Stephen Sondheim’s birthday was on the 22nd March and this year he reached 85. 50 years ago saw the Broadway opening of his Do I Hear a Waltz? It was the third and last lyrics only assignment he was to take and that was mainly only taken because of loyalty to Oscar Hammerstein who originally was to collaborate with Richard Rodgers. Upon Hammerstein’s death he was urged, not least by his friend Mary Rodgers, to take Hammerstein’s place. So it was not a commission he had wanted – he wanted more than to be just a lyricist and by then he had had two shows under his belt as lyricist and composer: the hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the flop Anyone Can Whistle.
So it is fifty years since he only contributed lyrics to a show, yet In the Times on Saturday he was described as a lyricist!
Do I Hear a Waltz? Is based on the book (The Time of the Cuckoo) and screen play (Summertime) by Arthur Laurents, the man with whom he had worked on most of his shows to date. For Laurents it was his third take on the idea – the first two had been hits and, in retrospect, one has to ask – was there a need to add songs? Most likely not and Sondheim must have realised this and thus making the experience an unpleasant one. No surprisingly it is his least revived of his shows.
There is no need to go into the problems that the project brought, though the fact that Rodgers had lost his confidence and had found consolation in the bottle did not help. What is interesting is to see the changes as the show headed for Broadway. It played two out of town venues: The Shubert, New Haven (announced as the World Premier it played30 January to 13 February) and then moved to the Shubert, Boston. It opened on Broadway on 18 March 1965 and closed on 25 September 1965 after 220 performances.
From the archive we show the two out-of-town tryout programmes with their song lists. Between the second at the Shubert in Boston and New York the songs ‘Perhaps’ and ‘Everybody Loves Leona’ were cut and ‘Someone like You’ and ‘Bargaining’ added.
Images taken from the Overtures archive.