Sondheim Blog

Sondheim News for May 2024

Thomas Floyd assembled an excellent feature for the April 6 edition of The Washington Post: “An Oral History of Mrs. Lovett, one of theater’s greatest, bloodiest roles.” He interviewed English actor Julia McKenzie, Broadway stars Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, Lea Salonga, Bryonha Marie, Annaleigh Ashford, movie actor Helena Bonham Carter, and TV’s Christine Baranski, and obtained a delightful array of anecdotes, insights and opinions. Ashford, Tony nominated for her recent Broadway performance, said of Angela Lansbury: “I felt really connected to her because she was a true character actress, and that is what I have always dreamed of being and strive to be. The played women who are dimensional and dynamic and have been hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.” McKenzie said, “I think you have to, first of all, make a big choice as to whether you think she’s just thoroughly evil or whether you think she was coping with those terrible Victorian times when everyone was just fighting to live, really.” Follow this link to the feature which includes an array of photos video clips.

Sunday, May 5, marked the closing of the revival of Sweeney Todd that initially featured Tony Award nominees Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. Since February 9, Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster had played Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. The much praised revival at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre of Merrily We Roll Along, which opened on September 23, 2023, will close on July 7, 2024. From start to finish it starred Jonathan Groff as Franklin Shepard, Daniel Radcliffe as Charley Kringas, and Lindsay Mendez as Mary Flynn. All three actors are Tony nominated (Groff for best actor, Radcliffe and Mendez for featured performances). The Merrily revival picked up four additional Tony nominations – Best Revival of a Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Maria Friedman), Best Sound Design of a Musical (Kai Harada), and Best Orchestration (for the legendary Jonathan Tunick). The 77th Annual Tony Awards will be presented at Lincoln Center in New York City on Sunday evening, June 16.

Broadway won’t be without a serious dose of Sondheim for long, with the welcome news that the London revue, Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, will be presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. The posthumous London tribute was initially a one-night project by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2022. Later that year after public demand became evident, it had a 16-week West End run in London and received an Olivier Award nomination. The production’s all-star cast on Broadway will be led by Tony winners Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga who also performed in London; it’s directed by Matthew Bourne in collaboration with Julia McKenzie, an English actor and frequent Sondheim performer. Previews are set for to begin on March 25, 2025. (If you’re on the West Coast, you can catch this production in its pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, Feb. 8-March 9, 2025.)

Speaking of Bernadette Peters, on a recent Broadway Cruise, she had a half-hour conversation with Gordon Cox for the Broadway Podcast Network. Asked what she considered her most challenging role, she talked about Dot in Sunday in the Park with George. She especially cited the song “Color and Light,” and added that working with Mandy Patinkin, “I fell in love with that show. It just swept me away.” Cox asked her if there might be a male role that she’d undertake. Without hesitating her enthusiastic response was, “I’d play Sweeney Todd!”

Los Angeles was lucky in late March when a one-night event, A Broadway Birthday: Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and Friends commemorated the strange coincidence of Sondheim’s and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shared birthdate, March 21. Presented at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and produced by Scott Coulter, the evening featured Betty Buckley, Kerry O’Malley, Liz Callaway, Matthew Morrison and Aaron Lazar.

Nathan Lane has been honored by Signature Theatre in Virginia with its annual Sondheim Award for 2024. This gala event on Monday evening, April 29, featured performances by notable Broadway artists including Faith Prince, Krysta Rodriguez, and James Caverly and several favorite Signature artists including Tracy Lynn Olivera, Adelina Mitchell and Awa Sal Secka. Susan Stroman, who collaborated with Lane on the 2004 production of Sondheim’s The Frogs. Stroman also staged the all-time most Tony Award-winning Broadway production, The Producers (2001), that co-starred Lane and Matthew Broderick. Lane was also a Tony Award winner as Pseudolus in the 1996 revival of Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Signature’s annual Sondheim Award Gala honors those who have contributed to the works of Stephen Sondheim and the canon of American Musical Theater. The Sondheim Award Gala benefits Signature’s artistic, education, and community outreach programs.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that Forbidden Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song was going to be presented in a limited engagement at the Hayes Theater in July and August. Its producers have postponed the production, stating, “The Broadway landscape is enormously crowded at this moment, and while we adore Forbidden Broadway, we are disappointed that the show will not open at the Hayes on Broadway this summer.” Created in 1982 by Gerard Alessandrini, Forbidden Broadway satirizes New York City’s current theatrical landscape. The production at the Hayes would have been the first Broadway mounting of one of Alessandrini’s revues.

