Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington
  • People

Stephen Sondhein and Scott Simon

2009 Ralph L. Collins Memorial Lecture

Join us on Thursday, April 30, at 8:00 p.m. at the IU Auditorium for a conversation with Stephen Sondheim and Scott Simon.

Stephen Sondhein, Composer and Lyricist

Stephen Sondhein

The composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is the most important artist to work in the American musical theater over the past half-century. He has not only collaborated on more than a dozen landmark shows and written countless standard songs but has also been the single most influential force in bringing the Broadway musical into the modern age.

That journey began when Sondheim was still in his 20’s and contributed the lyrics to two classic collaborations with the playwright Arthur Laurents and the director-choreographer Jerome Robbins, "West Side Story" (1957; music by Leonard Bernstein) and "Gypsy" (1959; music by Jule Styne). Both shows have been repeatedly revived on Broadway and throughout the world. Daring and unorthodox for their time, they now are universally seen as twin pinnacles of the post-war Broadway musical.

Sondheim’s first produced Broadway show as both composer and lyricist, "A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum" (1962), had an even longer Broadway run than its predecessors. His next musical, "Anyone Can Whistle" (1964), an experimental piece that lasted only a week on Broadway, lives on through its inventive songs, many of which have since become staples in the American pop and cabaret repertoire. He next collaborated with Richard Rodgers on "Do I Hear a Waltz?" (1965). In 1966, Sondheim wrote a made-for-TV musical, "Evening Primrose," for the ABC network.

With such collaborators as the director Harold Prince, the director-playwright James Lapine and the playwrights John Weidman, Hugh Wheeler, Burt Shevelove and George Furth, Sondheim would go on to create a remarkable succession of groundbreaking musicals: "Company" (1970), "Follies" (1971), "A Little Night Music" (1973), "The Frogs" (1974), "Pacific Overtures" (1976), "Sweeney Todd" (1979), "Merrily We Roll Along" (1981), "Sunday in the Park with George" (1984), "Into the Woods" (1987), "Assassins" (1990) and "Passion" (1994). His most recent show, "Bounce" (2003), is being produced in a revised version, titled "Road Show," at the New York Shakespeare Festival in late 2008.

As Sondheim’s lyrics have entered the American language from "Everything’s Coming Up Roses" to "Send in the Clowns" so his music liberated Broadway from traditional songwriting conventions. It is impossible to find a new musical of artistic ambition today that hasn’t been influenced by his breakthroughs in remaking the rules that once governed the traditional Broadway musical.

Sondheim learned those rules from a master, Oscar Hammerstein II, a family friend who started mentoring him when he was in his teens. Sondheim’s first Broadway job was as a gofer on "Allegro" (1947), an experimental work that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote between "Carousel" and "South Pacific." Though "Allegro" was a Broadway failure, its impact on Sondheim’s iconoclastic vision for the theater was large.

Sondheim’s first musical for Broadway, "Saturday Night," written in 1954, remained unproduced until a successful Off Broadway premiere in 1997. He also wrote the scores for the Alain Resnais film "Stavisky" (1974) and Warren Beatty’s "Reds" (1981) as well as songs for Beatty’s "Dick Tracy" (1990), among other movies.

Sondheim was born in 1930 in New York and is a graduate of Williams College. He studied musical composition with the composer Milton Babbitt. His works, even those that initially had brief Broadway runs, are in constant revival in New York, London, throughout America and around the world. His songs have been anthologized in hit Broadway and West End revues, including "Side by Side by Sondheim" and "Putting It Together." Many of his musicals have been made into movies, including, most recently, the Tim Burton-directed adaptation of "Sweeney Todd."

Sondheim has been a major force in the Dramatists Guild and Young Playwrights. Inc., two organizations that champion writers in the theater. He has won every conceivable award: the Kennedy Center Honors, the Pulitzer Prize, two Grammys, an Oscar and eight Tonys, including a special award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater in 2008. His screenplay for the movie mystery "The Last of Sheila," co-written with Anthony Perkins, won the Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay from the Mystery Writers of America in 1974. Sondheim was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983. In September 2008 Sony BMG Masterworks released the CD-set, Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far a four CD box set, this collection contains music from Sondheim’s Broadway shows, film scores, television specials, incidental music and previously unreleased recordings as well as photographs from his personal archives.

(Photo by Jerry Jackson)

Scott Simon, Host, Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, Writer & Novelist

Scott Simon

From Ground Zero in New York to ground zero in Kabul, to police stations, refugee camps, snipers’ roosts, subway platforms, and theater stages, NPR's Peabody-Award-winning Scott Simon has reported from all 50 states and every continent. He has covered ten wars, hundreds of campaigns, sieges, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil wars, and scandals, state funerals and opening nights. He has interviewed and profiled some of the most interesting personalities of the times, from Mother Teresa to Ariel Sharon and Wyclef Jean, to roving street kids in Rio, and refugees in Kosovo, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Simon has received numerous honors for his reporting, including the Overseas Press Club, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University, George Foster Peabody, Ohio State, Directors Guild, Major Armstrong, and Emmy awards. He received a special 1989 George Foster Peabody Award for his weekly essays, which were cited for their sensitivity and literary style.

Simon has hosted many public television specials, including "Voices of Vision," "Life on the Internet," "State of Mind," "American Pie," "Search for Common Ground," and specials on privacy in America and democracy in the Middle East. He narrated the documentary film "Lincoln of Illinois" for PBS, and was blown up by Martians in the Grammy Award-nominated 50th anniversary remake of The War of the Worlds (co-starring Jason Robards). He hosted public television’s coverage of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the BBC series Eyewitness, which was seen in the United States on the Discovery Channel, and a BBC special on the White House press corps. Simon was also co-anchor with Gwen Ifill of PBS’s millennium special broadcast in 2000. He was a frequent guest host of the CBS television program Nightwatch and CNBC's TalkBack Live, and an essayist and commentator on NBC's Weekend Today and NOW with Bill Moyers, and ESPN.

Simon has written for The New York Times Book Review and Op-Ed pages, the Wall Street Journal opinion and book page, The Los Angeles Times, Friends Journal, and Gourmet Magazine (his Gourmet article on "Conflict Cuisine" recently won the International Culinary Professionals Award).

The son of comedian Ernie Simon and actress Patricia Lyons, Simon grew up in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, Cleveland, and Washington, DC. He attended the University of Chicago and McGill University, and has received numerous honorary degrees.

Simon's book Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan was published in the spring of 2000 by Hyperion, a division of Disney. It topped the Los Angeles Times nonfiction bestseller list, and was cited as one of the best books of the year in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and several other publications. His second book, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, kicked off the prestigious Wiley Turning Points series in September of 2002, and was the Barnes and Noble Sports Book of the Year. It was reissued in 2007, the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinsons’ entry into the major leagues.

Simon became a novelist in 2005. Pretty Birds, his novel about teenage girls during the siege of Sarajevo, was acclaimed as "the start of a brilliant new career," and is now in its’ 13th printing. His most recent novel, a political comedy called Windy City, was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the best novels of 2008.

Simon is a lover of ballet, and has appeared as Mother Ginger with the Ballet Austin production of The Nutcracker.

Simon is married to Caroline Richard. They have a daughter, Elise, and welcomed their second daughter, Lina, in April 2007. His hobbies include Mexican cooking, ballet, book collecting, and living and dying for the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, and now, as a token of affection for his wife, the French national soccer team.

"Always gripping, always tender, and often painfully funny, Pretty Birds is a marvel of technical finesse, close observation, and a perfectly pitched heart." — Scott Turow

(Photo by Will O’Leary)