Sondheim On Sondheim: Guided Listening

By: Greg Campbell

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Sondheim on Sondheim is a musical revue consisting of music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim. In all, the show features 24 songs from 18 shows showcasing Sondheim’s career over a period of more than 60 years.

Sondheim on Sondheim had a limited run on Broadway in 2010 and was nominated for five Tony Awards. The show won the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Sondheim on Sondheim includes original and archival commentary by Stephen Sondheim himself.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City is proud to be presenting the symphonic arrangement of Sondheim on Sondheim. The production is timely as Stephen Sondheim passed away in November 2021.



The original cast recording of Sondheim on Sondheim was released on August 31, 2010 and is available for streaming on YouTube and other platforms. The recording differs from what Lyric Opera will present but serves as an excellent guide for pre-listening. Highlights with brief annotations are below.

My Name is Stephen Joshua Sondheim”
Hear from Stephen Sondheim himself in this introductory track! Featuring a brief snippet from his first song written in grade school, Sondheim explains how he got his name and how he got started in music.

Invocation” / “Forget War” | A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
“Forget War” was the original opening song of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum before it was shelved by director George Abbott who found the song not tuneful. The new opening song became “Love Is in the Air,” but that song didn’t work either. Finally, “Comedy Tonight” came along.

“Ten Years After I Was Born…”
In this interview clip, Sondheim recalls how he became acquainted with Oscar Hammerstein II and developed an interest in songwriting.

“Something’s Coming” West Side Story
Sondheim was initially hesitant when he received an invitation to write the lyrics for West Side Story—he was much more interested in writing music. But Oscar Hammerstein II said, “Take the job. You can write music later.”

For Many Years, Hal Prince…”
In this interview clip, Sondheim explains how Company came to be. Having never been married when the show was in development, Sondheim called Mary Rodgers—then on her second marriage—for advice.

Hal Prince and I Did Six Shows Together”
Sondheim reflects on his working relationship with producer and director Hal Prince accompanied by Merrily We Roll Along, a show dealing with a partnership between two songwriters that ultimately split and went their separate ways.

My First Serious Relationship”
Introducing songs from 1994’s Passion, Sondheim recalls first falling in love at the age of 60. Based on the film Passione d’AmorePassion tells the story of a surprising love between a handsome soldier and Fosca, an “ugly, sickly woman in the 19th century.” “Loving You” was written to help audiences develop empathy for Fosca.

Opening Doors” | Merrily We Roll Along
Sondheim credits “Opening Doors” as the only autobiographical songs he ever wrote. It’s about two writers trying to bust their way into show business and their best friend who is a novelist. Sondheim parallels his relationships with Hal Prince, Mary Rodgers, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, and countless other creatives from the 1950s.

Something Just Broke” | Assassins
Assassins tells the stories of historical figures who attempted—successfully or not—to assassinate Presidents of the United States. Sondheim considers the show one of his finest: “Every time I see it, I can’t think of ways to improve it. And I can’t say that about any other show.” “Something Just Broke” appears at the end of Assassins and is sung by a group of citizens from different time periods recounting what they were doing when they learned the President had been killed.

Children Will Listen” | Into the Woods
Sondheim was frank about his fractured relationship with his mother. This song from Into the Woods, sung by the Witch after losing her daughter Rapunzel, marks a poignant moment in the context of Sondheim on Sondheim. Of his relationship with his mother, Sondheim said, “I’d always thought all those years that like so many parent-child relationships, it was misplaced or misguided love. Then I realized she never wanted me on earth. I was an inconvenience.”

Anyone Can Whistle” | Anyone Can Whistle
This song from the musical of the same name serves as a reminder to relax, let go, let fly, and be free—an apt ending for a musical revue showcasing the life and career of one of the most important musical theater contributors in history.