Stephen Sondheim: Master of the Modern Musical

Three Mondays, October 20 and 27 and November 3, 6:00–7:30 P.M. | Three private residences; addresses will be given to subscribers LIMITED ENROLLMENT

For the last 50 years, Stephen Sondheim has been considered one of America’s most talented, innovative, and exciting lyricists and composers. Frank Rich called him “the greatest . . . artist in the American musical theater.” A protégé of Oscar Hammerstein II, Sondheim has composed music and written lyrics for works in the mainstream of musical theater and also for those in a more adventuresome, experimental mode. His lyrics are among the finest ever crafted, and many of his melodies are singable and memorable. Other compositions, however, present challenges to those accustomed to traditional theater music. In this course, Paul Hope will cover both Sondheim’s mainstream and his experimental works, which he will illustrate using vintage film clips and recordings of songs.

Sondheim made his mark as a lyricist with the legendary musicals, West Side Story and Gypsy. His witty, trenchant words and rhymes placed him in the ranks of musical theater’s most talented and accomplished writers. This session will examine Sondheim as a lyricist and will cover his earliest scores.

Sondheim collaborated with Harold Prince during the middle, most productive years of his career. Prince directed six of Sondheim’s major musicals including Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, and Pacific Overtures. Together, they developed what came to be known as the “concept” musical, in which a theme or an idea, rather than traditional narrative, provides the organizing principle. Nevertheless, they did not entirely abandon the art of storytelling: witness such Sondheim-Prince collaborations as A Little Night Music. This session will explore Sondheim’s rich collaboration with Prince during the 1970s.

Following his highly successful work with Harold Prince, Sondheim joined forces with other artists, particularly James Lapine, the playwright and director. Their collaboration resulted in such fascinating works as Sunday in the Park with George, Passion, Assassins, and Into the Woods, based on Grimm’s fairy tales. In the final session, Paul Hope will examine Sondheim’s work with Lapine and assess the overall effects of Sondheim’s unique achievements and his ongoing influence on musical theater.

Paul Hope is a member of the Alley Theatre company and has appeared on the Alley stages for 14 seasons in a wide range of roles. He has also appeared with Theater Under the Stars in Houston and Casa Mañana in Fort Worth. He is the artistic director for Bayou City Concert Musicals, which has presented concert stagings of several Sondheim musicals.

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Registration for fall 2018 is ongoing. You may register online, by mail, or by phone with a credit card. 


If you are interested in traveling with the Houston Seminar to Natchez October 26-29, 2019 you may access the itinerary, trip cost, and registration documents here.

If you are interested in traveling to Virginia in the spring of 2019, please call the registrar at 713.666.9000 to place your name on a list. Please see Terms and Conditions for "travel list" policy. 


Please note a date in the Mid-term Elections course has changed from that published in the brochure. The course will meet the first two Mondays, October 29 and November 5 as planned, but will meet Tuesday, November 13 instead of Monday, November 12. 


Also note Art Underground: Carlos Cruz-Diez at the Cistern on Wednesday, November 14 is FULLY SUBSCRIBED. A second session has been added and will meet Monday, November 12 from 2:00-3:30 P.M. Registrations are being accepted for November 12. You may register online, or by phone.


Who Gets to Vote: Challenges for the 2020 Elections?
Speaker: Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voter Rights Project
Monday, November 19, 6:30-8:00 P.M.
Location to be announced


Register today!


For additional information about any of our courses, to register offline, or to add your name to our mailing and/or email lists, please contact our adminstrator at  or phone 713.666.9000.