When musical theater giant Stephen Sondheim passed away last November, it sparked a wave of tribute performances by theater companies around the world. “Side by Side by Sondheim,” the 1970s revue compiling songs by the lyricist-composer, proved to be among the most popular.
But when Lost Nation Theater performs “Side by Side by Sondheim,” October 6-23 at the City Hall Arts Center in Montpelier City Hall Arts Center, it will be much more than a revue.
“Our production is entirely staged,” says Tim Tavcar, who co-directs with production art director Kathleen Keenan.
“Each of these pieces could stand alone, and that’s how they’re usually done,” Tavcar said. “You can just sit on stools and sing, and they’ll be successful because the music and the lyrics are what they are. But when you have the ability to stage them and do really fun and creative things with them, it’s incredibly rewarding.
And, most importantly, the production will be that of Lost Nation.
“I love the process, trying things and saying oh, well, let’s try this and try this, and finally it all of a sudden clicks,” Tavcar said. “It was a very collaborative process – and good for everyone involved.”
Sondheim (1930-2021) began his career as a lyricist for works like “West Side Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959). He also began composing the score, resulting in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1962), “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” ( 1973), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981), “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984) and “Into the Woods” (1987). Sondheim’s Broadway hit series has earned him eight Tony Awards, including a 2008 Tony for Lifetime Achievement, an Academy Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor and a Presidential Medal of freedom.
“Side by Side by Sondheim” premiered in London in 1976, then on Broadway in 1977. Although Sondheim was not involved in its creation, he saw it and approved of it. The review includes around fifty songs ranging from “West Side Story” to 1976’s “Seven-Percent Solution”.
The Lost Nation production draws most of its creative team and cast from its 2019 production of Kander and Ebb’s musical “Cabaret,” including direction from Tavcar and choreography from Taryn Noelle. Featured artists are Alexa Kartschoke, Keenan, Noelle and William Pelton. Samuel J. Biondolillo designed the lighting, while founding art director Kim Bent designed the set.
“Getting down to work on a Sondheim piece is such a gift,” Noelle said. “His depth, the complexity of his relationships, his humor and his humanity combined with the richness of the modes, modalities and themes of his tunes, place him in a stratospheric category of his own. I am thrilled to work with this group of artists, whom I greatly admire, to tell very real, funny and touching stories through the genius of Mr. Sondheim’s music and lyrics.
“Plus, I can put my own dance twist on a lot of them,” Noelle said.
“There’s a narrative that goes through there that I tweaked a bit,” Tavcar said. “There are three main characters who do pretty much everything, and Kathleen and I come in periodically to add to that when more voices are needed.”
For the staging, Tavcar is inspired by the lessons learned from the great opera star Maria Callas, also recognized as an actress.
“When asked how she became such a good actress, she said, every time you want to make a move or walk somewhere on stage, all you have to do is listen to the music because the composer has already taken care of that.
“Sondheim does the same thing,” Tavcar said. “The movement is greatly influenced by its music. He does that very well. I think that’s another reason that makes his musical presence so strong in the Broadway canon.
Timothy Guiles, the production’s musical director and pianist, also finds himself greatly affected by Sondheim’s unique skills.
“Stephen Sondheim was a giant in the world of musical theatre,” he said. “I’ve always been thrilled to have the opportunity to do one of his shows. I was blessed to be able to work on his ‘Sweeney Todd’ – a show that speaks on so many levels (the man that consumes man – the destructiveness of revenge) – and the ending never ceased to shock me, even on closing night.
“This kind of craft makes me happy to honor Sondheim with this musical tribute.”
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