songwriting, it seems everybody who has ever written words for music—everyone from Oscar Hammerstein to W.H. Auden—makes one cardinal point: song lyrics need to be simple, even simpler than lyric poetry. If a lyric poem often looks vulnerable on the page (its plea is, Shakespeare reminds us, “no stronger than a flower”), song lyrics, when stripped of the melody that clothes them, appear more defenseless still. I usually find myself cringing whenever some musical’s lyrics are printed and lambasted in the press. Those particular lyrics may indeed be limp and hackneyed and everything else the critics call them, but I remain uneasily aware that some of the best songs I know—“standards” that will surely be standards a century hence—carry lyrics that run very close to the maudlin:
What’ll I do
Are far away
And I’m so blue…
What’ll I do?
The way you wear your hat,
The way you sip your tea,
The mem’ry of all that—
No, no! They can’t take that away from me!
This funny world
Can turn right around and forget you.
It’s always sure
To roll right along when you’re through.
For all his love of verbal finery, Sondheim can be a master of reticence. I’ve long admired the dead-on spareness of the opening to “Losing My Mind”:
The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
What more needs to be recorded? We hardly require a melodramatic I sip from my cold coffee cup or I stare into my coffee cup in order to enter the sort of consuming, helpless passion that colors even the most minute components of a day. And the lyrics deepen, as a phrase that often connotes a heady infatuation—I’m losing my mind—takes on sinister undertones, hinting at the paralysis of a full breakdown:
Doing every little chore,
The thought of you stays bright.
Sometimes I stand
In the middle of the floor,
Not going left,
Not going right.
It’s something of a cliché—particularly among singers hoping to come across in interviews as serious artists—to speak as though every song ever written were a short story by Chekhov or James, and any performer worth his or her salt must be a discerning literary critic. But the finest of Sondheim’ s songs really do have the narrative richness and compression of artful short fiction. Songs like “A Bowler Hat” from Pacific Overtures, in which a Meiji-era Japanese official uneasily embraces Western dress and habits, or “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd, where a beautiful young woman, kept under a sort of house arrest by her guardian, ponders a bird seller’s singing captives, offer glimpses into lives complexly lived—over time, through hindrances and irritants, alongside fears and temptations.
After a ritual nod to Kern and Hammerstein’s Showboat (1927), most writers about Broadway credit Rodgers and Hammerstein with encouraging the musical to grow up and handle adult themes and intricate but plausible stories. But for all the authentic pleasures of Oklahoma! or The King and I or South Pacific, there seems a good argument to be made that musicals—like puppies, or station wagons, or shopping streets—generally ought never to grow up. Over time puppies have a way of turning into dogs, and station wagons into minivans, and shopping streets into malls—and modern musicals into overweight, over-serious concoctions that don’t seem to recall that their forebears wore can-can outfits and baggy clown pants. Today, songs must spring naturally from the text—they must be “integrated”—but naturalism comes at a cost. Fewer and fewer musicals yield melodies that can float free of their surroundings, providing pleasure in their own right. This is certainly true of Sondheim, who has produced only one song, “Send in the Clowns,” whose first few chords on a piano are likely to raise a whoop of recognition from that dependable arbiter of musical values, the drunk in the hotel cocktail lounge.
Gershwin, Berlin, Porter—other masters of Broadway songwriting turned out some of their finest work as unattached, free-floating songs. Sondheim, though, has always responded best to the ambient pressure of some larger narrative. As one of his earliest collaborators, Burt Shevelove, pointed out: “Steve could never write a song without some dramatic situation to base it on.” In Sondheim’s case, it’s probably idle to wonder what the Broadway musical’s “growing up” has cost. It seems he couldn’t work wholeheartedly in any other medium.
This may explain why the revue—called a “review”—at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Putting It Together, succeeds only fitfully. (Far more winning was the funnier, less reverent Side by Side by Sondheim, a revue assembled in the Seventies.) It draws largely on Sondheim’s early work—Company, Merrily We Roll Along, Follies—as well as the songs he supplied for the film Dick Tracy. Despite the best efforts of its talented stars, who include Carol Burnett (in her first singing role on Broadway in thirty-five years), George Hearn, and Ruthie Henshall, Putting It Together doesn’t feel fully put together. Sondheim’s songs are so tightly integrated into their respective musicals that it’s as though they’ve been extracted here with claw hammers and chisels in order to construct a new, loose, suggestive narrative about four Albee-ish people—the Husband, the Wife, the Younger Man, and the Younger Woman—who get up to various sorts of mischief. They drink, and flirt, and reminisce, and betray each other, passing an evening no less assorted than the audience’s response. Some of the melodies are attractive, the lyrics are unfailingly sharp and clever, and yet somewhere in the wings phantom casts are singing. Putting It Together summons other shows—the original shows for which its songs were written—and never wholly drowns out their echoes.
On March 22, 2000, Stephen Sondheim will turn seventy. For a while there were reports that his long-delayed new musical, Wise Guys, would open this spring, roughly coinciding with his big birthday. Recently we were informed that it won’t. Sondheim has decided to go back and rework it. Twenty years ago, as he was turning fifty, he worried that musical theater was a young man’s game—one for which he’d grown too old. Like the aging showgirl in one of his best-known songs, “I’m Still Here” from Follies (“Top billing Monday,/Tuesday you’re touring in stock/But I’m here”), he has hung on.
By coincidence, while assembling my notes on Sondheim I once more came upon that creature I’d long associated with him, Lonesome George the Pinta tortoise, who had crawled into The New York Times. It seems George, too, is still hanging on. A brief article explained that recent DNA analysis had revealed, much to the surprise of researchers, that George’s nearest relatives were not tortoises from neighboring islands but a species from San Cristóbal and Española—the most distant islands in the Galápagos archipelago from Pinta. It was possible that George might successfully be bred with one of those. The line might go on…
These days, whenever some young Broadway songwriter emerges to any prominence, the press inevitably dubs him a young Sondheim. And now and then, chasing after that elusive quarry, the Next Sondheim, I’ve bought one of their CDs, or gone to one of their shows. Results have mostly been disappointing. No heir is apparent yet. Still, the update on the Pinta tortoise, Lonesome but Longevitous George, may be heartening. If a wonderful new line of Broadway musicals emerges, perhaps it will spring from some unexpected source, some distant island.
February 10, 2000