Friday, December 23, 2011


Our two protagonists, famous composers and lyricists Stephen Sondheim (left; image taken from and Stephen Schwartz (right; image taken from To my knowledge, they have never collaborated... yet...
This was written in response to the "An Opportunity For Readers" challenge, for Ninja Dad's prompt: "Sondheim meets Schwartz in a duel of words (using quotes from their songs), starting out as rivals and adversaries but ending as friends and collaborators." I'm surprised I was able to write it so fast, but half of the words aren't even mine anyways...

Disclaimer: Whatever it is, I probably don't own it. Any song lyrics belong to their respective creators. The views expressed in this short story do not necessarily express the views of Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Irving Berlin, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, or Oscar Hammerstein II.

Useful Notes: Irving Berlin is the lyricist for "Annie, Get Your Gun" ("Anything you can do, I can do better"); Herbert Kretzmer reworked the lyrics of Les Miserables into the English language ("Valjean! At last! We see each other plain"); Alain Boublil wrote the original French lyrics ("Enfin! Valjean! Tu vas purger ta peine"); Oscar Hammerstein II was Stephen Sondheim's mentor and father figure.


Stephen Sondheim almost wished he were Irving Berlin or Herbert Kretzmer for a moment, just so he could borrow some excellent lyrics for starting an argument.

Alas, he wasn't, so he had to settle for a very out-of-context, “Isn't it rich? Are we a pair? Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air? Send in the clowns” and hope that his opponent would be intimidated enough by the impressiveness of his reputation. “Send in the Clowns” had always been a hit, after all.

If he was, in fact, intimidated, Stephen Schwartz did a great job of hiding it. The younger composer-lyricist merely raised an eyebrow and calmly replied, “I hope you're proud how you would grovel in submission to feed your own ambition.”

 Sondheim scowled. Schwartz had obviously planned that attack to be both a blow to the older man's self-image and a grating reminder of the most annoying rhyme scheme in existence: -tion. Well, two could play at that particular game. “Adding just a dab of politician, lining up the funds, but, in addition, lining up a prominent commission—otherwise your perfect composition isn't going to get much exhibition...What's a little cocktail conversation if it gets the funds for your foundation, leading to a prominent commission and an exhibition in addition?”

From the audience, someone yelled, “You've got him, Steve!,” probably just to see how the two similarly-named competitors would react.

 Schwartz furrowed his brow and snarled, “You don't have time to scorn or to scoff―it's getting very late! Vengeance doesn't wait!” Sondheim started back in surprise at his sudden ferocity. Schwartz continued, “ I send the thunder from the sky, I send the fire raining down, I send a hail of burning ice on ev'ry field, on ev'ry town. I send the locusts on a wind such as the world has never seen, on ev'ry leaf, on ev'ry stalk, until there's nothing left of green. I send my scourge, I send my sword...” He bit his lip for a moment, thinking and then adding, “Thus saith the Lord!”

 Sondheim briefly considered countering with something from “Sweeney Todd” before deciding to go a completely unexpected route: apathy. “Well... red.” Thank you, Georges Seurat.

Funny that he'd write a musical all about a French artist without actually knowing French, thought Schwartz. Immediately the man thought of “The Baker's Wife”: a failure in most respects, but with perfectly serviceable lyrics. He smiled. “Chaque jour est un jour juste comme les autres doux jours, le potage, l'ouvrage, peut-etre l'amour...”

Alain Boublil, siting in the front row of the audience, began to cheer, with many others soon following his lead. Sondheim, however, wouldn't back down that easily.  Time to pull out the creepy shows, he thought.

“You think that I scare?” Sondheim sneered. “No scare. You think that I  care? No care. Not one man―no, nor ten men, nor a hundred can assuage me... I will have you!” Some dramatic crew person up in the lighting booth switched on the red lights and threw in a flash of lightning for effect.

Stephen Sondheim then proceeded to go on a spectacularly horrific lyrical rant, containing lines such as “And I will get him back, even as he gloats! In the meantime, I'll practice on less honorable throats!” and “What a wonder is a gun! What a versatile invention! First of all, when you've a gun, everybody pays attention!”

 There was a prolonged period of silence after he had finished before Schwartz, eager to change the subject, spoke again. “ The spark of creation is flickering within me. The spark of creation is blazing in my blood: a bit of the fire that lit up the stars and breathed life into the mud, the first inspiration... the spark of creation...” The -tion lines will put Sondheim on edge again, he thought a little belatedly.

Sondheim stared a him curiously for a moment as the lights flickered back to normal. The expression on his face was nearly impossible to read. “Mapping out a sky,” he said quietly. “What you feel like, planning a sky. What you feel when voices that come from the window go until they distance and die... until there's nothing but sky...” He stared straight into Schwartz's eyes. “Look, I made a hat!”

 Schwartz blinked, and then the meaning behind the older man's words revealed itself to him. They were both artists―both very good artists, if the public opinion could be trusted. Why were they arguing so bitterly in the first place? Why did they need to compete? Why couldn't they just―

 Oh, Schwartz thought, a smile spreading across his face. I get it. And I have the perfect lyrics for it. He took in a breath and began, “Unlimited. Together we're unlimited. Together we'll be the greatest team there's ever been... Glinda...” He cringed a little, but Sondheim didn't seem to mind. “Dreams the way we've planned 'em, if we work in tandem... There's no fight we cannot win, with you and I defying gravity!”

Sondheim's expression was still unreadable, but anyone could see that a million thoughts were running behind his head. Finally he replied, “The practical bird, having no tree of its own, borrows another's.” Sondheim's tight smile burst into a grin.“It takes two. I thought one was enough, it's not true. It takes two of us.”

Schwartz offered his arm and Sondheim took it, and together they strolled out of the room, with Schwartz saying, “Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But, because I knew you... I have been changed for good.”

There was a pause even longer than the one that had come after Sondheim's rant. Then the ghost of Oscar Hammerstein II stood up and called, “What are you all waiting for? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” the audience echoed.

Outside of the building, a brand-new musical was in the works.

1 comment:

  1. Very, very, very nice! And so quick, too! I'll will have to read it again, this time very slowly to get all the references (footnotes would be nice), but it is very impressive and a fun read. . . Challenge accepted, and challenge met. BRAVO!!