A Web of Information: Online resources for Sondheim fans
News & Notes
Sweeney on Broadway
Telling the Story: Michael Cerveris
Review: A fearful nightmare
Critical insights: other reviews of Sweeney
Biography of a Song
“A Bowler Hat”
Features and Interviews
A web of information: Sondheim online
Sondheim retrospective I: “Mostly silence”
Sondheim retrospective II: “On top of the world”
In her eyes: Barbara Cook
Reviews and Reactions
A bloody good Sweeney in Seattle
Utter fascination: Woods in Austria
Lado a lado: Side by Side in Rio
Ladies night: Follies in Scotland
Facing challenges: Sunday in London
Lavish Follies in Minneapolis
Enchanted Woods in Palo Alto, Calif.
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S., Canada
A Web of Information:
Online resources for Sondheim fans
BY ANDY PROPST
Drop the name “Stephen Sondheim” into the online search engine of your choice. Depending on which site you prefer, you’ll find that the composer-lyricist’s name yields anywhere from 166,349 (msn.com) to 1,280,000 matches (altavista.com). For fans searching just for news about and reviews of Sondheim’s musicals, results are more manageable (534 matches were made from a recent search of Google’s news service and 360 matches were gleaned from Yahoo’s news). Without a doubt there’s a wealth of information and a grand number of resources available online today, but where should musical theatre enthusiasts turn — and for what? Below is a primer for both the relative Web novice and the seasoned Web surfer.
When it comes to finding the latest news on Sondheim productions, recordings and reviews, the options available online are vast. The two top options:
Playbill.com – Updated throughout the day on weekdays and once every morning on Saturday and Sunday, this online extension of the popular in-theatre magazine covers the latest news not only from New York, but also across the nation and in London. Generally, you’ll find about 30 to 40 new news items on all topics everyday; many times these are “scoops” about casting, new productions and so on that will then be picked up by other online theatre news sources.
Google News Alerts – If you don’t want to be bothered with checking Playbill.com continually throughout the day for the latest Sondheim news, you can have articles not only from this site, but also 4,500 publications delivered to your e-mail box throughout the day. Just drop by www.google.com and click “news alerts.” Enter the word or phrase you want to be kept up-to-date on, and the frequency with which you want to be sent updates. After this, you can sit back and wait for the news to be delivered. A recent alert based on just the name “Sondheim” contained links to articles from sources from The Independent in London and Russellville Courier in Arkansas.
AmericanTheaterWeb.com –– As good as the Google news alert is for grabbing from mainstream print publications, Google does not always include reviews from online publications or independent newspapers. The “Headlines” section at AmericanTheaterWeb.com collects from more than 75 newspapers, magazines and online theatre news sources daily, augmenting Google’s vast search with some important and interesting pieces from smaller, less widely known publications. [Editor’s Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that the author is the founder and sustainer of AmericanTheaterWeb.com.]
Other sites to bear in mind: Broadway.com and TheaterMania.com both update daily with news items about productions, recordings and special events, in addition to having reviews of shows both in New York and elsewhere. (For more on these sites, see columnists below.) TalkinBroadway.com is also a good source for reviews from around the country and for reviews of recently released CDs — from original cast recordings to single-performer vocals.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
Sometimes it’s just not enough to know about the latest casting news or recently opened production — you just have to talk about it. These days lively discussion about Sondheim and musical theatre in general can be found all over the Internet. The hub for these conversations is:
TalkinBroadway.com – All That Chat – When you hear people talk about “online communities,” they mean places like this. All That Chat is a message board populated not only by musical theatre enthusiasts but also by many professionals in New York City and beyond. Have a question about a show? “All That Chat” is the best place I know to ask a question and get an informed answer. For people who don’t live in New York, one of the chief reasons for visiting this board daily is the conversations that spring up on the day after a performance during which something unusual happened. “Conversation” between correspondents can be lively and heated. Participants can also be exceedingly cordial when out -of-towners are looking for advice.