I suppose you’ve missed the opportunity by now to buy Sondheim’s Connecticut property, an 18th-century countryside Colonial. It sold in April for $3.25 million. Spanning nine acres, the wooded property had a spacious living room with exposed-beam cathedral ceiling, a rustic wood-paneled office, stained glass windows a sunlit music room, and a spacious sunroom with old stone. Also part of the real estate package was a one-bedroom pool house and a detached garage in addition to the three-bedroom home, which was built in 1792. Other features of the countryside residence include a rustic wood-paneled office, a sunlit music room, and a spacious sunroom with old stone floors and ivory wainscoting. In November 2023, Sondheim’s Manhattan Townhouse sold for $7 million.

If the price of Sondheimian real estate was beyond your means, you might want to consider a Tuesday, June 18, 2024, auction of Sondheim’s personal effects. More than 200 lots of memorabilia, furnishings, antique puzzles and more from his townhouse and the Connecticut home will be offered by Doyle Auctioneers & Appraisers. Sondheim was a collector of antiques and curiosities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras; he assembled an unparalleled collection of early puzzles, games, rebuses, coin-operated machines and ephemera. The public is invited to view the exhibition in advance, June 14-17, at Doyle, located at 175 East 87th Street in New York. Select highlights are touring Doyle’s regional galleries during May. An auction catalogue will be available on May 20. For more information, follow this link.

If you have comments or questions about Sondheim, feel free to drop me an email at pender.rick@gmail.com.

This & That about Sondheim – March 2024

March 22 would have been Sondheim’s 94th birthday. Before the end of March, there’s a Broadway Birthday: Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and Friends, happening in California at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on March 28. It’s marking the strange coincidence that Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber shared the same birthday. Coming together for this one-night-only event will be Tony winner Betty Buckley and a bevy of other Broadway stars —Matthew Morrison, Liz Callaway, Alex Joseph Grayson, Aaron Lazar and Kerry O’Malley.  – who just recently spread holiday cheer in our Cabaret Series with the Broadway Hollywood Holiday Songbook!

If you can’t catch the California event, why not pick up several fine recordings recently released by some top-notch performers? For instance, Liz Callaway (who was in the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along), recently released To Steve With Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim, a live recording of her 2022 cabaret performance at 54 Below in New York City. It features 16 numbers — including “Broadway Baby,” “The Miller’s Son,” “What More Do I Need?” and “I Remember”/“Take Me to the World” from Evening Primrose —interspersed with tracks with her talking about intersections with Sondheim. • Or check out Melissa Errico’s Sondheim in the City. It’s a selection of his songs telling New York stories. In an interview in Forbes, Tony Award nominee Errico calls the recording, “my most swinging, big band kind of album, with horns and strings and great jazz drumming.” (If you’d like to see her live, she’ll be at 54 Below from May 7 to 9.) The recording is Errico’s second collection of his songs, Sondheim Sublime, from 2018, which the Wall Street Journal called “the best Sondheim album ever recorded.” It offers “The Miller’s Son,” “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” “Marry Me a Little,” “Isn’t He Something?,” “Goodbye for Now,” and “Losing My Mind,” among others. • One more great choice is Jeff Harnar’s I Know Things Now: My Life in Sondheim’s Words, released in 2022. The New York Times’ Stephen Holden described the recording by this great cabaret singer as “a complicated journey from innocence and naïveté to the hard lessons of adulthood” and praised the recording’s “jazz-flavored orchestrations.”

