Sunday in the Park

Jeremy Bernstein

I never met Stephen Sondheim but I did have the chance to watch him close up. My sister was a member of the original cast of Company and she snuck me into a few rehearsals. I watched Hal Prince direct and Sondheim talking things over. It was Sondheim’s first show of his own and it was a great success and is about to be revived again. For a few years Sondheim and Prince had almost a show a year and I made a sort of tradition of going to previews on New Year’s Eve. That way I saw a preview of Sunday in the Park with George. At one point the Seurat painting is shown in a giant projection and the song that accompanies it describes all the images. One line goes: ‘That’s the puddle where the poodle did a piddle.’ This is so clever that the audience applauded. People who knew Sondheim told me that the song that was closest to him was ‘Anyone Can Whistle’, where he asks: ‘Why can’t I?’ Tom Lehrer told me that in their youth he was Sondheim’s counsellor at a summer camp in Maine. They did not have much to say to each other. They both have much to say to us.


  • 29 November 2021 at 8:37pm
    Simon Wood says:
    My gay Scottish alcoholic pal was such a fan that he made the whole pub of us go on the bus from Camberwell to see the shows at the National Theatre. Like a lot of serious and highly verbal theatre, it was often baffling - there are no replays and the script was rich in aphoristic wit that needed close reading. Also I thought Sondheim didn't quite get ordinary people despite depicting them, but if he had, the result would have been predictable with maybe some Kinks-type songs thrown in, like "Waterloo Sunset". Instead, "Into the Woods", say, was full of unbearable sadnesses that you could slip down like crevasses.

    I'm in an amateur production this Christmas and the oldest member of the cast used to run the small Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. She said he once turned up to one of their shows written by one of their own members. Sondheim is clearly a big deal, who really liked theatre, however small.