Special Reports

Cameron Mackintosh: Stephen Sondheim's Final Musical Was "50 or 60 Percent Finished"

Get some further details about the status of Sondheim’s last project, adapted from the films of Luis Buñuel.

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
(© David Gordon)

Much has been asked, in the year since he died, about the status of Stephen Sondheim's final musical. Ominously titled Square One (a moniker Sondheim himself reportedly came up with on the spot during an interview with Stephen Colbert), it's assumed (though still not publicly confirmed) that the show was an adaptation of two films by surrealist director Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, with a book by David Ives.

Last month, there was a small social media controversy when a fake Twitter account suggested that Square One would have its Broadway premiere in 2023, with a cast lead by Tony winners Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters (who both had reportedly done a reading of the show prior to Sondheim's passing). That was quickly shot down by reps for both Peters and Lane, to the disappointment of the Twitterati (the Square One Twitter was apparently created to troll a theater gossip TikTok account called @SweatyOracle).

We've been trying to get to the bottom of this, and we managed to with the help of mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, the mastermind behind the sold-out West End tribute concert Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends, which aired over the holidays on British television.

Mackintosh confirmed to our U.K.-based sibling website WhatsOnStage that he had heard the score to Sondheim's unfinished final Bourgeoisie musical just before the songwriter passed away.

"My last conversation with him was the Sunday before he died," Mackintosh told WhatsOnStage editor Alex Wood. "He asked me to go through the entire score with him on the phone…What was interesting was that Steve had never gone through a full score with me before like that. I think he wanted to reinforce his view with me as to whether or not he was going to complete it, because of the amount of energy it would have taken."

Mackintosh notes that what he had heard was "50 or 60 percent" finished. "When we went through it, I found so many vigorous tunes, but none that he had fully completed…There was a whole section in the musical that he told me he wanted to be 'wall-to-wall music,' like the Follies sequence. But, sadly, he never got to write that. There was a lot of music within what he'd already written that I'm sure he would have used for that specific section, but he died before he was able to do all that."

Mackintosh is unsure whether the musical will ever land on stage, but he was grateful for the chat. "In a way, I was blessed that my last conversation with him was when his mind was working full tilt. And talking about some amazing stuff he'd written."