CAST RECORDING NEWS: Maria Friedman’s record-breaking, ebullient revival of Merrily We Roll Along featuring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez released the CD of its cast recording in January. It was produced by Sony Masterworks Broadway, the same recording company that produced the cast recording of the show’s original 16-performance production in 1981. The revival, which opened on October 10, 2023, at the Hudson Theatre, will end its run on July 7, 2025. It’s been extended twice, but this appears to be the final date it will be presented. The revival, by the way, recouped its $12 million capitalization this month. • The cast recording of Tommy Kail’s 2023 revival of Sweeney Todd was warmly recommended by Jesse Green in his New York Times roundup of cast albums. He suggested that Josh Groban’s performance makes this recording stand out in the context of previous recordings of Sondheim’s masterpiece. “Groban’s slight stiffness and somewhat meek interpretation, which worked against the role’s terror in the huge stage production,” Green pointed out, “are utterly absent on the album, turning numbers like Sweeney’s ‘Epiphany’ into murderous arias as big as any in opera.” Capturing Groban’s performance is a plus, as well as his partner in crime, the delightful Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett. [Photo: (L -R) Reg Rogers, Katie Rose Clarke, Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe & Lindsay Mendez in Merrily We Roll Along – Photo by Matthew Murphy)

GLYNIS JOHNS, who originated the role of charming Desirée Armfeldt in the original production of Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, passed away in January at the age of 100. She was the first to sing “Send in the Clowns,” a number Sondheim wrote overnight with her breathy voice in mind. A decade before Night Music she played Mrs. Banks, the sunny suffragette and mother of two rambunctious children in the Disney rendition of Mary Poppins. Johns took ill just five days before Night Music opened in February 1973 and was briefly hospitalized. When she learned that actress Tammy Grimes might replace her, she recovered quickly. “Nobody else is going to sing my songs!” she announced. For her performance, Johns wone the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. In 1991 she played Madame Armfeldt in a production of Night Music at the Ahmanson Center in Los Angeles.

Last September, I was honored to do a book signing for the paperback edition of The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia at New York City’s Drama Book Shop. My conversation with David Rigano was recorded for the bookstore’s podcast Drama Book Show, which debuted in January, so you can hear what I had to say. (My interview begins at 7:00 minutes; it’s about 41 minutes long.) I hope you enjoy listening.

PARTING SHOT: Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini’s enduring parodies that have skewered Broadway shows for more than four decades is coming back, and in fact, the raucous off-Broadway show, will actually be at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre starting with previews on July 29 and officially opening on August 15. (Closing is set for November 1, 2024.) This edition Forbidden Broadway on Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song, promises parodies of numbers from recent revivals of  Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along and perhaps even Here We Are. The production will also offer spoofs on contemporary and upcoming Broadway musicals and plays such as The Notebook, Water for Elephants and The Great Gatsby. Alessandrini’s cast will be three Forbidden Broadway regulars: Michael West, Jenny Lee Stern and Chris Collins-Pisano was well as newcomer Dayna Jarae Dantzler. Also joining them will be a true Forbidden Broadway veteran since 1991, comedian Christine Pedi, who will take on a trio of stars — Merman, Stritch and Lansbury. Forbidden Broadway debuted in 1982 at New York’s Palsson’s Supper Club. Since then it has played in more than 200 cities across the U.S. and around the world. The show received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre and several Drama Desk awards. [Photo by Alastair Muir]

If you have comments or questions about Sondheim, drop me an email at pender.rick@gmail.com.

Finally, here’s something that made me smile. I hope it does the same for you!

COMPANY on tour — across the U.S.

