Sondheim Celebration

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C currently is honoring the work of one of America's finest composers. The first of six popular musical shows written by Stephen Sondheim opened at the center last week. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Shirley Griffith. The music of Stephen Sondheim is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Americans love the music of Stephen Sondheim. Many theater critics say he re-invented American musical plays. This is because his plays are different from traditional musicals. His plays are often about serious subjects. They have more interesting and unusual characters. And they are about complex emotions.

The Kennedy Center is presenting six of his most popular musical shows starring famous Broadway musical performers. The Sondheim Celebration will continue through August twenty-fifth.

Stephen Sondheim was born in nineteen-thirty in New York City. He was the son of clothing manufacturers. His parents ended their marriage when he was ten years old. His mother took Stephen to live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They lived near Oscar Hammerstein, who wrote the words to many of the greatest musical plays on Broadway in New York. He helped Stephen develop his musical abilities.

While still a young man, Stephen Sondheim wrote the words to the songs Leonard Bernstein composed for the musical "West Side Story." It opened on Broadway in Nineteen-Sixty. It is considered one of the finest works of American musical theater.

Sondheim also wrote the words to the songs in another very successful show, "Gypsy." These productions helped launch Mr. Sondheim in the musical theater. Since the early Nineteen-Sixties, he has written the words and music to more than one-hundred songs. He has written or helped write about twenty musical shows. They have won many awards for the best musicals on Broadway.

Now, we tell about the six musicals being performed in the Sondheim Celebration in Washington this summer. One of these is "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." It was created by Sondheim and Broadway producer Hal Prince. It is the story of a man who was unfairly sent to prison in London. The show tells about how he punishes his enemies for this injustice. It is funny as well as frightening. Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou sing "A Little Priest."

((CUT TWO: "A Little Priest"))

The team of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince also wrote "Merrily We Roll Along." This story is about three successful people who once were friends. Here, Maria Friedman urges an old friend to remember their warm feelings for one another. She sings "Old Friends: Who's Like Us?"

((CUT THREE: "Old Friends: Who's Like Us?))

Another Sondheim show being performed in Washington is "Sunday in the Park with George." The play is based on a famous nineteenth century painting by French artist George Seurat. Mr. Sondheim said he wrote the musical to prove that creating art is difficult. Mandy Patinkin, as George, thinks about doing something new. Bernadette Peters, as his girlfriend, urges him to do so. They sing "Move On."

((CUT FOUR: "Move On"))

People at the Kennedy Center also will see "A Little Night Music." This musical is based on a movie by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It is about love, foolishness and old age. Jean Simmons sings one of Stephen Sondheim's most famous and beautiful songs, "Send in the Clowns."

((CUT FIVE: "Send in the Clowns"))

The Kennedy Center also is presenting the Sondheim musical show, "Passion." It takes place in Italy during the eighteen-sixties. In this story, a young soldier must choose between a beautiful lover and a dying woman. The show is more emotionally complex than other Broadway musicals. Here, Jere Shea and Marin Mazzie describe their feelings for one another in "Happiness."

((CUT SIX: "Happiness"))

The Sondheim show "Company" tells about an unmarried man named Robert. Robert sings about the woman he could love. This woman is perfect. She has all the qualities of five of his women friends who are married. Dean Jones sings "Someone is Waiting."

((CUT SEVEN: "Someone Is Waiting"))

Thousands of people have bought tickets to the Sondheim Celebration. Some are travelling from other cities to see one or more of the shows. As one critic said, "Stephen Sondheim is the father of the modern musical theater."

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Darryl Smith. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.