In 1979 when Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway, I saw a performance early in its run and decided that I wanted to feature it on my radio program. In those days I hosted a two and a half hour radio show on a station in Harrisburg, PA, and while it was built around so-called classical music, I thought Sweeney Todd would fit right in.
So I dashed off a letter to Sondheim asking if he could make himself available for an interview that I could use as an intermission feature. Several months later I received his reply. He apologized for taking so long to get back to me and graciously declined the interview. Unknown to me at the time, he had suffered a heart attack shortly after Sweeney opened and went to Europe to rest for his recuperation. The heart attack also motivated him to quit smoking and eat a more healthful diet, which is probably why he lived another 40-some years.
Anyway, I managed to wrangle an interview with Ken Jennings, who played Toby in the original cast and in the touring company, and the broadcast of Sweeney ended up being the most popular episode of my show, at least based upon the feedback I received.
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