Britney Coleman as Bobbie leads the cast of COMPANY on tour
(Photo my Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

A 25-city national tour of Marianne Elliott’s recent Tony and Olivier award-winning adaptation of Sondheim’s 1970 hit Company is under way. The role of Robert has been transformed into Bobbie, a woman marking her 35th birthday. Elliott received Sondheim’s approval for this rearrangement; he provided some revised lyrics driven by the gender switching, and he was warmly enthusiastic about the production’s success. A preview of the Broadway production in November 2021 was the last performance Sondheim attended before his death. In the 21st-century Bobbie (formerly Robert) is surrounded by five quirky married couples who hope to inspire her to matrimony. They are more diverse racially, and one couple is gay. And instead of Robert’s trio of frustrated girlfriends — Kathy, Marta and April — Bobbie juggles relationships with — Andy (Jacob Dickey), Theo (David Scolar) and bohemian PJ (Tyler Hardwick) (IMAGE BELOW).

Britney Coleman as Bobbie, Jacob Dickey as Andy, David Socolar as Theo and Tyler Hardwick as PJ in COMPANY on tour. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

To make all this rearrangement work, Elliott needed to deconstruct much of the show created by Sondheim and book writer George Furth and reassemble it to explore issues faced by a single contemporary woman whose biological clock is ticking. Bobbie (Britney Coleman) is lonely, but she can’t decide whether she should be seeking a more permanent relationship. Several of her married friends don’t provide much in the way of inspirational role models — Sarah (Kathryn Allison), a foodie, and David (Jed Resnick), an alcoholic, compete with one another, physically and emotionally, while Peter (Javier Ignacio) and Susan (Marina Kondo) declare that they’ll improve their better relationship by divorcing. Bobbie’s boyfriends have issues with her unwillingness to step up to a deeper relationship; her one-night stand with Andy (Dickey), a handsome but empty-headed flight attendant now explodes in a riot of horrifying outcomes with multiple incarnations of the pair multiplying onstage and suggesting the many ways a relationship could go off the tracks.

Britney Coleman as Bobbie in the touring COMPANY sings “Being Alive.”
(Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Coleman, who understudied Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in the Broadway production, has her own frustrated, bemused take on the role and the right voice for the plaintive “Marry Me a Little” that concludes Act I and the revelatory “Being Alive” at the show’s conclusion. She wears floaty lipstick-red pants and top, a color not to be found dressing the characters around her, clad in monotones of grey, white and black. The show’s costumes were designed by Bunny Christie, also the production’s scenic designer. Her set of cramped boxes represent spartan New York apartments that slide on and off the stage; the show’s neon-styled title, C-O-M-P-A-N-Y, is used variously as a set of letters — “O” becomes a subway door, while “N,” “Y” and “C” form the backdrop for a particularly New York moment.

Judy McLane makes the acerbic Joanne her own without mimicking Elaine Stritch who originated the role or Patti LuPone who played it in Elliott’s productions in London and New York. She’s slightly softer, which makes her recommendation to Bobbie to avoid becoming one of those “Ladies Who Lunch” a more meaningful interaction. Her long-suffering husband Harry (James Earl Jones II) with a touch of being a “ladies man” seems a more natural mate.

The tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today” is the tour’s most entertaining number, with angsty Jamie (Matt Rodin) having a serious panic attack on the morning of his wedding to Paul (Jhardon DiShon Milton), while a “Priest” (Marina Kondo, again) pops unexpectedly and amusingly in and out to deliver the increasingly unhinged “church music.” Before that number ends, almost every cast member springs out of unexpected corners, cabinets and other aspects of the set.

The entire cast takes on Liam Steel’s complex, inventive choreography for “Side by Side by Side” at the top of Act II. The 1970 cast had only modest dance skills, even trained by legendary choreographer Michael Bennett, so it’s fun to see this lively number in the tour with everyone in weirdly crazy synch with one another.

The “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” number, now with Bobbie’s diverse trio of boyfriends, plays out on the doorsteps of three brownstones. It’s the space where uptight David (Jed Resnick) and already stoned Jenny (Emma Stratton) reverse the husband and wife who experiment with pot — in fact, they remain frozen during the scene while the trio sings. PJ (Hardwick) is back for a spirited rendition of “Another Hundred People” interpolated with other moments of illustrative action.

