The story of Stephen Sondheim’s life and works in all its forms – books, photographs, theatre programmes, DVDs, CDs, memorabilia, reviews and posters – is now on tap to present to future generations thanks to the Sondheim Society archive being available to researchers at Kingston University in Surrey.
The archive represents a gift of more than 4,000 documents relating to the American musical theatre composer/lyricist, accumulated in the 20 years since the Sondheim Society came into existence. The occasion was launched with speech and song at Kingston’s Rose Theatre on Friday, 5 July.
After University vice-chancellor Julius Weinberg had cleverly applied Sondheim’s own words to indicate his contribution to research, critical thinking and lecturing – “please don’t cough, it tends to throw the actors off” (from The Frogs) – right down to the student union canteen – “the worst pies in London” (Sweeney Todd), Society trustee David Lardi outlined its history, explained that the archive was formed by Peter Wood, an antiquarian bookseller who specialised in musical theatre, who passed it on to the Society since when a great deal of material had been added in a collection that will continue to expand.
Saying that “apart from Shakespeare, there probably isn’t anybody whose works are performed more often”, he then spoke of a new surge of interest in Sondheim’s work in Paris – the Society had visited the Chatelet Theatre to see Sunday in the Park With George only recently – as well as in professional, student, amateur and school productions.
Perhaps the most unexpected piece of memorabilia is a souvenir apron from Sweeney Todd, complete with fake bloodstains, while some of the programmes have unusual designs, a pop-up book for the fairytale-based Into the Woods and a gun-embossed Monopoly board for Assassins.
Reporting what Society members get for their £20 subscription, only £5 more than when it was formed two decades ago, Lardi listed the quarterly magazine full of reviews and features, theatre trips at reduced prices complete with Q&A sessions with cast and director afterwards, discounts on shows, CDs and DVDs, a garden party every summer, workshops and lectures and the Society’s flagship Student Performer of the Year competition, which took place this year at London’s Garrick Theatre.
Six of the competitors of varying vintages, including 2008 champion Adrian Grove and 2012 winner Kris Olsen and the last two runners-up Emma Salvo and Kara-Ami McCreanor, then performed eight Sondheim songs from every decade (running from the 1940s to 1980s).
Dom Hodson started proceedings with ‘How Do I Know?’ written by Sondheim as an 18-year-old for a college musical, and this was followed by ‘So Many People’ (Saturday Night) and ‘Not a Day Goes By’ (Merrily We Roll Along), both by Emma Odell, ‘There Won’t Be Trumpets’ (Anyone Can Whistle) by the strong-voiced McCreanor, Grove weighed in with an excellent ‘Marry Me a Little’ (from Company), Olsen’s ‘Buddy’s Blues’ (Follies) had everybody creased up with laughter with his brilliant command of accents and timing, and Salvo brought the curtain down with a comic take on the hard-to-perform title song from Sunday in the Park With George.
The archive exhibition at Kingston University runs until September, but anybody can contact their archivist Katie Giles (firstname.lastname@example.org) and make an appointment to go through all the detail of the 83-year-old master craftsman’s life and career which the Sondheim Society has accrued.