How a Local Writer Got to Know Broadway Legend Stephen Sondheim

In a new book, Milwaukee author Paul Salsini reflects on his decades-long correspondence with him.

‘Sondheim & Me’ book cover; Photo courtesy of Bancroft Press

In 1994, Paul Salsini, an editor for the Milwaukee Journal, launched The Sondheim Review, a publication dedicated to Stephen Sondheim, the lyricist behind West Side Story and the composer and lyricist behind Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and many more musicals. For the 10 years he ran the review, Salsini was on the receiving end of frequent letters, calls, notes and faxes from the Broadway legend. Now, a year after Sondheim’s death, Salsini is turning that correspondence into a book, Sondheim & Me: Revealing a Musical Genius, which comes out on Oct. 18 from Bancroft Press.

Salsini recruited writers from around the country to fill the pages of The Sondheim Review. He worked with a designer in Wauwatosa and oversaw the printing each month. Each issue had previews, criticism, interviews, essays and other reporting, and at its peak, the publication went out to 3,000 subscribers. 

“[Sondheim] would read it so carefully. I mean word for word,” Salsini says. “He would have notes about all kinds of little things.”

Their relationship was overwhelmingly positive, but Salsini does recall Sondheim calling him out of the blue one day about a “not glowing” review of a production of Passion in 1996.

“He was incensed: ‘Why did we run this review?’ ‘That reviewer doesn’t know anything about this,’” Salsini says. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

Despite years of close correspondence, the two men never met in person. “I think the letters that he wrote … show Sondheim as being a man with emotions,” Salsini says. “He’s not always on a pedestal. He’s a human being.”


Paul Salsini will be discussing Sondheim & Me: Revealing a Musical Genius at Boswell Book Co. on Oct. 18.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s October issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.

Comments

comments

Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.