All of this happens as if we’re inside the mind of Bobbie, perplexed about turning 35 — despite the mylar “35” balloons of various sizes that haunt her (and need to be punctured as she builds momentum toward “Being Alive”). This adaptation is a fascinating take on the Furth’s tales from 1970: Instead of a commitment-phobic cypher, the central character now struggles with the expectations a woman needs to address a half-century later. It’s intriguing to see how Elliott’s reformulation of Furth’s script and Sondheim’s reshaped songs tell a very different but meaningfully contemporary story.

I saw the tour in mid-February during its one-week tour stop at the wonderfully ornate Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. It’s moving on to stops in Fayetteville, Arkansas; St. Louis; Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center in March; and Boston, Pittsburgh and Providence, Rhode Island, in April. Venues, ticket orders and more tour stops can be viewed at this website. Sondheim fans who didn’t get to see this production on Broadway should make the effort to catch it when it comes to a nearby city. Even if you don’t warm to Elliott’s concept, this is a fine production that will impress you with how Sondheim’s creativity shines through.

And if you need a refresher about Company, look it up in my Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia, now available in hardback and more affordable paperback editions.

LEARN MORE

Speaking of revivals that you ought to see: The much-lauded Broadway revival of Merrily We Roll Along starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez has been extended through July 8 with this excellent cast. If you can get to New York City, this is the show to see.

If you plan to see Company on tour, or Merrily and Sweeney Todd (now featuring Sutton Foster and Aaron Tveit) on Broadway, you might want to check out a set of provocative Zoom classes, “Our Time with Sondheim,” by Sondheim expert Gail Leondar to increase your appreciation and enjoyment. The three 90-minute classes are being offered on March 3, March 17 and April 7, from 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT/4 p.m. MT/3 p.m. PT Learn more at Gail’s Eventbrite page. Classes will be recorded for later viewing. The fee is$45 for three 90-minute classes.

The sessions on Sweeney and Merrily contain new content. However, the only completely new class is on Elliott’s gender-swapped Company. Anyone wishing to take only that class can do so for $15 with a request to Gail at TalkingSondheim@gmail.com.

HOME SWEET HOME

You’ve probably heard the news that Sondheim’s Manhattan home at 246 E. 49th Street in the historic Turtle Bay neighborhood has been sold. But its longtime illustrious owner is now memorialized with a “Medallion” from the city’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Center. In a Zoom event on February 14, hosted by the center’s Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel, thoughts about Sondheim were offered by James Lapine, Patti LuPone, John McWhorter, Jonathan Groff, John Weidman, and Liz Calloway.

If you have comments or questions about Sondheim, drop me an email at pender.rick@gmail.com.

A Holiday Gift for Sondheim Fans!

In case you missed the news in the New York Times, the venerable newspaper’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide included a recommendation (by no less than Jesse Green, the Times’ chief theater critic) of The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia as a great holiday gift! It’s now available as a paperback for just $55, which is part of its appeal this year. Use this link to Rowman and Littlefield on my author website where you’ll find a code from the publisher to reduce that price by 30%. (If you prefer to order a hardback copy, priced at $135, the same code will reduce it to $95.) This is certainly the year to satisfy all your musical theater friends with a gift of this comprehensive volume — 650 pages, 130+ entries about Sondheim and all of his shows, his collaborators, the actors who starred in the original productions and much more.

Rick at the Drama Book Shop, September 2023
PHOTO DRAMA BOOK SHOP

In September, I was honored to have a book signing event for the encyclopedia’s paperback edition at the Drama Book Shop, near the Broadway Theatre District. Most of the 40 seats were filled with fans (and some family) to hear me chat for 45 minutes or so with knowledgeable Book Shop employee David Rigano. After that I spent some time signing copies and chatting one on one with those in attendance. It was a rainy Monday night in late September, but no one’s enthusiasm for Sondheim was dampened.

