Give Us More (Sondheim) to See!

2022 cast of INTO THE WOODS (photo by Evan Zimmerman for Murphy/Made)

I haven’t posted for a while, but a lot has been going on in the Sondheim universe. A couple of great pieces of news about the ongoing Broadway revival of Into the Woods that started as a well-reviewed New York City Center Encores! production then moved in July to the St. James Theatre for a limited run. It’s been extended several times, and announcements currently have it onstage until Jan. 8, 2023, so there are still chances to catch a performance. If you can’t find your way to New York yet — what with sporadic air travel challenges and some lingering COVID concerns about being in theaters — you should be cheered by the news that this production is getting a cast recording by Concord Theatricals/Craft Recordings (released digitally this week with a CD following on Dec. 2). It features Sara Bareilles as the Baker’s Wife, as well as Brian d’Arcy James (Baker), Patina Miller (Witch), Philippa Soo (Cinderella), Joshua Henry (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Gavin Creel (Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince). Here’s a YouTube taste of Bareilles recording “Moments in the Woods.”

A limited-run revival of Merrily We Roll Along (Nov. 21, 2022-Jan. 21, 2023) staged by British actor and director Maria Friedman at the 199-seat New York Theatre Workshop is likely going to be a tough ticket this fall. Daniel Radcliffe plays Charley Kringas, Jonathan Groff will be Franklin Shepard, and Lindsay Mendes is Mary Flynn. Tickets go on sale to the public as of Oct. 3.

More good news in the offing: Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford will become Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett on Broadway in a new production of Sweeney Todd scheduled to open on March 26, 2023, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. (Previews begin on Feb. 26.) Groban loves the show so much he named his dog “Sweeney.” He calls this role “cerebral and gritty and interesting — and baritone” and says it’s one “I could really sink my teeth into.” Ashford, who played opposite Groban in the 2017 revival of Sunday in the Park with George, said, “This role is one of the finest ladies of the American musical theater canon. She does a terrible thing, and she is a monster, but I’ve always seen her as a woman who is trying to find love and trying to be loved.” The production will be directed by Thomas Kail, the Tony-winning director of Hamilton.

If recordings of Sondheim’s songs are your thing, I suspect you’ve heard about singer/songwriter Eleri Ward, who has now issued a pair of albums featuring her insightful, introspective solo performances, which she accompanies on guitar. A Perfect Little Death came out in 2021; Keep a Tender Distance was released earlier this month. Writing for The New York Times, Rob Weinert-Kendt said, “Ward plumbs this deep well in a way that feels so intuitively right, it’s remarkable no one has done it before: She has fused this emo Sondheim register with a familiar coffee house sound, adding delicate fingerpicking guitar accompaniment to support he limber, expressive soprano. In her hands, it’s not hard to imagine these songs as the creation of an especially gifted — if occasionally bloody-minded — indie singer-songwriter.” Here’s Ward in an evocative YouTube performance of “No One Is Alone.” Who knew Sondheim could be reincarnated in this manner — and remain so profoundly moving?

Congratulations to Len Cariou, the actor who originated two memorable Sondheim roles — the refined but reticent Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music and the rampaging serial-killer barber Sweeney Todd. He was this year’s recipient of the Stratford Festival’s Legacy Award on Sept. 12. He performed there in the early 1960s and returned in the early 1980s playing roles as varied as Prospero in The Tempest, Brutus in Julius Caesar, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Cariou has also appeared in several memorable television series, ranging from Star Trek: Voyager to The West Wing, and since 2010 he has portrayed Henry Reagan opposite Tom Selleck in the CBS hit series Blue Bloods.

Finally, here’s news of an opportunity to learn more about “What Makes Sondheim Great.” My friend and Sondheim enthusiast Gail Leondar is offering “Act II” of her ongoing exploration of Sondheim’s genius. She will include numerous performance videos and interview clips, but this is not a once-over-lightly survey of Sondheim’s musicals. Rather, Gail will lead participants in the parsing of songs from West Side StoryA Little Night MusicInto the WoodsPacific Overtures, and Merrily We Roll Along, trying to understand why Sondheim made the choices he did. (It’s not necessary to have attended “What Makes Sondheim Great (Act I)” to fully enjoy and appreciate this series.) Gail’s class will meet via Zoom on six Sunday evenings, from 7-8:30 pm ET, starting Nov. 6, and ending Dec. 18 (skipping Nov. 27.) It will be recorded for those who must miss a session. You can register here. The cost is $65.28 (which includes Eventbrite’s fee.)  I’ve been in numerous fascinating conversations with Gail about Sondheim’s works, and I can assure you this will be a stimulating experience for all who sign up.

As always, the Sondheim Encyclopedia remains available through this website’s link to my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. If you know of a Sondheim fan, this is the perfect holiday gift for him or her!

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