Much like the rafters ring with infectious melodies at any show penned by the prolific songwriter and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the rafters of Queens College rang with wildly entertaining anecdotes, and most of all, laughter on Tuesday evening. The indisputable genius of text and music, the mastermind behind the scores of such legendary shows as Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, A Little Night Music, and Follies, talked with the New York Times' former theater critic Frank Rich last evening as part of the Queens College Evening Reading Series. The two spoke, before a crowd split evenly between cotton-topped season ticket holders and young virtuosos who had to bite and claw to get in, mostly about Sondheim’s new book, Look I Made a Hat. It takes its name from a lyric from his Pulitzer Prize winning Sunday in the Park with George, and is the follow-up to his wildly successful Finishing the Hat. Inside its pages is a treasure trove of the artist’s personal approach to writing music and lyrics, glossified stills from various productions of his shows throughout the years, and his lyrics—which can often read more like poetry—in all their drafts, paired with explanations and commentary. In addition to speaking about the process of both writing the critically acclaimed two books as well as the process of creating some of the world’s best-loved, cerebral musicals, Sondheim gave advice to the next generation of composers and lyricists. The upside, he said, was that they could do virtually anything they wanted, with any form and any style. The downside, though: no one with money wants to take a risk on a young unknown.
The Queens College Evening Reading Series, directed by Joseph Cuomo, boasts such speakers as Margaret Atwood, Nicole Krauss, and Colum McCann. For more information, visit their website.