That trip to New York City afforded me an opportunity to see the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. Groban, of course a fabulous voice for the role, appears to have settled into a world-weary sense of Sweeney that becomes all the more fearsome when his fury is unleashed. Ashford has a wholly new take on Nellie Lovett, clingy, selfish and manipulative in ways that set her performance apart significantly from that of Angela Lansbury (and Patti LuPone, for that matter). Although these two stars are memorable, the entire ensemble — directed by Thomas Kail (who staged Hamilton) — is a coherent character, often performing with meticulous, synchronized choreography by Stephen Hoggett.

(L-R) Maria Bilbao, Ruthie Ann Miles, Rick,
Katie Rose Clark, and Reg Rogers
PHOTO JOAN KAUP

I was back in early November for a meeting of the American Theatre Critics Association where I emceed a panel of performers from Sweeney Todd — Ruthie Ann Miles, who plays the Beggar Woman, and Maria Bilbao, who is making her Broadway debut as Joanna — as well as the revival Merrily We Roll Along — Katie Rose Clark who plays Beth and Reg Rogers is the boys’ producer, Joe Josephson. It was especially fascinating to hear Ruthie Ann talk about her analysis of her role in Sweeney: She approached the Beggar Woman as someone with “dissociative identity disorder” (which we used to call “multiple personality disorder”). A close study of her character’s lines identified more than 10 distinct personalities, which she employed in her fragmented portrayal of Sweeney’s damaged wife.

By the way, it’s been announced that Aaron Tveit (who won a Tony for Moulin Rouge!) will replace Groban as Sweeney, and four-time Tony winner Sutton Foster will step into the role of Mrs. Lovett. They pair will debut on Feb. 9, 2024. Might be time for another trip to New York City …

On my November trip I also attended the Merrily We Roll Along revival featuring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliff and Lindsay Mendez. This trio of actors has such an excellent and joyful chemistry with one another that their portraits of Franklin Shepard, Charley Kringas and Mary Flynn came to life in a remarkably convincing and entertaining way. Maria Friedman’s production is very similar to one she did at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory back in 2012 that transferred to the West End. Filmed and screened in American movie theaters on a limited basis in 2014, Friedman’s Broadway revival of the production has benefited significantly from this excellent set of performers. I’m sure it will be a Tony nominee for Best Revival and could well be the winner. Ben Brantley wrote called it “the season’s most essential show, with an unsurpassable triple act at its center.” I wholeheartedly agree.

On my November trip I also headed to the Shed’s Griffin Theatre at Hudson Yards to see the production of Here We Are, the show Sondheim was working on with playwright David Ives before his death two years ago. Based on a pair of esoteric films by Luis Buñuel, it’s a strange work about a crowd of overprivileged people trying to find a place to have brunch (Act 1) and then trapped in a posh embassy where escape seems impossible (Act 2). An exercise in absurdist existentialism, it features with a fine cast featuring Bobby Cannavale (as a robust, no-nonsense guy with a bad heart), Steven Pasquale (playing an effete ambassador), David Hyde Pierce (as a Catholic bishop dubious about his calling), Denis O’Hare (playing an amusing series of diffident servants), and eight others. The staging with minimal design (Act 1) and florid deterioration (Act 2) by David Zinn, was well suited to the Griffin’s thrust stage with the audience flanked on three sides.

Sondheim’s score has been orchestrated for a dozen musicians by his veteran collaborator Jonathan Tunick; Alexander Gemignani (son of longtime Sondheim conductor Paul Gemignani) conducts. The first act of Here We Are has a half-dozen songs (not titled or listed in the program), plus underscoring and snatches of music that momentarily reminded me of chords from Sunday in the Park with George and passages from Passion. Aside from one song, the second act is mostly underscoring. As a Sondheim enthusiast, I’m grateful that Here We Are has been staged. But I’m intrigued to watch whether it has a future beyond this quirky production staged by Joe Mantello. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your reactions.

Thanks for reading my blog posts which reach more than 800 people. If you have Sondheim news or comments you’d like send my way, please drop me an email: pender.rick@gmail.com

A Bonanza of Sondheim

MY FINAL REMINDER: I’ll be signing copies of the paperback edition of The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia ($55) on Monday evening, Sept. 25, 7:30pm at the Drama Book Shop (266 West 39th St. in Manhattan). If you’re nearby, please RSVP and stop by. I’ll talk about some of my experiences interacting with Sondheim during my years with The Sondheim Review and the Encyclopedia.

