Stephen Sondheim, Earl Wrightson, and Irwin Kostal On American Musical Theatre, WCBS, 15 October 1961

In an episode of this television series, originally broadcast exclusively in New York City, Sondheim speaks before a workshop of NYC high school students, discussing the genesis of such songs as “Small World”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “One Hand, One Heart,” which are performed by Martha Wright and Ralph Curtis.

This show also includes question and answer period with Irwin Kostal, arranger and conductor for West Side Story. Hosted by Earl Wrightson. Produced by Ned Cramer. Directed by Neal Finn.

  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses – The CBS Orchestra
  • Small World – Martha Wright
  • Maria – Ralph Curtis
  • I Feel Pretty – Martha Wright
  • Tonight (Balcony Scene) – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • One Hand, One Heart – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • Mambo – The CBS Orchestra
  • Cool (Fugue) – The CBS Orchestra
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses (reprise) – The CBS Orchestra

Sondheim, Wrightson, KostalLyricist-Composer Stephen Sondheim, Baritone/Host Earl Wrightson, Orchestrator-Conductor Irwin Kostal.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mr Kostal, what is the difference between an orchestrator and an arranger?

It refers specifically to what you find on the music. When a composer composes a piece of music, we hope that it’s a complete piece of music, and when a man like Mr Bernstein composes the music (short laugh) it is. So all you do, you just discuss with him what he’d like to hear, flutes, violins…and you follow exactly what is written on the paper. This is what I call orchestration. Now, I get to do very little of that kind of work…because nowadays composers don’t bother with too much detail…

Steve [Sondheim] here is the kind of man we need because he’s studying music, and believe me that is a rarity on Broadway, because most composers don’t… At one time in history, composers actually did their own orchestration. They had the time in those days…but also, they could do it. For instance, Victor Herbert was a tremendous orchestrator. On one television show I did recently I actually used Mr Herbert’s scores as he wrote them in 1916—I couldn’t do ‘em any better. He knew what he was doing. Kurt Weill was the last one to do this. George Gershwin never did it on Broadway, but he—after he became a successful songwriter—studied music and learned how to orchestrate so that by the time he did Porgy and Bess he was able to do a very good job on the orchestrations.

Now, in arranging—if the composer does not do his job properly, the orchestrator has to come in and finish the job for him. Now, you’d be surprised how many times I do Broadway shows where I get roughly a one-line melody, a lead sheet, and I have to add the bass line, the harmony, the chords, and if it goes on for four minutes or a routine I have to think of things for the flutes to play and the violins to play etcetera, and it becomes a hefty job and I really feel like I am a composer’s partner when I do this*… You know, the more you do of this sort of work, the less the composer likes it. Because he’s kind of mad at you because he didn’t do it himself, I think anyway. And it serves him right. He should do it himself. I think he should go to school himself and learn. We have too many lead sheets—sure, the melody is the most important thing in music, but too many of our composers have decided to write only the melody. They have separated melody from music. Now, the art of melody writing is not a separate art from music, it’s a part of music. And when they have written this top line and leave the rest to me, they’ve got to be dissatisfied because they didn’t do it themselves. Let them get down to their business and go to school and learn to write!

[*I wonder who’s he’s talking about. Shinbone Alley’s George Kleinsinger? Fiorello’s Jerry Bock? Surely not The Music Man’s Meredith Willson—Willson went to Juilliard.]

“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” by Stephen Sondheim Sung by Carol Burnett and Bronson Pinchot

Sondheim: The use of songs in it I hope will be different than the so-called “integrated musical” where the songs and the story constantly flow in and out of each other. It’d been going on for so many years now, I think a rather tired formula, that

Host: Well, it was a good thing when it happened. I remember all those years in operetta, bursting into song for no reason… But that’s not what you’re going to do with this.

Sondheim: Oh, we might. It’s fun as long as it works.

Stephen Sondheim on
American Musical Theatre (15 October, 1961)
talking about his new show,
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum

Everybody Ought to Have a Maid

Here’s the show’s most lascivious number, cunningly retooled for modern times, from the 1999 Broadway revue highlighting Sondheim’s music, Putting It Together:

Everybody ought to have a maid
Everybody ought to have a working boy
Everybody ought to have a lurking boy
To putter around the house…

Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler’s Overture to Gypsy: John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

The indication “burlesque strip stylewas actually written on the music right around 4:00. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms program The Broadway Sound, 2012.

John Wilson Gypsy Overture

Also at 4:00 John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy. This is the moment one year ago today when I fell in love with you my bonny, that lovely luscious moment when I stumbled onto that clip above of you at the RAH and got your number

Kiss Me, Kate: Another Cole Porter Musical with Dirty Lyrics, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra and Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2014

John and O don’t always perform semi-staged fully-voiced musicals badly at their BBC Proms appearances at the Royal Albert Hall—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (pronounced The Guardian, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn’s movie arrangement—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”). And in fact their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was as it was meant to be: big, sexy and playful. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!

Kiss Me Kate
That’s the hilarious Louise Dearman as singer/sexworld adventuress Lois Lane. (Yes I swear to God, that’s the name the writers of this classic 1948 Broadway musical gave her.)

Now, we all know about “Too Darn Hot” with its descriptions of nice normal congress (“I’d like to sup with my baby tonight / Play the pup with my baby tonight”) and “Tom, Dick or Harry” with its lyrics “I’m a maid mad to marry and would take double quick / Any Tom, Dick or Harry, any Tom, Harry or Dick” and the lilting refrain “A-dick-a-dick dick dick, a-dick-a-dick dick dick”…

But did you ever stop to think about the song “Always True to You in My Fashion”? Which was one of my party pieces years and years ago (alternating with “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma). I once gave it some thought and what I worked out is this: Lois isn’t just your ordinary sex supplier—no, she specializes in those extra-special somethings that make a man (well, certain men) happy and willing to pay top dollar for them. Not to mention that in every verse she pretty much announces her rates:

  • There’s a madman known as Mac
    Who is planning to attack
    If his mad attack means a Cadillac, okay!…
  • I would never curl my lip
    To a dazzling diamond clip
    If a clip meant “Let ‘er rip!”
    I’d not say nay…
  • There’s an oilman known as Tex
    Who is keen to give me checks
    And his checks I fear
    Means that sex is here to stay…

…ending always with the last line, “But I’m always true to you darling in my fashion / Yes I’m always true to you darling in my way.” Which to me is the number-one indication she keeps it hot with her boyfriend because with him it’s, like I said, nice normal congress. You know, vanilla. But with her clients? As you may recall I was in the business, where scenarios abound. (Remember Basingstoke?) All this to say it amuses me to no end to watch Lois size up within two seconds The Conductor, cunningly portrayed by my beloved John Wilson. Because I know exactly what’s going on in her head, in descending order:

  • How much do orchestra conductors make, anyway?
  • Tell mama what your kinks are.
  • Hey, he’s kinda cute. Skinny, but cute.

But don’t blame me, take it up with Cole Porter. Kiss Me, Kate is available in its entirety here.

Jake Gyllenhaal Sings “Finishing a Hat” by Stephen Sondheim from Sunday In the Park with George, Hudson Theatre NYC, 1 February 2017

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

Jake.jpg

I know, I know, Steve Gyllenhaal and I are still on the outs but his son sings this song so beautifully (no Mandy Patinkin though) I have to share it with you.