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article imageReview: The artist tells the story in HBO's 'Six By Sondheim' Special

By Mindy Peterman     Dec 13, 2013 in Entertainment
Stephen Sondheim has composed music and lyrics for classics such as "West Side Story", "A Little Night Music", and "Sweeney Todd". Now, in a new HBO documentary, James Lapine looks back at this celebrated career, through Sondheim's own words.
Of the six songs featured in the HBO documentary Six By Sondheim, only one, Sondheim says, is in any way autobiographical. “Open Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along is a song about three young writers looking for their big break, and Sondheim’s revelation is one of many he offers in this very different type of artist profile.
James Lapine, one of Sondheim’s longtime collaborators, put together the program using television interviews conducted with his subject over the course of Sondheim’s long, celebrated career. In this way, Sondheim tells his own story. We learn about his early years as an only child from a broken home, his time as Oscar Hammerstein II's mentor, and his initial success as a lyricist before finding fame as a composer.
Then there is the music.
The documentary focuses on six songs from Sondheim’s career: "Something's Coming," "Opening Doors," "Send in the Clowns," "I'm Still Here," "Being Alive" and "Sunday". They are presented either as archival recordings or as new performances. The performers range from Pulp’s quirky lead singer Jarvis Cocker to one of the grand ladies of Broadway, Audra McDonald.
Lapine masterfully weaves this music and the interview footage in which Sondheim’s talks about his successes and failures, his writing regimens and how important it is to write with passion. He reveals that he was 60 years old before falling in love. He also recalls a devastating letter his mother had written telling him she regretted giving birth to him.
Music, lyric and interviews construct a profile of an intense, passionate artist. If you appreciate Sondheim’s contributions to music, theatre and artistry in general, Songs By Sondheim is not to be missed.
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