Lansbury & Sondheim: artistic partners for 45 years

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Jesse Green does an excellent joint interview with Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim in the current New York magazine to mark last week’s opening of “A Little Night Music” on Broadway.

The revival of the 1973 hit marks the third time Lansbury has worked on a Sondheim show on Broadway.

The duo met on the now legendary 1964 flop-turned-cult-musical, “Anyone Can Whistle,” which marked Lansbury’s debut as a musical comedy star.

The show about political corruption, madness and miracles was too weird for a year that brought “Funny Girl” and “Hello, Dolly!” to town, but some critics loved it and Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson decided that the score was so strong that a cast album would be recorded the day after the show closed (it only ran a week).

Thanks to that recording, Lansbury’s terrific debut performance was Angela-Lansbury-angela-lansbury-8503225-450-389partially preserved and two years later she would become the toast of the town in her second musical, “Mame.”

Sondheim had a rockier road to success. The failure of “Anyone Can Whistle” put his career as a composer-lyricist on hold. He returned to writing lyrics for other composers, collaborating with Richard Rodgers on “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (a charming song score that Sondheim has dissed for five decades because of his clashes with Rodgers — and, no doubt, his frustration with not being able to compose as well as write lyrics).

Things finally turned around for Sondheim with the opening of the hit “Company” in 1970 and it has been onward and upward ever since.

Lansbury won a Tony for a memorable 1974 revival of “Gypsy” (above) — lyrics by Sondheim, score by Jule Styne — and then won again for “Sweeney Todd,” the 1979 Sondheim show in which the actress gave what might be her greatest stage performance.

The duo went their separate ways for 30 years but finally came together again this season for the new “Night Music” (below) in which the 83-year-old trouper does work opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones that will probably earn the star a sixth Tony.

The New York magazine piece is like a mini-history of modern Broadway and is must reading for theater fans:

 http://nymag.com/arts/theater/features/62635/

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Joe Meyers

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