Students from professor Dan Egan’s class “Stephen Sondheim and the American Musical Theater” got a first-hand look at the subject of their coursework last Wednesday.
The class’s 20 students got the chance to meet Stephen Sondheim, the renowned composer and lyricist who is best known for writing the score for musicals “Into the Woods,” “Company” and “Sweeney Todd.” During the one-and-a-half hour-long question-and-answer session, which took place at the headquarters of the Dramatist’s Guild in Times Square, Sondheim talked about his approach to writing a song and his views on the current state of Broadway as well as some anecdotes from his more than 60 years in theater.
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“Getting to meet Sondheim in an intimate setting like that was unbelievable,” Henry Gottfried ’13, one of the students in Egan’s class, said. “For those of us who have grown up listening to and performing in his words and music, it was a pretty awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Many students said they were struck by Sondheim’s casual demeanor when he entered the room. Jackie Bruleigh ’11 said she appreciated how the songwriter, who wore khakis and an oversized grey-and-blue striped sweater to the meeting, gave straight-forward and concrete answers.
“It was actually like hanging out with your uncle or talking with a family member,” Bruleigh said.
In addition to speaking about his creative process, Sondheim reminisced about some of the lighter moments that took place during the process of his shows. He told one story about Elaine Stritch, who was the inspiration behind — and original performer of — the iconic Sondheim song “Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical “Company.” Sondheim had originally wrote a song which author George Furth had said was not right for her character. To capture Strich’s true personality, Furth told Sondheim a story about a night he had spent with when the two, after a night of drinking, were trying to talk their way into a bar that had just closed for the night. During yesterday’s discussion, Sondheim repeated what Strich said to the bartender: “‘Give me a bottle of vodka and a floor plan,’ and George said, that’s who Elaine is.”
“I just loved talking to him not just because of what he’s done but because he was just such a cool person,” Jeremy Lloyd ’11, another class member, added.
The trip was paid for by the Yale Friends of Music fund and the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater.
Students from the class also attended a performance of the current revival of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” starring Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch Wednesday night.