Sondheim on Sondheim to receive European Premiere

Sondheim on Sondheim to receive European Premiere

The BBC Concert Orchestra will stage the European premiere of the musical review Sondheim on Sondheim on Thursday 15th March 2018 at the Royal Festival Hall.

Surrounding a film of the composer himself and accompanied by a host of exciting performers, this retrospective autobiography performed on Broadway in 2010, presents his finest music intertwined with an intimate portrait of one of musical theatre's giants.

Sondheim on Sondheim, which first ran on Broadway in 2010, has been newly converted into an orchestral production. This orchestral version was premiered at the Hollywood Bowl on 23rd July.

Stephen Sondheim spoke with the LA Times recently regarding this new version of the show. An extract is copied below.

Putting together a retrospective of his work “would not have occurred to me,” Sondheim says over the phone about a week before the big night. He describes himself as “by nature a shrinking violet.” Even so, when his close friend and frequent collaborator James Lapine proposed the idea years ago, he readily agreed.

“I had my usual, ‘Oh, I hate being in the spotlight’ stuff,' he admits, "but knowing that it was Jim, I just knew it was in good hands."

Lapine, who wrote the books for the Sondheim musicals “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Into the Woods” (and directed the premieres), designed “Sondheim on Sondheim” as a visual and musical experience, incorporating along with many songs, archival footage as well as historical and new interviews with the composer — to which Sondheim gamely submitted.

“There are some things that will surprise an audience," Sondheim promises. "I’m pretty open about some stuff in the interviews. James said there was no point in doing it unless I was sort of open and frank about it. And I said, ‘Sure, OK, ask me questions. Tell me what you want to know.’ I figure, you know, what the heck, it’s interesting for people to know about the lives of writers whose work they like. I remember seeing an interview with Cole Porter when I was in my teens, and I just loved it. It’s like, ‘Yeah, oh, that’s the guy who writes these things.’ That’s the fun of it, a glimpse into the personality of the writer.”

His frankness notwithstanding, nothing about the show when it ran on Broadway in 2010 surprised or dismayed Sondheim. Even though, he says, "there were some things I had quote unquote forgotten." Later, the licensing agency Music Theater International proposed reconfiguring the revue as a symphonic piece for philharmonic orchestras. After a tryout performance with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood earlier in July, this new symphonic version will have its world premiere on Sunday.

During a break from rehearsal space at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, director Sarna Lapine (James Lapine’s niece, who also directed the highly praised Broadway revival of “Sunday in the Park With George” earlier this year) described what it took to re-orchestrate the score and trim the original two-hour-plus running time to 100 minutes. There were hours of conversations with orchestrator Michael Starobin, music supervisor David Loud and projection designer Peter Flaherty, not to mention with Sondheim and James Lapine. A lot of effort for a one-night performance, but as Sarna Lapine explains, “It helped us create a new version of ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’ that can be done with other orchestras. It will be going into the library at MTI, and they can license it.”

Sondheim says he's thrilled. “The whole thing that makes it exciting for me is the orchestra aspect," he explains. "New York theaters were not built for large orchestras, back in the early 20th century. The orchestrator has to be able to fit the instruments into the budget but also fit the bodies into the pit. To have not only a first-rate orchestra but a large orchestra — that’s very thrilling for a composer, particularly a composer of theater songs. And nobody has an orchestra like the L.A. Phil.”


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