When it was my session (usually a morning or an afternoon) I would be joined by my collaborater Shaun McKenna. We would read and play through the latest scenes/songs from 'Maddie' and then discuss them with Stephen and the class. As we were writing a musical comedy Stephen told us what we were doing was the hardest thing of all. Duly warned we carried on. Years later, when the show had its ‘out-of-town tryout’ in Salisbury, Stephen Sondheim sent a telegram to me on the opening night saying ‘It’s about time!’
One of the later classes would involve us writing a song to a selected scene from ‘A Day In The Death of Joe Egg’ by Peter Nichols. Stephen picked a scene near the end of the first act; namely, the conversation between Bri and Sheila just before Sheila’s monologue that closes the act. Duly challenged we set about the task in the knowledge that Peter Nichols would be coming to hear our finished results and to give us his reaction.
Parallel to all of this work we made several trips to the National Theatre where we watched at first hand ‘Sunday In the Park’ being assembled. My best moment came when we attended the sitzprobe with Stephen. To hear the orchestra play the score with the composer present was extraordinary. I found we shared a common interest in old movies and I amused him greatly one morning when I rushed in and said ‘Have you heard? Paulette Goddard has died!’
Alongside the masterclasses on certain Friday afternoons there was a series of lectures under the banner “Everything You Have Always Wanted To Know About Musicals But Were Afraid To Ask’. On the 19th of January came the inaugural discussion by Stephen which was followed by ‘A History of the Musical Theatre’ on 2nd of February, ‘Lighting and Stage Design’ on the 9th of February and on the 16th ‘Orchestration, Musical Direction and Sound Design' with Bill Brohn, David Caddick and Jonathan Tunick. The final one was on the 23rd of February ‘Producing In The Musical Theatre’ which was, of course, led by Cameron. Throughout the course of the masterclasses we were followed by a BBC team filming for an Omnibus programme ‘Sunday In The Park With Stephen’.
As the masterclasses drew towards their conclusion we all prepared for a presentation of our work which would take the form of a half-hour version of each of the musicals we had been working on. Before each presentation we spoke a little about our various projects. The first of these took place in Oxford in June and then in July the presentations were repeated at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells. ‘Maddie’ went down well on both occasions. The following year the full-length show was workshopped at the National Theatre Studio. The presentations also introduced me to another very good friend, Kenny Wax, who fell in love with ‘Maddie’ and would produce it in London in 1997.
The Sondheim Oxford Masterclass marked the first time in the UK a group of musical theatre writers had come together in this way. It allowed all of us present to develop our work, open it up to criticism and crucially hear performers sing and act it led with humour, wisdom, authority and lots of wonderful anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim.
From left to right top row:
Tony Young (Stephen's assistant), Andrew Peggie,
Cameron Mackintosh, Michael
Bland, Ben Mason, James McConnel (at the piano), Paul James, Leslie Arden, Patrick Dineen, Paul Leigh (kneeling), Stephen Keeling.
From left to right bottom row:
Ed Hardy, Stephen Clark,
Denise Wharmby, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Stephen Sondheim.