In a revival of Sweeney Todd, Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford will open on Broadway on March 26.
Time again for my occasional blog about happenings in the Sondheim universe. First, a bit of self-promotion: I learned recently that the publisher Rowman & Littlefield continues to offer a 30% discount on The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia. It’s list price is $135; use the code RLFANDF30 when you order at rowman.com, and your price will be reduced to $94.50. If that’s still a tad pricey for your budget, here’s another update from Rowman & Littlefield: My 650-page Sondheim Encyclopedia will be republished in paperback later this year at a more affordable price, likely $55. I’ll spread the news when that happens.
Broadway is buzzing this month in anticipation of the revival of Sweeney Todd, featuring pop star Josh Groban as the Demon Barber and stage and screen actor Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett. It’s in previews now and opens on March 26 at New York City’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Here’s a teaser. For a few Instagram words from Groban, check out his thoughts while strolling through the empty theater.
Six theater professionals — John Weidman (book writer of Pacific Overtures, Assassins and Road Show), Thomas Kail (Tony Award-winning director of In the Heights and Hamilton and currently staging Sweeney Todd on Broadway), Montego Glover (Tony nominee who played Into the Woods’ Witch on Broadway), Jon Kalbfleisch (resident music director at Signature Theatre), actress Chani Wereley, and Ethan Heard (currently staging Pacific Overtures at Signature Theatre) — were assembled by Washington Post writer Thomas Floyd to dig into Sondheim’s mystique. What exactly made him so great? Floyd’s feature, “Decoding the Genius of Sondheim,” was published earlier this month.
Coming soon — April 3, 2023, to be precise — at Arlington, Virginia’s Signature Theater is the annual presentation of the Stephen Sondheim Award. In its 12th iteration, this year’s honoree is Chita Rivera, best known for her first foray on the Broadway stage when she originated the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1956. This award honors individuals who have made important contributions to the American musical theatre. The black-tie gala benefit is held annually at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC. Previous recipients have included Angela Lansbury (2010), Bernadette Peters (2011), Patti LuPone (2012), Hal Prince (2013), Jonathan Tunick (2014), James Lapine (2015), John Weidman (2016), Sir Cameron Mackintosh (2017), John Kander (2018), Audra McDonald (2019) and Carol Burnett (2022).
When my Sondheim Encyclopedia was published in April 2021, I was privileged to be interviewed by several podcasters, bloggers and public radio producers. Here’s a link to one of my conversations, this one with Joe Donahue, host of the “Commonwealth Club” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. It’s about 23 minutes long if you care to listen.
I had the opportunity to hear Broadway performer and folk singer Eleri Ward in person here in Cincinnati recently when she performed a solo concert of her unique, often haunting arrangements of songs by Stephen Sondheim. She explained how social media helped launch for her burgeoning career. Using her iPhone, she recorded an acoustic indie-folk rendition of “Every Day a Little Death” from A Little Night Music and posted it on Instagram. It was her first step toward a recording contract. Last summer she toured with Josh Groban as his opening act. She has now released two recordings of Sondheim covers, and several of her recordings have expanded her fame via TikTok. Her youthful audience at her Cincinnati appearance suggests that she’s reaching a whole new generation of Sondheim fans!
Need a flash from the past? Here’s a fascinating video clip from Company’s original cast recording session featuring Donna McKechnie, Pamela Myers and Susan Browning singing several takes of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” It’s great fun to hear the women perform and take instructions from Sondheim, but also to hear remarks by Thomas Z. Shepard, who produced the recording.
I wonder if you’ve found your way to some of my recorded conversations with Stuart Brown on his online radio station, SoundsofBroadway.com. He posts our periodic chats, “The Complete Stephen Sondheim,” via his “On Broadway” bi-weekly podcast. So far, we’ve discussed and played music from a dozen of Sondheim’s major shows. Stuart’s podcast, posted every other Friday, features lots of other folks from the world of musical theater. The programs have approximately 13,000 monthly downloads. Stuart tells me our Sondheim discussions have proved to be his most popular offering. Since Sweeney Todd is about to be revived on Broadway, you might want to check out Episode 6 (June 17, 2022] about the show. It’s already been downloaded 1,600 times!
Feel free to drop me a line about Sondheim happenings you think might be of interest to others. And if you have friend who is a Sondheim fan, let them know about this blog! Thanks.