Theatre: STEPHEN SONDHEIM National Theatre, London

Tomorrow night sees the opening of a major revival of the 1973 musical comedy of (bad) manners, A Little Night Music, at the National Theatre. Last Thursday it was standing-room only at the Lyttelton for an evening with its composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, with not a note of music to be heard.

Anyone expecting an evening of soul bearing will have been disappointed. In the hands of musical theatre's resident renaissance man Jeremy Sands, who will direct Sondheim's latest work, Passion, next spring, the conversation was relaxed and genial. But Sondheim is famous for giving little away about the well springs of his work, let alone the personal motivations behind his creative life.

His sole British newspaper interview revealed, a trifle coyly, that, "he has never been married or had a known long-term partner", and that, it seems, is that.

He regards his work and life as being entirely separate, even denying that Into the Woods (1986), in which indiscriminate death is visited upon an entire community, has anything to do with Aids. This from a New Yorker who doubtless spent too much of the 1980s attending funerals.

What the talk made clear was the collaborative nature of musicals and, for the huge mix of earnest young composers, directors and good old-fashioned fans who packed the auditorium, that was plenty to be getting on with.

As far back as 1957, following the success of West Side Story for which Sondheim supplied the lyrics, he and Hal Prince decided to do a romantic comedy. They tried to get the rights to Anouilh's "truly sour, mean play" Ring Around the Moon, but were told, "Only if Leonard Bernstein does the music".

He remained attracted to the idea of combining "lightness of texture with sharpness of attack" in a work which obeyed the dramatic unities of time, manner and place, and after another failed attempt several years later to secure the Anouilh they opted for Bergman's exquisitely dark romantic comedy Smiles of the Summer Night.

Sondheim observes that every time he hears the score or watches the show, "I expect not to like it, but I do." This is good news for the current production, which he has been working on with its director Sean Mathias, a first-timer in the genre. Yet, with several previews and rehearsals still to go, he remained tantalisingly silent on that subject.

He chatted happily about his and the show's big hit "Send in the Clowns", written during rehearsals expressly for the short-breathed Glynis Johns, and wisely dismissed the film, which featured Liz Taylor's version of the song assembled from a sea of separate edits.

His tale of coming up with the grand full-company finale "A Weekend in the Country" late in the day made everyone wonder just what he had actually written before they began.

"Why do they have to have him sitting in a hospital room?" remarked one audience member to a friend. It was not deliberate. The stage was set for a performance of What the Butler Saw. With Orton's emphasis on language, artifice and, above all, irony it was, however, deliciously appropriate.

n `A Little Night Music' opens at the Olivier tomorrow. Booking: 0171- 928 2252

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas