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The Debut of Everything Sondheim By Peter Filichia

Have you been missing The Sondheim Review as much as I?

More than a year has passed since we saw this nifty publication, which has meant, to quote two certain princes, agony. How we loved reading about matters Sondheimian from A (Anyone Can Whistle, Assassins, and even that piece of juvenilia, All That Glitters) to almost Z (You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow).

Although a few Sondheim Review powers-that-be seem to have lost interest (or too much money) on the project, a few of its stalwarts haven’t quit. Rick Pender, the publication’s managing editor from 2004 to 2015, a fine Cincinnati theater critic and a past chair of the American Theatre Critics Association, is now executive editor and publisher of Everything Sondheim. He’s back in business and life is happiness indeed.

Says Pender, “The legendary composer and lyricist has personally approved the new venture as a resource for continued discussion of his works.” You’ll get a chuckle out of Sondheim’s pun that Pacific Overtures has “a Japanese screen score.” (And, no, he’s not talking about the small-screen version that was taped and broadcast on Japanese TV.)

Granted, most of the news, information, commentary and analysis that Everything Sondheim dispenses will be on http://www.EverythingSondheim.org. “As a contemporary website,” Pender says, “the endeavor will provide up-to-the-minute online news and information about Sondheim productions.”

That’ll soon be relevant, for there is a new Sondheim musical on the horizon. It has a working title Buñuel because it’s based on two Luis Buñuel films: The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. We’ll rely on Pender to fill us in on every detail.

But each year, there’ll be a perfectly lovely couple of hard-copy, glossy magazines, the first issue of which was just released. To paraphrase one of Sondheim’s most famous lyrics, something’s here, something’s good, and to quote another, “It’s a hit!”

For one thing, the forty-page magazine routinely offers what The Sondheim Review didn’t: color. The debut issue offers five pretty little pictures and twenty-seven big ones. You’ll see plenty of color and light in between Christopher Weimer’s superb article on Boris Aronson, who designed the sets for four of Sondheim’s Broadway productions in the ‘70s.

See the red-red-orange and the blue-blue-blue-blue in Aronson’s original but discarded set design for Company. What most of us will find the biggest dose of catnip is Aronson’s drawing of the brooding set that made all things dark and beautiful for Follies.

Despite these glories to our eyes, Weimer divulges a fascinating and seemingly contradictory quotation from Aronson: “An empty stage is a gold mine” — which is another way of saying “White. A blank page or canvas … So many possibilities.”

There’s plenty of color, too, in a retrospective of Derek McLane’s designs for the 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. (The one for Passion is particularly arresting.) Through Diana Calderazzo’s interview with McLane, you’ll discover which of the six he was most interested in tackling.

Black-and-white has to (understandably) do for the six late ‘50s and early ‘60s photographs that are interspersed between the conversation that Brad Hathaway had with Sandra Church, the original Louise in Gypsy. Church tells us that director-choreographer Jerome Robbins wanted Carol Lawrence for the role, but he couldn’t get her out of her still-running West Side Story contract.

(Was it co-producer Robert E. Griffith or his partner, then known as Harold S. Prince, or both who said no? The guess is Griffith, for perhaps Robbins wouldn’t have done that Fiddler show for Hal if he’d been the one to play hardball. Or was Fiddler just too good to turn down?)

So Church got the part, as every schoolchild knows. (I wish!) Church credits Andréas Voutsinas in helping her land it by virtue of his important choreography which she included in her audition. (In case you don’t know his name, he was Carmen Ghia in the original film of The Producers.)

There’s Bob Neu’s interview with Jim Walton, who took over the role of Franklin Shepard in the 1981 Broadway debut of Merrily We Roll Along when the original lead was found wanting. Walton recalls that so many people left after Act One. (Those damned fools! I bet they regret their folly now!) The exodus got to the point where one night he, co-stars Ann Morrison and Lonny Price peeked through a piece of scenery before the second act began and “we jumped up and down in hushed celebration that people were coming back after intermission.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard that in early Merrily previews, every cast member wore a T-shirt identifying the character he or she was playing. A nifty photograph shows the humorous label that a very young Liz Callaway sported on her shirt.

Walton’s interview is also timely because of Lonny Price’s recently released documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, which Walton discusses, too.

Regional productions get their due. You’ll discover the arcane casting in an Edinburgh production of Assassins. Is it a coincidence that Massachusetts did four productions of Company in the span of as many years or does the Bay State have a thing for the 1970 landmark musical? Could this ardor have started in March 1970 when Company had its world premiere tryout at the Shubert Theatre in Boston? And in case you think there’s nothing to this, Barrington Stage Company in far western Massachusetts has just announced that Company will be its third mainstage show this summer.

Find out what Sondheim’s state of mind was when he played three just-finished Sweeney Todd songs for Len Cariou in hopes that the actor would do the show. Read what Angela Lansbury at one Sweeney performance was just about to sing when the set threatened to fall onto everyone’s head. Catch the always reliable Andrew Milner’s review of When Broadway Went to Hollywood, Ethan Mordden’s newest delectable book. You can’t find all that many people who defend the first Gypsy film, but we can see why Mordden does.

So who could be blue now that Everything Sondheim is on the scene? Let’s hope it lasts ever after. Visit http://www.EverythingSondheim.org.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.

 

Regional productions get their due. You’ll discover the arcane casting in an Edinburgh production of Assassins. Is it a coincidence that Massachusetts did four productions of Company in the span of as many years or does the Bay State have a thing for the 1970 landmark musical? Could this ardor have started in March, 1970 when Company had its world premiere tryout at the Shubert Theatre in Boston? And in case you think there’s nothing to this, Barrington Stage Company in far western Massachusetts has just announced that Company will be its third mainstage show this summer.

Find out what Sondheim’s state-of-mind was when he played three just-finished Sweeney Todd songs for Len Cariou in hopes that the actor would do the show. Read what Angela Lansbury at one Sweeney performance was just about to sing when the set threatened to fall onto everyone’s head. Catch the always reliable Andrew Milner’s review of When Broadway Went to Hollywood, Ethan Mordden’s newest delectable book. You can’t find all that many people who defend the first Gypsy film, but we can see why Mordden does.

So who could be blue now that Everything Sondheim is on the scene? Let’s hope it lasts ever after. Visit http://www.EverythingSondheim.org.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.