This past weekend, seeing as it was Independence Day and all, I had an opportunity to introduce my sister to what comfortably remains one of my favorite musicals: Hamilton. Little did I know that the cast once did a version of Hamilton’s opening number as if they were the musical Sweeney Todd, another one of my favorites. Of course, given the hijinks (and shenanigans and tomfoolery) are endemic among theater folk, so I suppose I should have expected this:
I’m not sure the “oral history” long-form article became more popular in the social media age, but I certainly have noticed it a lot more in the past 15 years… and I usually enjoy the pieces about seminal stage and screen productions. It’s a good reminder of how, even when we see these works that are exquisite faits accompli, they are the result of hard-working humans, who are on their own journey.
(And you may find some of Pincus-Roth’s other pieces for the Post of interest, including one about the enduring love for my favorite film no one else seems to have seen in the theater, The Shawshank Redemption, as well as why the musical Cats became so popular anyway).
The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.
However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.
We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?
That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.
Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.
Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.
Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.
When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.
I’ve been watching how theater and film productions have been coping with the pandemic (as you can see from June, July, and earlier in December). Safely producing new works is important not only considering my role in running Jabberwocky Audio Theater, but also thinking of my many colleagues whose livelihood requires being on stages and sets.
So this article in Fortune, not my usual source for theater news, was an interesting read. Author Michael Barra puts forth some predictions about how theater may change, starting with Broadway and how the tourist percentage of audiences will drop, and then taking that change and extrapolating out to theater trends overall.
As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.
Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.
As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.
If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:
I hope this trend helps keep the lights on for many theaters — and while I grew up with both types of theater, I’m quite excited by the prospects that this introduces new listeners to the “Theater of the Mind.”
All sorts of physical businesses are suffering during this global pandemic and I know many people, dependent on in-person gigs for their livelihood who now have no income stream (to say nothing of creative freelancers, as one Nation article notes).
So this video posted last week by Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater resonated:
I was lucky enough to grow up going to the theater and live performances frequently, something I’ve tried to pass on to my kids. I hope that time will come again soon.