Sample course offerings

Gail is a natural born teacher and scholar. When you combine that excellence in pedagogy and scholarship with her evident passion for and knowledge of Sondheim and musical theatre in general, you get a phenomenal, enriching experience that simultaneously delights and enlightens. I look forward with gusto to each presentation!

Gail shares her love of Stephen Sondheim’s works with irresistible joy. She knows her subject thoroughly, but her presentation is never dull. Well-chosen videos, personal anecdotes, and reference material contribute to an inform-ative and stimulating classroom experience.

Gail’s teaching is superb! Her enthusiasm and complete delight with Sondheim is conveyed through a variety of well-researched and fascinating facts and musical examples to reinforce concepts. She invites participants to engage in discussion through pointed questions, thereby creating an atmosphere of thoughtfulness and fun! 

I was enthralled by Gail's presentation of Sondheim and the things he invented. I went from Sondheim ignorance to Sondheim fandom due to Gail's course.  


An introduction to Stephen Sondheim: Jumping off with a close look at Sondheim’s most popular song, “Send in the Clowns,” this class will demonstrate a number of methods one might use to scrutinize any of Sondheim’s compositions. 


Lyrics, Rhymes and Gypsy:  We will discuss the purposes of rhymes (including musical rhymes), and the dangers and joys of alliteration.  We’ll also look at key songs from Gypsy that will demonstrate that Sondheim brings a playwright’s sensibility to his lyrics.


Company a new musical based on an old one:  

What does it mean for a show to be “Alive?” Company, originally produced 1970, was groundbreaking for its time.  But ever since its initial production, which was very much of its time, the show has never been as alive as it is now, with the new “gender-swapped” production, in which Bobby-with-a-y becomes an unmarried 35-year old women, Bobbie-with-an-ie.

Sondheim’s relationship to the musical theatre tradition and Follies:  Using Follies as a focus, we’ll learn about pastiche and how Sondheim has engaged with the musical theatre tradition, only to usher it into a new era.


Puzzles, mysteries and Sweeney Todd: We’ll discover how Sondheim’s love of puzzles and mysteries expresses itself in Sweeney Todd.

Putting it Together:  We’ll explore how Sondheim’s three axioms manifest themselves in Sunday in the Park with George, and how Sondheim uses his motif-writing prowess to tie together the first and second acts of this bifurcated musical. 

West Side Story: documenting Sondheim’s maturation.  An introduction to Stephen Sondheim and a look at some of his lyrics for West Side Story, which he wrote when he was just 26 years old.  By examining Sondheim’s self-criticism of this early work, we will learn a bit about the standards to which he held himself and others.  We will also glimpse the mature Sondheim in his lyrics for this 1957 musical.


A Little Night Music: Sondheim disrupts conventions of the musical theatre song.  We’ll explore how Sondheim messes with audience expectations by giving us something that, on the outset, seems familiar.  But then he twists it, rendering it vaguely familiar, but strange enough to make us just a little uncomfortable.  And we’ll see how a delightful song, sung by a minor character speaks for the entire show.


Pacific Overtures: Sondheim as problem-solver.

We’ll look at how Sondheim solved problems related to subject matter and libretto, using the 1976 musical, Pacific Overtures as an example. And we’ll see how he made an entire universe out of a few concrete images.


Merrily We Roll Along:  Content dictates form. 

We’ll discover that not only does the story of Merrily We Roll Along run backwards, but the musical itself runs backwards, with reprises occurring even before the song on which they are based.  We’ll also look at how Sondheim’s modular writing (musical ideas that recur) helps audiences follow the musical’s backwards structure, and adds poignancy and depth to the show


Into the Woods: “A Playwright in Song”

Using Into the Woods as a focus, we’ll take a look at how Sondheim functions as “A Playwright in Song” using both lyrics and music to tell stories. We’ll spend some time with Sondheim’s delightful wordplay to see how it serves not only character and plot, but also helps articulate the theme of the musical. 

Assassins: How Sondheim depends upon our knowledge of American song forms to deliver a punch in this powerful musical.

Road Show: How Sondheim uses pastiche (a respectful imitation of songs from a previous era) to critique American Exceptionalism.

Anyone Can Whistle: Examining Sondheim’s biggest flop helps us anticipate the sophistication that would mark his later successes.