Stephen Sondheim: My 'West Side Story' Lyrics Are 'Embarrassing'

Broadway musical legend on penning success stories and blowing off critics.

ByABC News
December 8, 2010, 2:29 PM

Dec. 28, 2010— -- Stephen Sondheim finds the music from "West Side Story," one of the most revered musicals of all time, downright "embarrassing." And he should know. He wrote the lyrics.

"It embarrasses me," he said. "It's very hard for me to listen to some of those songs."

Only a man who has won eight Tony Awards, two Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar could get away with saying something like that. That man is the 80-year-old composer-lyricist, Stephen Sondheim.

He is a true Broadway legend. Most theater buffs have heard (or sung) at least one of Sondheim's most famous scores, which include, "Sweeney Todd," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Into the Woods," "Company," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Assassins" and "Follies." He also wrote the lyrics for "Gypsy" and then, of course, "West Side Story."

There's even a Broadway theater named after him. Earlier this year, the Henry Miller Theater on West 43rd Street in New York City became the Stephen Sondheim Theater, another event in his career that the composer was somewhat uncomfortable with.

"Embarrassing. Thrilling but embarrassing," Sondheim said. "First of all, I've never been fond of my name. 'Sondheim' ... doesn't sing."

Then, of course, there have been constant celebrations, honors, birthday tributes and praises from Sondheim's other prestigious colleagues, including actress Bernadette Peters, who called him "a walking, living icon."

Again, the great composer blushed.

"It's really nice, but it's also embarrassing," Sondheim said. "My tendency, my desire is 'leave me alone, just let me ride.'"

Then he added about watching his life's work unfold: "What's great about standing in the back of the theater while the show is going on is if the audience doesn't like it, you can go to the bar right next door and have a drink."