In 1986 I sat anxiously in the back of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego as Stephen Sondheim conducted the down beat of his new musical "Into the Woods." I was studying musical theatre at the time at a small liberal arts school in San Diego, and like many of my fellow cohorts, I idolized Stephen Sondheim. I recall the ending of Act One as a happily ever after success, then the curtain rose on Act Two. What seemed simple and bright, became mysteriously intricate and sad. Thus was the life's work of Stephen Sondheim. Some artists are irreplaceable, Stephen Sondheim was one of those artists. The musical theatre world will forever mourn the loss of his brilliance.
As an actor, director and producer of musicals, Stephen Sondheim came to represent very different things to me. As an actor, I was tantalized with his innate lyrics, challenging songs and rich characters. From playing the assassin of Abraham Lincoln in "Assassins," to taking a romp in the country in "A Little Night Music," Sondheim's variety of work never grew tired. There was always something to discover as an actor in Sondheim's work. As a director/producer, Sondheim's musicals could be wrought with challenges. How does one discard body after body on the barber chair of "Sweeney Todd?" Will the audience understand the time-reversed story telling of "Merrily We Roll Along?" How do you realize the Act Two stage conventions "Sunday in the Park with George," that call for a "light machine?" Lastly, will anyone buy a ticket for a musical based on an Ettore Scola's film titled "Passione d'Amore?" Producing or acting a Sondheim musical was always "something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone!"
There is no such thing as a happy ending in life; that is just the stuff fairytales are made of … correct? Well, I'm sure Stephen Sondheim is looking down from the great beyond and contemplating his next fairytale, rich with rhyming couplets, interspersed with an occasional tri-tone or minor cord, and always seeking out ways to break all musical conventions. We will miss you, Stephen Sondheim!
Kirk Mouser is the producing artistic director for Stumptown Stages in Portland.
'A Carol for Christmas'
Stumptown Stages presents new musical inspired by Charles Dickens' classic ghost story and set in the Midwest during the Depression. Runs through Sunday, Dec. 19.
Information on tickets, curtain times and COVID-19 attendance policy.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.