Stephen Sondheim

Article excerpt

Byline: Malcolm Jones

Musical theater's trailblazing composer on screwing up and how to succeed on Broadway.

All the songs in your new collection, Look, I Made a Hat, are written for shows or for specific occasions, like someone's birthday. Have you ever written a song merely for the pleasure of writing a song? No, it never occurs to me to write a song just for the pleasure of writing a song. It has to be an assignment.

Throughout this collection and your previous one, Finishing the Hat, there's the sense that you don't see your work as ever finished, even years later. Absolutely. I think most theater work is like that. I would be surprised if Tennessee Williams didn't feel that way. I can't think of any playwright who would say, no, that play is perfect, I can't change a thing.

Over the course of your career, the subject matter ranges from ancient Rome to fairy tales to presidential assassins. Do you have a phobia of repeating yourself? I'm someone who likes to go from subject to subject and know a little about a lot of things instead of a lot about one thing, so yeah, as soon as I feel myself repeating myself, I get worried. …