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The Hammerstein-Sondheim Training Method

Updated: May 21, 2019

As a boy, Stephen Sondheim was close with Oscar Hammerstein II. Oh to have grown up in the golden age of musicals...

The story goes - Sondheim presented Oscar with a script for a musical and asked for Oscar's opinion, after which, Oscar then told Sondheim to:

  • Take a good play, one you like and make it into a musical

  • Take a flawed play, one you like and see if you can improve it as a musical

  • Take a story, not written by yourself, and not in dramatic form and turn it into a musical

  • Then write an original story and turn it into a musical

Without knowing, I did this early in life which I believe has allowed me to walk right into full-length writing projects. But I'd like to modify his list:

  • Turn a good play into a musical

  • Improve a flawed play and turn it into a musical

  • Take a story not in dramatic form (Novel, Short Story, etc.) and turn into a musical

  • Turn an original story into a musical


  • Write a political musical based on current environment

  • Write a musical revue...

Those are the two I have not completed yet, the political based show and a musical revue. I think these two formats are essential. Political based forces you to deal with current (dated) political environments and helps develop your comedy writing, because in my opinion, the only way politics works on stage is through comedy.

This weekend I got an idea for a musical revue with a original music. Over a few blog posts I will tell you all about it!

But what exactly is a Musical Revue? By today's standards it means "take a catalog from a famous band or singing group" and fashion a storyline around their songs.

But in reality - a musical revue is (from Wikipedia)

A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches.

The revue had its golden era from 1916 to 1932 but has been used successfully through the present.

When I think of a revue, I think politics or controversial subjects, though case has shown that is not important.

What is important however, is that the music, dance and sketches all relate to one subject. Otherwise, you have a vaudeville production on your hands. That does not mean you are tied to an overarching story line, as most revues are a series of loosely-related acts tied to a general theme.

The musical "Working" comes to mind...

But even that is non-descriptive - it's referred to as a Musical but is a series of music, dance and sketches loosely-related to "working."

So which is it? A musical or a revue?

Most successful revues that aim for Off-Broadway or Broadway seem to have a strong story line but told in a highly theatrical, revue style way. One could argue that "Chicago" is an example. It's basically a series of acts tied together by the court framework to tell the story of Roxy.

No one refers to it as a revue however, they call it a musical.

And that I believe, is what my revue will turn out to be, a cross between a revue and the musical comedy.

But there is only one way to find out, and that's through Outlining, so I'm grabbing a legal pad and going to work through it for a bit...

Alan Saunders,

Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.

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