HERE WE ARE

David Ives, Joe Mantello and Stephen Sondheim (at his Connecticut home)
Photo by Daniel Dorsa/New York Times

This fall offers a bonanza of Sondheim performances in New York City and beyond. If you haven’t read Frank Rich’s late August feature published online on Vulture about how playwright David Ives and director Joe Mantello worked with Sondheim to create the new musical, Here We Are, here’s a link. It’s an in-depth transcript of conversations the trio had, with Rich, the one-time New York Times theater critic (and longtime Sondheim admirer), occasionally interceding with questions. Their collaboration began in 2009 when Sondheim called Ives to discuss some ideas. As Mantello says, “Being summoned to his house is terrifying.” Initially the conversation was not about Luis Buñuel’s films, but another idea Sondheim had, a complicated musical called All Together Now that dug into facets of a moment between two people meeting for the first time. They abandoned that one in 2013 when they learned of another new show with an overlapping premise. Then they settled on exploring Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Exterminating Angel. Rich’s feature is long and detailed — and completely fascinating. Their conversation evolved into Here We Are which begins previews in New York City on Sept. 28, at The Shed’s Griffin Theatre, a new venue at 545 W 30th St. The official opening of the limited run is Oct. 10; it’s announced closing date is Jan. 7, 2024.

The Broadway return of Merrily We Roll Along is under way with previews at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre (141 W 44th St.). Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez and Daniel Radcliffe are picking up where they left off back in January with a limited, sold-out Off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop. The three actors appear to be just about as tightly as the three characters they are playing, according to Ben Brantley’s feature, “3 Actors, 1 Unshakable Bond,” in the Sept. 12 New York Times. “What promises to be the most passionate love story of the new Broadway season,” Brantley wrote, “is a tale of three people. Like many triangles, this one involved jealousy, guilt, misunderstanding, recrimination and betrayal.” But he points out a big difference: “Sex is not part of the equation for its leading lovers.”

Have you made it to Broadway to see the Tony Award-winning revival production of Sweeney Todd starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford? If that hasn’t been possible, here’s another option: You can now get your own original cast recording of their show. Warner Music Groups Arts Music and Reprise Records released it on Sept. 8. For the first time since 1980, you can experience Sondheim’s award-winning score as it was performed in 1979 — with Jonathan Tunick’s original, epic 26-player orchestration. Here’s a link to stream or buy it.

Marianne Elliott’s Tony Award-winning revival production of Company will soon begin its 25-stop national tour, starting in October and continuing through August of 2024. Here’s a list with dates. Bobbie, the name of the gender-switched leading character, will be played by Britney Colman, who understudied the role on Broadway; the key part of Joanne will be filled by Judy McLane, a past Drama Desk award nominee. They will be joined by Kathryn Allison as Sarah, Matt Bittner as David, Ali Louis Bourzgui as Paul, Derrick Davis as Larry, Javier Ignacio as Peter, James Earl Jones II as Harry, Marina Kondo as Susan, Matt Rodin as Jamie and Emma Stratton as Jenny. Jacob Dickey, Tyler Hardwick and David Socolar play Andy, PJ, and Theo, the male versions of Robert’s girlfriends from Company’s original production.

Bernadette Peters is a legendary Broadway star. So it’s kind of startling that she’s only just now making her West End debut in London in Sondheim’s Old Friends, a celebration of his music devised by British producer and director Cameron Mackintosh. She’ll star with Lea Salonga and a bevy of British theater luminaries including Janie Dee, Damian Humbley and Joanna Riding.  Peters told The Guardian, “Steve [Sondheim] loved England so much. He told me that any opportunity he had, he’d visit. So to make my debut here singing his music is very touching and important to me.” Read more of her interview.

PLEASE STOP BY THE DRAMA BOOK SHOP ON MONDAY EVENING IF YOU’RE IN THE VICINITY.

