Assassins is back in N.Y., this time on Broadway
Douglas Sills, the new Booth, says it’s a risky show
Mario Cantone turned down The Producers for this role
Choreographer John Carrafa has a Sondheim year
Another Gemignani will be in this production
The Kennedy Center prepares for a huge celebration
Eric Schaeffer gives details about the festival shows
Do I Hear a Waltz? revived in Los Angeles
Passion gets a new interpretation in Philadelphia
Eric Schaeffer again directs Putting It Together
Anyone Can Whistle turns up in St. Louis
Jazz greats salute Sondheim
Sweeney Todd in concert in San Francisco
Tomorrow is presented in Cincinnati
A Little Night Music at Leicester
Readers react to the Roundabout revival
Follies’ “Roscoe” writes his journal of the show
Sunday in the Park with George
Sondheim and Lapine agree: It’s an odd show
Bernadette Peters remembers her role in Sunday
Actors recall Sondheim’s “best show”
The score is a breakthrough
An advance look at Putting It Together on pay TV
For Your Amusement
The solution to the challenging Sondheim puzzle
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S. and elsewhere
Eric D. Schaeffer forecasts ‘an amazing time’
By John Bell
If Eric D. Schaeffer has his way, next summer’s Sondheim Celebration at The Kennedy Center will be the first in a biannual series of artistic retrospectives celebrating the masters of the American musical theatre. From May through August 2002, the festival will present Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passion and A Little Night Music, with Pacific Overtures as a separate production. With casting decisions being finalized, Schaeffer sat down to discuss the festival.
Q. How was the program determined?
A. Steve and I narrowed down what it was going to be. Anyone Can Whistle was under consideration, and Steve talked with Arthur (Laurents) about going back to look at the book, and Arthur was totally into that. But it is a very large show; it came down to budgetary concerns. The reason the shows are in the order they are in is so that you can come and see Hugh Wheeler, George Furth and James Lapine in the first half and then Wheeler, Furth and Lapine in the second half. You won’t see two James Lapine shows in the first half of the festival. It was done that way so that you could experience different collaborations.
Q. Did the omission of Assassins have anything to do with the Kennedy Center being the venue?
A. The only reason it’s not in there is because it’s going to Broadway. Into the Woods and Assassins are going to be on Broadway next year and that’s the only reason they’re not included in the festival. I wanted to do it. The Kennedy Center was totally into having it produced there. They thought it would be great.
Q. Are the directors trying to avoid anything that’s been done in the past?
A. No. But there is an attempt to make the work fresh and new in a way that hopefully rediscovers it.
Q. In that light, how will Sunday in the Park with George be visualized?
A. It’s going to be totally different from any other Sunday in the Park. I said to Steve, “I had a dream,” and Steve said, “Where have I heard that?” I actually had this dream and I had this whole new way of re-envisioning the show. That has become the basis of what we’re going to do with the show. It’s going to be very arty and not in the literal sense.
Q. To what extent will Sondheim be involved?
A. A lot. He’s involved in the casting of all the shows. He’s involved in choosing music directors. He’ll be down for rehearsals. He said, “Look, when you need me, call me and I’ll be there.” He’s really excited about it. And he’s very realistic about how daunting this whole thing is. He says, “Do you really think?” and I say, “We’re going to do it, Steve.” I get out my spreadsheet and it helps to calm the nerves for everyone. It’s a logistical puzzle and, of course, he love puzzles.
Q. Can you discuss the design teams?
A. Derek McLain is the set designer for the whole series and Howell Binkley is the lighting designer for all six shows. I picked them and then the directors were told that these two would be their designers. Obviously this whole thing is a puzzle. We couldn’t really have six different set designers come in and then figure out how we’re going to rep all these shows. Each show will have its own look. Derek and I have already done Passion. It spans the whole width of the Eisenhower (Theater). There will be a different look and different feel for each show.
Q. Have the conductors been chosen?
A. We’re close. Jonathan Tunick will be conducting Company and I know Paul Gemignani will be working on one of them. That’s the caliber of folks you’re going to see.
Q. Are you planning on using the original orchestrations?
A. Yes, we are. Sweeney Todd will be done with a twenty-five piece orchestra, which is amazing. When’s the last time that’s happened in actual performance that wasn’t a concert version of the show?
Q. Whom do you think will be attending the festival?
A. I think we’ll have a huge reach. There’s a huge following here because of all the Sondheim we’ve done here at the Signature Theater. As I’ve traveled around the country people are very excited. And it’s not just the shows. The Kennedy Center atrium space will present a photo collage of Steve’s life. We’ve asked Frank Rich and Hal Prince to come down and do a seminar. We’re also going to present seminars with the lead actors and directors of each show.
Q. There’s been some criticism about the ticket prices.
A. This celebration is going to cost ten million dollars. If we sold out we’d only raise about five or six million dollars. So the first mailing that went out was for people who could afford the $1,000 and $2,000 prices and support this endeavor. In February, single tickets will go on sale and those tickets will cost less than a Broadway show.
Q. Are there any preconceptions that Sondheim fans may bring that you would like to disarm?
A. I hope people will come to celebrate his work. If they come with that attitude, I think they’ll have an amazing time.
Q. Describe the festival’s success in your mind.
A. I hope Steve is really thrilled with the productions. I hope audience reaction is “I never realized putting these shows side by side, you can see that, you can see this.” I hope two years from now we’re doing a Kander and Ebb celebration. I’d love it if this became a biannual event, a summer celebration of musical theatre that you can only find at the Kennedy Center.
For more information about celebration, including ticket information and production schedule, visit the web site at http://www.kennedy-center.org.
John Bell is an associate professor of musical theatre at the University of Central Florida.