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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Revision or

Sondheim On Sondheim

Last night Marina and I were fortunate enough to see Sondheim On Sondheim — the new Broadway review which weaves together filmed interviews with the composer/lyracist Stephan Sondheim with many live performances of many of his best creations. The show is simultaneously a light biography and an all-star night of Broadway show music — from West Side Story to his latest works. The sets are particularly ingenious, using screens that form and reform on a revolving stage to allow projections to divide up the stage in many interesting ways. The song that sticks in my mind is powerfully performed, and the show builds up to it in a clever way. Sondheim talks about his creative process throughout the show — how he stalls, delays, distracts himself; how, as an only child, he craves the company — the brotherhood of collaboration, the instant family of the team making a show. And then in two instances he lets us watch him create a song. 
        A singer comes out and sings a song from a famous show. Sondheim tells us why that song wsa cut. Another singer sings a second song. We learn who killed that one. Then we get the third song which "made" the show — in two ways: it was included in the final version, and it brought the musical together. He reveals in the most immediate and beautiful way the power of revision. It is truly inspiring — the recognition that having to go back, do it again, try it from another angle, gives you the chance to go deeper, to find something new, to make the breakthrough into true art. 
         The first example of revision I knew about — it is the story behind the song that became "Comedy tonight" — the opening number of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum" The second revision story — the song I keep singing to myself this morning — came from the difficulty the creative crew had in figurng out how to end Company The show is about marriage — its difficulties and dangers in the modern city. Sondheim, who has never been married, litterally had to go to research to figure out what to write about. But how to end the show? Should Bobby get married? The song Sondheim crafted — in his third attempt is "Being Alive" (easy to find YouTubes of it, I don’t know how to upload them here). The song is a show stopper — and all the more when you realize that it was hard won — we see greatness take shape, through revision. And that is inspiring to all of us who delay, stall, distract ourself — and try to create.