The Sondheim Review: No guarantee of happiness

The destructive potential of the American Dream

Originally published in The Sondheim Review.

Mark Linehan (center) played John Wilkes Booth in New Repertory Theatre's October 2014 production of Assassins in Watertown, MA. Photo by photos by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.

Mark Linehan (center) played John Wilkes Booth in New Repertory Theatre’s October 2014 production of Assassins in Watertown, MA. Photo by photos by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.

Stephen Sondheim has distanced himself from the practice of reusing discarded songs from old shows when writing new pieces. He has only ever acknowledged dipping into his trunk twice, both for Wise Guys: “Addison’s Trip,” present from the first reading in 1998, and “It’s In Your Hands Now” from the 1999 workshop. What distinguishes these from one another is that while “Addison’s Trip” reused material from an unknown song from a dead project (“Lunch” from Singing Out Loud), “It’s In Your Hands Now” came from Assassins.

It makes sense that if two shows were to share music, it would be the two written with John Weidman about the destructive potential of the American Dream. Even to the untrained ear, “It’s In Your Hands Now” sounds like Americana, with a melody based on the tones of a bugle call and a lyric about the “land of opportunity.” According to Look, I Made a Hat, “It’s In Your Hands Now” is based on “Flag Song,” an abandoned opening number for Assassins that focused on regular Americans before introducing the titular killers. But if you’re reading The Sondheim Review, chances are the first time you heard “It’s In Your Hands Now,” your subconscious started singing along with a different set of lyrics: “I just heard / On the news / Where the mailman won the lottery.” Continue reading

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The Sondheim Review: A lotta Sondheim songs

Cabaret offerings prove the strength of the material

 

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KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar perform Another Hundred People at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Photo by Russ Weatherford.

Originally published in The Sondheim Review.

 

On any given night in New York City there is likely to be at least one cabaret offering some kind of Sondheim program. That leaves intrepid fans to wonder if artists can still show something new at such a performance. Recently, KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar and Broadway leading lady Alice Ripley took up the challenge.

Harnar and Sullivan’s Another Hundred People at the Laurie Beechman Theatre is billed as “Act Two” of their Sondheim program Our Time, from 2014, but it’s fully satisfying on its own, and in many ways superior to its predecessor. Based on the idea that Sondheim’s lyrics can do the heavy lifting, the performers eschew banter for a song-stuffed program of 18 numbers — 40 songs in all, from Sondheim projects.

Their program is most exciting when numbers take on fresh ideas through new contexts and dialogue with other songs, ably shaped by musical director Jon Weber and director Sondra Lee. Harner’s smarmy take on “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods in medley with “More” from Dick Tracy turned the song about a young woman reaching maturity into a celebration of a gay man’s discovery of sexual abundance. The duo’s medley of songs about partnership (including the opening number from Wise Guys, the title song from Bounce, plus “It Takes Two” and “Side by Side by Side”) became a mini-musical in itself.  Continue reading

The Sondheim Review: Mixing Things Up

Artists from various musical disciplines re-imagined songs from Sunday

Originally published in The Sondheim Review.

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Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick… BOOM! occupies a special branch on the Sondheim family tree. Stephen Sondheim holds a God-like (albeit offstage) position in the creative development of the central character, Jon, buoying the struggling songwriter’s sinking confidence with a well-timed phone call. The show is also notable for its loving tribute to Sunday in the Park with George’s title song, re-imagined as a meditation on brunch through the eyes of a harried waiter. The themes of mentorship and derivation in Larson’s musical inspired young composer Ben Wexler to create the Sondheim REMIX challenge in conjunction with a revival of tick, tick… BOOM! at New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series (June 25-28, 2014).

Writers, producers, and performers were invited to take a piece from Sunday “and remix it. Make it yours. Sample it. Adapt it. Run with it.” The range of submissions represented world music, spoken word poetry, electronica, folk, and rap, each demonstrating Sunday’s power to transcend cultures and generations. Continue reading

The Sondheim Review: It’s Their Time – Author Weaves ‘Merrily’ Into A Young Adult Novel

Originally published in The Sondheim Review, Spring 2014

The Reece Malcolm ListStephen Sondheim’s influence occasionally pops up in the most surprising of places. Having already made an impression on punk music (e.g. the album Punk Side Story), Ben Affleck (who performs “God, That’s Good” in the film Jersey Girl), and My Little Pony (which features numbers that resemble Sondheim’s work), a Sondheim-infused young adult novel is hardly surprising, but in the form of The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spaulding, it’s unquestionably delightful.

Readers of The Sondheim Review are likely to recognize the book’s heroine and narrator: a teen more familiar with the ins and outs of high school show choir than athletics, with an iPod full of original cast albums and more Playbills than friends. Devan Mitchell has always been a bit of an outsider, with only one close friend and a strained relationship with her dad and step-mother. Having stumbled onto her mother’s identity when reading the dedication of author Reece Malcolm‘s first New York Times bestseller – clearly aimed at her – Devan begins the titular list to uncover whatever she can about her famous (and famously “un-Googleable”) mother. When Devan’s father dies in a car accident and she’s shipped off to Burbank, CA to live with the mother she’s never met, the quest to know more about the mysterious Reece Malcolm intensifies. Continue reading