Finale is an entertaining expansion on the four interviews New Yorker writer D.T. Max (Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace) conducted between 2016 and 2019 with Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021). At the time, the composer was working on a musical based on two Luis Buñuel movies, a project that was never completed.
Besides the sharp interviews, Max demonstrates the finesse used in wooing a reticent interview subject, writing, "I had never tried to be his friend, but I had tried to be his ideal conversational partner." He describes the friendly but prickly Sondheim as "humorous, sardonic, and appealing, beloved but not lovable, in the Shavian way." A large portion of these interviews mines Sondheim's creative process and how he worked with collaborators. But Max also coaxed some childhood tales out of Sondheim, with a few caustic remarks about his mother, who sent him to boarding school: "She didn't want me in the first place, so it was to her taste to get rid of me--and to my taste to get rid of her." There are some fun random opinions, such as that he enjoyed the Beatles and Radiohead but wasn't a fan of jazz music or social media. "At my age, what I don't want to do is meet anybody else," he told Max. As Sondheim neared 90 and his pace slowed, he also reflected on his mortality: "I don't mind dying. I just hate--I just don't want it to be uncomfortable. And I don't want it to be prolonged." These tantalizing interviews should delight theater fans. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant