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Stephen Sondheim: ‘British audiences appreciate language more than Americans’

Stephen Sondheim. Photo: Dave Benett Stephen Sondheim. Photo: Dave Benett
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Stephen Sondheim has claimed British audiences understand language better than Americans, revealing that he felt theatregoers in the UK were the first to appreciate his work.

The composer and lyricist spoke of his passion for language, which he said he thought was shared by British audiences.

“The fact is that the first time anybody really liked my work was the first show I did in London, which was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Sondheim told an audience at London’s National Theatre, where his musical Follies is being revived.

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“I think it’s because the British appreciate language much more than the Americans. I know that kind of generalisation is like saying all French men are great lovers, but nevertheless, the fact is that even when I get criticised by the critics here, it’s so much about language. That is the essential difference about British audiences,” he said.

Speaking to Follies director Dominic Cooke, Sondheim said he had perceived a change in British audiences during his career, claiming they are “becoming more like Americans” in their reception.

“[There are] standing ovations at every show – that used not to be true,” he said.

The 88-year-old, whose works also include Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, was appearing at a platform event before a performance of Follies, and this weekend attended the final performance of Marianne Elliott’s West End revival of his 1970 musical Company, starring Rosalie Craig as a gender-swapped central role.

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