Pacific Overtures at Signature Theatre
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is one of the most prolific producers of Sondheim shows anywhere. It’s in the midst of a season-long Sondheim tribute, offering multiple productions. Into the Woods is just concluding a rendition set in a long-forgotten nursery of a once grand Victorian house “in the woods” (closing January 29). Up next Signature will present one of Sondheim’s most ambitious — and rarely produced — musicals, Pacific Overtures (March 7-April 9). It’s an exploration of tradition and transformation based on historical events. In 1853, after 200 years of stability, Japan faced an American expedition determined to open the “floating kingdom” to trade. The isolationist island’s reckoning with the unwelcome Western influence is brilliantly illuminated through a kaleidoscope of stories about sailors, samurai, “someone in a tree,” and two friends who choose radically different paths. The season will wrap up with perhaps Sondheim’s greatest work, Sweeney Todd (May 16-July 9).
On April 3, 2023, Signature theatre will bestow its annual Stephen Sondheim Award on Chita Rivera, who in 1957 originated the role of West Side Story’s Anita on Broadway. She joins a distinguished group of honorees who have received the award since 2010 when Sondheim himself was recognized. Since then Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Hal Prince, Jonathan Tunick, James Lapine, John Weidman, Cameron Mackintosh, John Kander, Audra McDonald, and Carol Burnett have been honored for their contributions to the works of Sondheim and the canon of American Musical Theatre.
Pasadena Playhouse in California is also marking Sondheim’s career in a self-described “ambitious and momentous celebration featuring dazzling, full-scale productions, special events, and unforgettable performances.” Sunday in the Park with George will be presented February 13-March 12, followed by A Little Night Music, April 25-May 21. Special events include a presentation of Sondheim on Sondheim (April 20-26), James Lapine’s filmed portrait of the composer in his own words with live musical performances, a pair of live concerts by Bernadette Peters on June 10-11, and several other events.
In The New York Times, critic Jesse Green praised the new cast recording of Into the Woods , which concluded its Broadway run on January 8. He wrote, “After several revivals and the 2014 movie, this Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical could almost seem too familiar, yet the stripped-down version directed by Lear deBessonet restored its warmth, humor and strangeness. Not all of that survives in the cast recording, especially in complicated ensemble numbers that mix dialogue and song at top speed. Yet in solos and duets — like the alternately hilarious and gorgeous ‘Agony,’ sung by Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry, the score shines anew.”
The recent Broadway revival of Sondheim and Furth’s Company begins a 25-city national tour in October. The gender-switched production directed by Marianne Elliott, won the 2022 Tony for the season’s best revival. Stops for the national tour so far are set for Detroit’s Fisher Theatre (Oct. 17-29, 2023), Denver’s Buell Theatre (May 22-June 2, 2024) and Seattle’s Paramount Theatre (July 23-28, 2024). Additional stops, casting and on sale dates for tickets have yet to be announced.
If you’re intrigued about Sondheim and his shows, the best one-stop shopping to satisfy your curiosity is The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia. Follow this link to order your own copy!