Monday, March 07, 2011

Harnick on Harnick

In the vein of Sondheim's Finishing the Hat, Playbill.com compiled an awesome interview with Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist, Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, The Apple Tree, The Rothschilds). "Harnick on Harnick: Broadway Lyricist Sheldon Harnick Reflects on His Life in Musicals" offers some great insight on his collaborating leading men, leading ladies, directors, writing, and the current state of Broadway's musical theatre. Not as hearty as the full collection of Sondheim's lyrics, but a nice short must-read for anyone interested in theatre writing and the history behind classic scores.

ON CRAFT, and what he tells young writers about craft: Usually I tell them that the degree of craft they exercise is pretty much up to them, because audiences don't care that much. Audiences will accept off-rhymes, things that are less than pristine about a lyric. So it's up to you to decide how strict you want to be with yourself. I try to be very strict with myself because I want my work to compare with the work of other people I admire most, going back to Gilbert and Sullivan. On rare occasions, I've had to cheat with a rhyme I'm not entirely satisfied with. I tell young writers that for myself I try to make all the rhymes pure, I try to keep the language fresh, I try to exercise my craft in every way I can. I try to sing the songs when I finish them to make sure they're comfortable in my mouth, that consonants don't bump up against one another and make songs hard to understand — all those craft issues. But I recognize that, especially in today's musical market, young writers hear a lot of successful songs that don't bother with that kind of craftsmanship. So I try not to be such a purist and say, "You cannot do this, you must not do that."

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