There are many Stephen Sondheim fans, including myself, who would do pretty much anything for the chance to meet and chat with the 83-year-old, internationally worshipped songwriter and pick his brain about his musicals.
For those unable to score such a rare opportunity, at least there's "Six by Sondheim," a comprehensive, very satisfying HBO documentary that, through extensive archival footage and new interviews and performance footage, examines Sondheim's life and his distinct work ethic.
Television clips spanning more than half a century are meticulously arranged into a collage, showing how Sondheim matured from a clean-cut youth into a scruffy, gray-haired icon.
Six of Sondheim's most well-known songs are explored at length including "Send in the Clowns," which Sondheim never imagined would turn into nightclub standard performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Cher, "Opening Doors," an elaborate sequence from "Merrily We Roll Along" that Sondheim claims is his only autobiographical song.
Sondheim offers perceptive commentary on various aspects of his songs, such as the difference between writing lyrics and poetry and the necessity of making them feel effortless. He also reveals his fondness for drinking alcohol and word games.
Many of the anecdotes shared by Sondheim will already be familiar to his followers, including how his mother said she regretted giving birth to him. However, preserving them through a documentary such as this was necessary.
On TV: "Six By Sondheim airs Monday at 9 p.m. on HBO.