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Landmark Stephen Sondheim festival finds new life online

September 21, 2012|By Mike Boehm
  • Stephen Sondheim in 2010.
Stephen Sondheim in 2010. (T. Charles Erickson / Eugene…)

Theater is a notoriously ephemeral art, but the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is using its website to summon the decade-old glories of the 2002 "Sondheim Celebration," which closed 10 years ago this month.

"The Sondheim Celebration: Ten Years Later" web page, which went up this week, is a retrospective of a retrospective that saw six of Stephen Sondheim's musicals staged in repertory over four months.

The web page includes a new six-minute video in which Eric Schaeffer, the festival's artistic director, looks back along with cast members including Douglas Sills, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christine Baranski, Melissa Errico, Michael Cerveris and Alice Ripley.

For those who can't get enough of Sondheim -- and they are legion -- the highlight will probably be a full-length video of "Sondheim on Sondheim," a 90-minute public interview that helped kick off the festival, with former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich conversing with the composer onstage.

Introducing the interview that night, Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser said the object of the Sondheim Celebration was to "create a theatrical version of a museum retrospective."

The Kennedy Center's Web retrospective doesn't include performance clips from the shows -- "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Passion," "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Sweeney Todd" -- but there are seven concert videos of one-nighters headlined during the festival by members of its cast, including Ripley, Cerveris and Judy Kuhn, who performed their own cabaret-style shows of mainly non-Sondheim material.

In the new introductory video, Schaeffer, a Sondheim expert and longtime artistic director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., credits the Sondheim Celebration with stoking a Broadway renaissance of the composer's work.

There may be something to that: Since 2003, 12 Sondheim productions -- 11 book musicals and the "Sondheim on Sondheim" revue -- have opened on Broadway.


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