Paperback Sondheim Encyclopedia Now Available!

As previously announced, the paperback edition of The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia can now be ordered from Rowman and Littlefield. I’ve received emails from several Sondheim aficionados, pleased by the more affordable price — $55! (Even better: Use this discount code, RLFANDF30, you’ll get a 30% discount off that). Also, if you’re in or near New York City, I’ll be doing a book signing at the Drama Book Shop (266 W. 39th St.) on Monday, Sept. 25, at 7:30 p.m. If you’re available, please stop by. (And my apologies for scheduling on Yom Kippur — the bookstore assigned this date to me months ago, and I did not notice the conflict until recently, with my travel plans already in place.)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. Despite Sondheim’s passing in 2021, his shows continue to have significant audience appeal. Here’s a link to a feature from American Theatre magazine featuring the directors of his first posthumous Broadway revivals — Lear deBessonet (Into the Woods), Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along) and Tommy Kail (Sweeney Todd). I like this observation from deBessonet: “It’s magnificent and delicious, because there is so much there for you. And it actually is all there in the writing. We all know what it is to direct a piece where it isn’t all in the writing, and you’re doing a lot of work to fill in holes and compensate. It’s like Shakespeare, where digging deeper and deeper into the text reveals the piece more clearly. So the muchness is very welcome.” Ah, yes — the “muchness” of Sondheim.

Some more news: The show Sondheim was creating with Playwright David Ives, Here We Are, based on a pair of avant-garde films by director Luis Buñuel, will get a fall production in New York City in The Shed’s Griffin Theater at Hudson Yards (545 W. 30th St, between 10th and 11th avenues), beginning previews on Sept. 28 and opening a 15-week run on Oct. 22. The cast will include David Hyde Pierce and Bobby Cannavale; Joe Mantello is the director. In the New York Post, theater journalist Johnny Oleksinski reported in August that the production of the on-again, off-again show feels incomplete to several insiders — just six new songs in the first act, almost none in the second. Despite steep ticket prices, it seems a sure bet that Sondheim fans and other curiosity seekers will flock to see it. I’ll share more news once it’s available.

If you prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude about Here We Are, you might want to consider acquiring some remastered cast recordings of Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Assassins. Sony Masterworks Broadway released these, likely Sondheim’s final recording project before his death in 2021. The new releases offer an immersive audio experience using Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos, setting listeners inside a 360° spherical sound field, amplifying every note and instrument. The recordings were co-produced by Didier C. Deutsch and Peter E. Jones, archivist for the Sondheim Foundation.

I suspect you’ve heard Sondheim’s very funny “The Boy From …”, a parody of the bossa nova number “The Girl from Ipanema.” He wrote it with Mary Rodgers in 1966 for an off-Broadway revue, The Mad Show, where Linda Lavin performed it. It ends with the disappointed singer lamenting that the “boy” she has lusted after is moving to Wales where he’ll live in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch, a real town with what is likely the longest place name in the world. If you’re intrigued, you should check out this YouTube video about the origin of the Welsh town’s extravagant name.

In addition to the paperback Encyclopedia, your Sondheim bookshelf might be enhanced by adding a copy of Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy by the late Stephen M. Sunderman, released by Running Press Book Publishers on Sept. 19 ($35). Brimming with first-person tributes from lots of Broadway performers and complemented by more than 200 color and black-and-white images, Sunderman’s book offers a multidimensional look at Sondheim’s shows and career. It’s described as “a lavish, highly engrossing documentation of the dynamic force who reshaped twentieth-century American musical history.” It’s also available as a nine-hour audiobook from Audible, narrated by actor James Patrick Cronin.

I hope to see you at my book signing in New York City on Sept. 25. Now that it’s more reasonably priced, I also invite you to consider it for a holiday gift to another musical theater lover.

Thanks for reading my monthly blog post which is sent to more than 800 people. If you have Sondheim news you’d like to share, please drop me an email: pender.rick@gmail.com

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