AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE {STEPHEN SONDHEIM} (TV)

Summary

One in this educational public affairs series that traces the origins and development of the American musical theater and examines the careers and contributions of the creative artists who have made the musical a native American art form. In an informal workshop setting, New York City high school students meet the composers, lyricists, and performers who have shaped the American musical and question them about their work. This program, hosted by Earl Wrightson, explores the career of Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim. The CBS Orchestra opens the program with "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from the Broadway musical "Gypsy," after which Wrightson introduces Sondheim, who begins by examining aspects of that show. He describes how the songs are used to elaborate on the musical's theme and characters. For instance, "Some People" helps to define Mama Rose's personality, and the deceptively ballad-like "Small World" is her attempt to con a new acquaintance. Indicative of Sondheim's craft is that both of these songs, as well as "Everything's Coming Up Roses," have hidden meanings below the surface. After Martha Wright sings "Small World," Sondheim explains what he considers the most difficult aspect of lyric writing -- having to convey a great deal of information through only a few words. Sondheim then recalls his early musical training, his apprenticeship under lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, and how he landed the job of lyricist for "West Side Story," a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Next, he explains the settings and inspiration behind some of that show's songs, such as Tony's fascination with his new lover's name in the song "Maria" (sung here by Ralph Curtis); Maria's feelings leading to "I Feel Pretty" (performed by Martha Wright); and the "balcony scene" of "Tonight" and wedding vows of "One Hand, One Heart" (the lovers are here portrayed by Curtis and Wright). Sondheim then explains the dissatisfactions he feels with some of these songs due to the restrictions inherent in lyric writing. Guest conductor Irwin Kostal, the orchestrator and arranger for "West Side Story," joins them and explains the difference between these two activities, and then conducts the CBS Orchestra in "Mambo" and "Cool Fugue," both from "West Side Story." Following this, Sondheim concentrates on his activities as a composer, specifically in relation to his upcoming musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," which he calls a celebration of comedy. The program ends with the CBS Orchestra's reprisal of "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

Cataloging of this program was made possible by a grant from the GRAMMY Foundation.

Details

  • NETWORK: WCBS-TV
  • DATE: October 15, 1961 Sunday 11:30 AM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:44:47
  • COLOR/B&W: B&W
  • CATALOG ID: T:53643
  • GENRE: Music
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Biography
  • SERIES RUN: WCBS (New York, NY) - TV series, 1959-1965
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Ned Cramer … Producer
    • Ethel Burns … Associate Producer
    • Neal Finn … Director
    • Irwin Kostal … Conductor
    • CBS Orchestra, The … Music Group
    • Earl Wrightson … Host
    • Stephen Sondheim … Guest
    • Ralph Curtis … Singer
    • Martha Wright … Singer
    • Richard Rodgers