Saturday, November 6, 2010
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview librettist Joseph Stein for a newsletter. We spent four to six hours on the phone, and I have never interviewed a more open, thoughtful subject. (Link above is to the Guardian obituary, which I thought was the best). Stein was in his mid-90s when we spoke (and did not want my emphasizing that fact in the interview), and still sharp, funny and dedicated to his work. I admit to being fascinated with librettists, and how the good ones are able to work their alchemy and co-create musicals that are so seamless, you can't always tell where one collaborator ends and the other begins.
Stein was a fantastic enthusiast- for the theatre in general, for his fellow collaborators and for the source material of his adaptations. I asked him how he knew what a good project was, and he assured me that good source material "sings." Now, I've read "Tevye and His Daughters," and it didn't sing to me, but it did to Stein. The things I remember him being the most enthusiastic about was his work ("I work very hard, every day," he told me multiple times); the show he was working on at the time (a musical version of "Our Town," "All About Us," which was in rehearsal at Goodspeed); the screenplay for "Fiddler" (the studio wasn't allowed to change a word); and meeting Sean O'Casey ("Juno" was a musicalization of "Juno and the Paycock").
What a great, talented man. And I kick myself for never meeting him for coffee as he'd asked.
I could not locate a free, later photo; I believe this is his headshot from the 1960s.