Inside Media / Public Programs at the Paley Center for Media:
Oscar Hammerstein II — Out of My Dreams
Stephen Sondheim, Ted Chapin, and JoAnn Young
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 6:30pm
The Paley Center for Media, 25 West 52nd Street
- “Oklahoma has no particular message but it has a flavor that infects you.”
- “He wouldn’t have encouraged me if he didn’t smell something.” (Sondheim on Hammerstein’s early mentoring)
- “His humanity showed up in all of his plays.” (Hammerstein’s granddaughter]
- “He firmly believed that being an optimist was the only way to live a life.”
- “[what works in some of the musical training initiatives is that] young writers get a chance to play and to sing their things in front of other young writers and a couple of professionals. And it’s that, that feedback, that is useful…. Socratic teaching … where you question things and you listen to things and the students learn by hearing themselves talk .. that’s how you learn things.” (Sondheim on teaching musical theatre)
A documentary love letter on-screen with clips of the man himself, his family, and people who know him, filmed by a woman (JoAnn Young) who has become the go-to documentarian of the Hammerstein oeuvre. A conversation on stage between arguably the greatest living American musical writer (Stephen Sondheim) and a student and professional of that work and a protector of the legacy of Hammerstein (Ted Chapin). This particular January evening at the Paley Center in Manhattan provides all of this and more, including members of the extended Hammerstein family in the audience. The quotations that head this commentary are both on-screen and in person in a post screening discussion and the end result is: enchantment. Some enchanted evening indeed.
Life and theatre reviews intervened to prevent me from posting my own reactions to the experience of this evening closer to its occurrence. The upside of this is that a video made of the remarks portion of the adventure — Sondheim and Chapin discussing themes in the film and in Sondheim’s life with Hammerstein — are now included in the event link so that you can watch them yourself. This Hammerstein documentary will premiere during the next PBS pledge week, as I understand it, and is worth watching, DVR-ing, purchasing. An American life that gives us so much delight and romance. An eternal liberal (his politics, though not surprising to me, are unknown to me before this evening), an essential contributor to the Great American Songbook and to the book-driven musical story on stage.
Sondheim enchants. Chapin illuminates. And it is all, in the end, about Oscar Hammerstein — the big bear of a man who stood to write, and stood up for what he believed. With his inspiration we can all, at one time or another, be cock-eyed optimists.
© Martha Wade Steketee (February 14, 2012)