COMING SOON: The Sondheim Encyclopedia in paperback … and other news

I’m excited to share the news that The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia will be released by Rowman and Littlefield in a paperback edition in mid-September. It will still have 650 pages and all the entries found in the hardback, but instead of the $135 price tag, this version will cost $55. I hope many more Sondheim fans will be able to afford adding this extensive reference volume to their musical theater bookshelf. I’ll send ordering information (and a discount code) when it’s available.

Stephen Sondheim passed away a year-and-a-half ago, but that hasn’t diminished the theater world’s appetite for productions of his shows. There’s plenty of evidence in New York City. At the upcoming Tony Awards on June 11, productions of Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd are both nominated for recognition as the season’s best musical revivals. Into the Woods, which evolved from an Encores! concert staging into a fully (if modestly) produced production at the St. James Theatre, ran from September to January 2023. Its noteworthy cast — including Patina Miller as the Witch, Brian d’Arcy James as the Baker, Sara Bareilles as the Baker’s Wife, and Phillipa Soo as  Cinderella — made a much praised cast recording, released by Concord Theatricals/Craft Recordings last September. (Here’s a YouTube video of Bareilles recording “Moment’s in the Woods.”) Still onstage at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (at least until January 2024) is the Sweeney Todd revival, featuring Josh Groban as the murderous barber, and Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett; both are Tony nominated for their performances, and the cast recording of their production was released digitally by Arts Music and Reprise Records on May 8. Here’s a link to a snippet of “The Tale of Sweeney Todd:”

New York isn’t the only place where audiences have been flocking to outstanding productions of Sondheim shows. The Pasadena Playhouse, California’s officially designated “State Theater,” has just completed a six-month festival of Sondheim shows. Artistic director Danny Feldman decided to break the usual mold of a regional theater of producing five or six shows a year. “What if we asked our community to do something longer than one night together? What if we explored an idea, a theme, a person? That’s where the Sondheim festival idea came from.” Productions during Playhouse’s 2022-2023 season included Sunday in the Park with George and a diversely cast staging of A Little Night Music. (Here’s a link to an interview with Jodi Long who played Madame Armfeldt). The Playhouse also virtual seminars about Sondheim and coordinated productions of other shows by local schools (Into the Woods) and universities (Sondheim on Sondheim at USC). Feldman’s adventurous decision surely played a part in the Pasadena Playhouse being honored with the 2023 Regional Theatre Tony Award, a recognition that’s accompanied by a $25,000 grant.

The farmhouse where young Stephen Sondheim was mentored in the craft of musical theater by Oscar Hammerstein II will become a museum dedicated to the legendary lyricist, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Miranda Family Fund.

Actor Barbara Bryne (below) must have known a lot about motherhood. She was Georges Seurat’s mom in the original production of Sunday in the Park with George in 1984 and Jack’s mother in Into the Woods’ debut in 1987. She also played Madame Armfeldt in the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration staging of A Little Night Music in 2002. Born in London, Bryne trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and then moved to Canada where she was in more than 30 productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Also a regular performer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis (she played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1999), she died on May 2, 2023, at the age of 94.

Barbara Byrne in Sunday in the Park with George

Since you are certainly someone who takes Stephen Sondheim’s work seriously, I urge you to consider signing up for a series of virtual classes, What Makes Sondheim Great (Act II Reprise). Sondheim enthusiast and scholar Gail Leondar will share her insights starting later in June and continuing into July. Each of five sessions starts with a lively presentation, full of things to listen to, watch and think about. Gail always makes time for conversation as well. Available on Tuesday nights, June 20 to July 25 (7pm ET/6pm CT/5 pm MT/4 pm PT), will be sessions digging into West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, and Into the Woods. This is a repeat of a class Gail offered in Winter 2022. REGISTER HERE. The fee is $60, but if you’re interested and can’t afford that, Gail invites personal inquiries at “We’ll figure out something that feels comfortable to you.”

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