Into the Woods
L.A. is the first stop for the revival of the new Into the Woods
Broadway production postponed after Sept. 11 attacks
The show went on at two theaters performing it at the time
Mizner show (now called Gold!) is the subject of a court battle after Sondheim sues Rudin
Sondheim is honored in Toronto
The Kennedy Center festival adds more events
A Little Night Music bows at the Goodspeed
Night Music is also seen in Seattle
A breathtaking Pacific Overtures in Palo Alto
And an innovative Pacific Overtures also in Chicago
Boston sees Sunday in the Park
Moving On moves to Laguna Beach and Merrily is seen at the Guthrie Lab
An Assassins in Scotland; a Sweeney in Sydney
A backstage look at Sweeney through the lens of a gifted photographer
Joanna Gleason recalls moments in the original Woods
Chuck Wagner played both princes
Cinderella and her Prince (Kim Crosby and Robert Westenberg) are married
Bernadette Peters says it was a chance to learn
Once upon a time, a film was planned
Neil Patrick Harris wins praise for his Sondheim roles
Malcolm Gets is fresh from playing Robert
Pamela Myers becomes Mama Rose
Claire Bloom as Madame Armfeldt
Sweeney in Concert
Sweeney is seen on national TV on Halloween
The stars talk about the concert
The Frogs is finally on CD; some new imports
For Your Amusement
Find the pairs in Sondheim lyrics
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S. and elsewhere
When is an ‘appropriate’ time for Assassins?
By Paul Salsini
Ev’ry now and then
Bound to come along.
Doesn’t stop the story–
Story’s pretty strong.
Doesn’t change the song…
If you were to read only the lyrics of Assassins, you might wonder why the Roundabout Theater Company’s production, scheduled to open in November, was postponed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The lyrics, if anything, seem more relevant now than when they were written for the original off -Broadway production in 1991. They speak of madmen doing terrible things, of the love of country, of the dreams that we all have.
Yet two days after the attacks, Stephen Sondheim and librettist John Weidman acknowledged that a show about killing presidents would be difficult for audiences at this time.
“Assassins is a show which asks audiences to think critically about various aspects of the American experience,” they said in a statement. “In light of Tuesday’s murderous assault on our nation and on the most fundamental things in which we all believe, we, the Roundabout, and director Joe Mantello believe this is not an appropriate time to present a show which makes such a demand.”
Sondheim later told TSR:
“We were afraid that audiences wouldn’t understand what we were saying so soon after the events in September. It wasn’t fear of being accused of being unpatriotic again–it was just that audiences wouldn’t be able to understand. Much of it is supposed to be funny. There’s still a chance of doing it this season, or possibly next season.”
Sondheim noted, however, that there was a question of theater availability “since we lost our slot (at the Music Box Theater) when we postponed.”
Weidman added: “Everybody connected with the production felt that postponing it was the right thing to do at the time. But doing it sooner rather than later, while it’s still somehow connected to the events in September, is better in some way. The events of September didn’t render the show irrelevant–it was just too relevant to be done then.”
The move came as everyone was preparing for the production. The Roundabout had spent about $400 ,000 on the project. The set was more than sixty percent completed. The cast was arriving for rehearsals, which were to begin only a week later. Ads were to be placed in the next weeks.
This was, of course, a time when Broadway was in turmoil. As audiences stayed away in droves, four shows announced that they would close and others stayed alive only because unions and producers made substantial concessions. It took weeks for a gradual recovery.
Because Assassins would have been part of the Roundabout’s subscription season, it had a built-in audience. Still, like its production of Follies earlier in the year, the Roundabout also depends on tourists, and tourists might well avoid a show in which, among other things, a would-be assassin talks about flying a jet into the White House.
The postponement was immediately compared to the fate of the 1991 Assassins. Many thought the show failed to reach Broadway because of the strong patriotic feelings in the country during the Gulf War.
Since the announcement said that “this is not an appropriate time,” the question was: When would there be an appropriate time? The Roundabout thinks that the time will come, and that this was simply a postponement.
“We’re definitely going to do it,” Roundabout’s artistic director, Todd Haimes, told TSR. “I definitely hope it’s within two years, hopefully sooner than later, but not this season.”
Haimes said the postponement was “very disappointing” but the right decision at the time.
“I do believe that the piece is more relevant now than it ever was. It will resonate more than ever. But I think to try to do it six weeks after September 11 would have been perverse.”
Haimes said that when audiences finally see Assassins, they will have a better understanding of what the show is about, and “it will finally get the reception it deserves.”
He said he was very angry (he used a stronger verb) that the move had to be made.
“Theater is about freedom of expression, and even though we made this decision, I feel censored by the event,” he said. “But we will do it.”
Robert Brill, the set designer, said the set that was being built had been disposed of shortly after the events of September 11. The postponement, he told TSR, “might allow us the time to consider new ideas and incorporate them into the design.”
Mantello’s early thoughts about the set, Brill said, “centered on creating the dark allure of a traveling amusement, but staged with simplicity and urgency, so that the presentation of the material took precedence over production values. The challenge was how to present that and at the same time fulfill the expectations of a proscenium stage in a Broadway house.”
The original off-Broadway set, by Lauren Sherman, moved from a fairground to a saloon to other scenes of the assassins’ lives and finally to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The new set would have incorporated all the scenes into one space.
“The set is a dark abstract environment that is architecturally derived from both the world of the carnival midway and the warehouse-like environment of the book depository,” Brill said. “It was important to us that we never lose sense of the stage as a performance space, versus as a set.”
Although disappointed, the cast seemed to agree with the decision. Neil Patrick Harris, who was to be The Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald, said, “I can understand. Some people hate the show.”
John Carrafa, the choreographer, lost a brother-in-law at the World Trade Center.
“It’s the best decision in light of what’s happened, but we’re very disappointed,” he said. “We’re keeping on with what we do, and now that’s more important than ever.”
There are those who love regretting,
There are those who like extremes,
There are those who thrive on chaos
There are those who keep forgetting
That the country’s built on dreams–
Cast gathers for informal reading
Two months after the postponement of Assassins, the cast got together on November 12 at the Roundabout Theater Company’s rehearsal space near Times Square for an unstaged, informal private reading. Joe Mantello directed, Paul Gemignani was the music director, and the small audience included Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. The cast rehearsed literally one day; usually readings are rehearsed for five days. Many of the cast, though, had taken part in the readings in June 2000.
It was a strong indication that Assassins has only been postponed and that a production would happen “sooner rather than later.”
Paul Salsini is the editor of The Sondheim Review.