Sondheim.com – Finishing the Chat – This chat site is dedicated to all things Sondheim. While much of the rest of Sondheim.com feels outdated — the home page continues to have reports on the Assassins revival and “news” that Bounce will not be coming to Broadway — Finishing the Chat remains lively with new posts everyday. Unlike All That Chat where all of the messages appear together, this site groups its messages by recent revivals, announcements, etc. Sort of fun here is Games where Sondheim fans prove that they truly do love to play with words as much as he does.
Other musical theatre newsgroups abound online. One of particular note is rec.arts.theatre.musicals. This is a newsgroup from way before Google, Yahoo and other major companies began their own listservers. It still contains some lively conversation. You can reach this newsgroup through Google’s groups manager.
Now that you have the news and know where to voice your own opinion, what about the people who are really in the know? Well, I devoutly read three online columnists. They don’t always cover Sondheim, but their writing concentrates on musical theatre, and often their approach to the field and the topics they choose are so enormously entertaining, it’s almost as good as a choice Sondheim song. In alphabetical order:
Peter Filichia’s Diary on TheaterMania.com – Filichia’s approach to his diary (published Monday, Wednesday and Friday) is best summed up by the way in which he began a column about theatre he’d seen in Arizona. He confessed that as soon as he checked into his hotel room, he pulled out the phonebook to see if either Buddy or Sally Durant was listed. Filichia’s column (sometimes reviews, sometimes quizzes for his readers, sometimes an encapsulation of readers’ opinions) never fails in its informative jauntiness or in conveying the author’s deep love for the theatre in all its forms.
Ken Mandelbaum on Broadway.com – From the author of books such as Not Since Carrie also comes a three-times-a-week column that’s devoted to musical theatre, generally reviews of new CDs, DVDs and, more recently, books — but sometimes fascinating retrospectives on a particular season or investigations of what he describes as “obscure” recordings and videos. What makes Mandelbaum so enjoyable is his encyclopedic knowledge.
The Siegel Column on TheaterMania.com – Scott and Barbara Siegel complement Filichia and Mandelbaum beautifully in their twice-a-week column (Tuesday and Friday) that contains not only reviews of shows in New York but also cabaret reviews and sometimes features on newly released movies with a connection to live theatre.
Other columns to bear in mind are “On the Record” by Stephen Suskind (reviews of recently released CDs; Sundays on Playbill.com) and “Channeling Theatre” by Michael Buckley (a monthly feature at Playbill.com investigating relationships between theatre and new movies and shows on television).
Sites dedicated to Stephen Sondheim and his shows are abundant online, as are pages that relate to specific shows, performers and recordings. Perhaps the best resource for Sondheim aficionados available online today is The Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide ( www.sondheimguide.com ). This site is “compiled” by Michael H. Hutchins and is so up-to-date that selections from “Stephen Sondheim Sings, Vol. II” are cross-referenced into each show mentioned in the site’s “Unproduced Works” section. That such a section exists — with composition date and song list (where available) — gives you an idea of the comprehensiveness of Hutchins’ work. In the reference guide — beautifully laid out and easily navigable — you’ll find cast listings for major productions of Sondheim’s musicals, both on Broadway and across the country, a list of all of Sondheim’s songs, a terrific bibliography and much more.
Equally informative, but with a British bent is the Web site of The Stephen Sondheim Society (www.sondheim.org). This organization is dedicated to promoting “the works of Stephen Sondheim in the U.K . and elsewhere and [creating] a greater interest and appreciation of them by means of circulating information and providing a focal point where those interested can share such interests.” The site fills this mission beautifully, with richly detailed listings, news clippings and a message board that, while not as active as All That Chat or Finishing the Chat, stays up-to-the-moment in conversation. The Society’s Web site gives a grand view of how Sondheim’s work is being performed across the Atlantic.
One other Sondheim-specific site to keep in mind: “The Quotable Stephen Sondheim Page” (www.sjsondheim.com), which includes a grand array of information about the writer (and is particularly useful in its show synopses).
ANDY PROPST is the founder of American Theater Web (www.americantheaterweb.com).