Last year, Tony Award-winning actress Patti LuPone (who now stars in the just-opened Broadway revival of "Company") spoke with composer Stephen Sondheim for "CBS Sunday Morning." With the passing of Sondheim on Friday, November 26 at age 91, we offer their conversation – and her appreciation of a musical theater giant:
I've known Stephen Sondheim for 40 years, and have had the privilege of appearing in six of his musicals. So, last year, just before Steve's 90th birthday and what was supposed to be the opening of a groundbreaking production of "Company," we sat down for a one-on-one.
LuPone: "Are you ready for these questions?"
Sondheim: "I'm not allowed to move my head, so I'm gonna have to answer like this: Hi Patti, it's awfully good to see, you look great. How's Matt? How the kid? How's everything?"
LuPone: "Everything's great, Steve!"
Sondheim: "Oh, that's wonderful."
We laughed and chatted about our love of movies …
LuPone: "My education is Hollywood movies."
Sondheim: "You and me both. We better not get onto that because we will never stop."
And Steve answered some rapid-fire questions:
LuPone: "How about, dawn or dusk?"
Sondheim: "(Laughs) That's a nice one. I guess I like dusk better."
LuPone: "Vanilla or chocolate?"
LuPone: "Coffee or tea?"
LuPone: "Velvet or silk?"
Sondheim: "Both of them give me the creeps!"
LuPone: "Okay, no more of those…"
Both Steve and I were excited for the premiere of "Company" with a fresh perspective. Instead of Bobby with a "y," it would be Bobbie with an "ie."
LuPone: "What's happening in the audiences, it's an extraordinary experience, not just because it's gender-bent or it has nothing to do with it being gender-bent; it's because 'Company' is back on Broadway."
Today, Steve's work has transcended Broadway. His musicals are now films; his songs make appearances everywhere; and after a lifetime of accolades – nine Tonys, eight Grammy Awards, and an Oscar – it's easy to forget Steve wasn't always a critic's darling, as he told Charles Osgood on "CBS Sunday Morning" back in 1995: "I mean, an awful lot of people have gone historically to musicals to 'forget their troubles, come on, get happy.' I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in making people un-happy, but I'm not interested in not looking at life. I don't know why I would write it otherwise."
Perhaps this next part of our conversation sheds light on why:
LuPone: "I was surprised, Steve, I have to tell you, we have common ground. And I didn't know that you were an actor."
Sondheim: "Oh, you mean on TV, with Estelle Parsons?"
I wasn't talking about the 1974 TV musical "June Moon"; I was talking about Steve's acting career at Williams College.
LuPone: "Do you remember this review: '[Sondheim is] an actor who knows how to use his whole body dramatically. His gestures, movements, and even the angles of his body anticipated, participated in and completed the vocal presentation of the character.'"
Sondheim: "You made that up!"
LuPone: "You got better reviews than I do!"
Sondheim: "I've never heard that in my life"
LuPone: "That is a review. Oh, I'm not done: 'His hands were never idle or awkward, but beautifully expressive at all times. He was acting every minute he was on the stage, and acting very well.'"
Sondheim: "Oh, this is not 'June Moon.' This is something else."
LuPone: "No, this is college."
Sondheim: "Oh, I was good in college. They always cast me, every play they did, if there was a very neurotic, self-destructive, gloomy, 'Get Sondheim!' (laughs) I played every misfit. But there was one part I always wanted to play, which was Danny in 'Night Must Fall.' It was about a serial killer, which is a play I had loved since I first read it when I was 12 years old. And once I played that part, I retired."
He might have retired from acting, but acting seems to have informed all of Steve's musicals.
LuPone: "The fact that you were an actor for me, Steve, makes so much more sense when … oh, I could cry. Whoops!"
Sondheim: "Yeah. Don't go crying."
LuPone: "Just … no, but the fact that the songs that you write are so actable. When I'm singing your stuff, it's so complex. It's, which way do I go? Which way do I go?"
Patti LuPone sings "Being Alive," from "Company":
LuPone: "I hate it when people ask me this question, but I'm gonna ask you anyway: Do you have a favorite character that you've written?"
Sondheim: "Character? Well, you see, I don't write the characters. The book writers write the characters. I explore the characters."
Book writers, like Arthur Laurents, who wrote "Gypsy," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Steve.
Sondheim: "As far as a character goes, I'd certainly pick Madame Rose. I just think, you know, she's just so much larger-than-life at the same time she's life. That's really hard to do. And I really like her, and I really want to hit her. And it's just, she's so alive."
Patti LuPone performs "Gypsy":
When Broadway celebrated Steve's 90th birthday with a concert in April of 2020, I performed one of my favorites, "Anyone Can Whistle":
Good times and bum times, Steve's seen them all … and we will be forever grateful.
LuPone: "Steve, you are, you know, it's … oh no, I said I'm not going to …"
Sondheim: "Stop it, stop it, stop. Stop it. Stop."
LuPone: "You know how I'm feeling?"
Sondheim: "Yup. I do. It's okay. I mean, it's a compliment."
LuPone: "I have to say thank you. I have to say thank you for me, and I have to say thank you for all of us that …"
Sondheim: "Oh, thank you."
LuPone: "No, I mean it. It's, I don't, I'm not … this is not planned."
Sondheim: "That's okay."
LuPone: "This is just coming out of me. Because it just is, I, I, I can't …"
Sondheim: "Okay. You've said it. You've said it."
Sondheim: "You said it. By not saying it, you said it. You said it. Thank you. Thank you. That makes me feel very good."
- Remembering Stephen Sondheim, a musical theater giant ("Sunday Morning")
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Story produced by Kay Lim and Kim Young. Editor: Steven Tyler.
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