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'Six by Sondheim' brings Broadway legend's works to HBO [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

December 8, 2013


"Gypsy." "A Little Night Music." "Sweeney Todd." "Follies." "Company."

Stephen Sondheim's credits -- and that's a sampling -- are staggering. He's won eight Tony Awards, more than any other composer and lyricist. And though he has been an incredible force since he burst on the scene with his first Broadway project, "West Side Story," Sondheim, 83, is reserved about himself.

HBO's "Six by Sondheim" on Dec. 9, though, manages to paint an intimate portrait of the man, examining his career through six signature songs.

In one of only two print interviews granted for this project, Sondheim tells Zap2it that although he had seen a few edits of this film, he doesn't like to watch himself.

"I am embarrassed to see myself," Sondheim says. "I have seen myself onscreen quite a lot."

This features wonderful footage of Sondheim, including photos from his youth, being mentored by family friend Oscar Hammerstein, and of talk-show appearances dating back to when Sondheim was clean- shaven, and Broadway composers and lyricists went on talk shows.

Sondheim talks about his love of military school, his parents' painful divorce when he was 10 and how he adored his father.

"I wanted to do what Oscar did," Sondheim says of Hammerstein in the film. "If he had been an archaeologist, I would have been an archaeologist."

Sondheim, a Broadway fixture, has a theater named for him. He is as close to New York royalty as one can get, and on Nov. 18, HBO screened the film at the Museum of Modern Art, then held a party for him at the Four Seasons.

Broadway actors who had sung his songs over the decades made their way to his corner table. To realize his impact, go back to 1957's "West Side Story." The film has footage of beautiful performances, including one of Larry Kert, a young performer who finds his confidence while performing "Something's Coming."

Although "West Side Story" earned rave reviews, Sondheim was overlooked. To help Sondheim get noticed, Leonard Bernstein -- who wrote the music -- offered to remove his name from the lyrics and adjust the royalties. e_SDLq'Oh, who cares about royalties?e_SSRq" Sondheim quotes his younger self in the film. "If only someone put a gag in my mouth."

Sondheim has worked with most musical-theater stars, and his life in the theater began with the first Broadway show he saw, 1936's "White Horse Inn" starring Kitty Carlisle.

The film manages to take six well-known songs and, under Lapine's sharp direction, presents each differently.

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