Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
Not unlike those multicolored dots in a Georges Seurat painting, the details are falling into place for The Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In case you haven't heard, the arts center is offering a repertory festival of six of Stephen Sondheim's musicals during the spring and summer of 2002. At a press conference at Sardi's this morning, the shows' directors were announced: Christopher Ashley for Merrily We Roll Along and Sweeney Todd, Mark Brokaw for A Little Night Music, Sean Mathias for Company, and Eric Schaeffer--the artistic director of the entire Celebration--for Passion and Sunday in the Park With George.

Sondheim was present only in spirit at the press conference. Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, said that such a celebration has been his dream for years, but it wasn't until he assumed his present position that he was able to make it happen. Kaiser noted that the Center's Sondheim musicals will be augmented by its presentation of the New National Theatre Tokyo's Pacific Overtures in Japanese with English surtitles. Also, the Kennedy Center Education Department will present a family-friendly adaptation of Into the Woods. And, to top it all off, Barbara Cook will offer her popular Mostly Sondheim concert at the Terrace Theater in June.

Currently represented on Broadway by The Rocky Horror Show, Christopher Ashley's previous credits include Communicating Doors, Blown Sideways Through Life, and several plays by Paul Rudnick. Mark Brokaw has directed Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero and This Is Our Youth as well as Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive and the Encores! productions of On a Clear Day... and Out of This World. Sean Mathias, a Brit by way of South Africa, helmed Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare on Broadway and lists among his numerous London credits Les Parents Terribles, which was later presented on Broadway under the title Indiscretions. Eric Schaeffer is the co-founder and artistic director of Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia, where he has directed many Sondheim shows in addition to Kander & Ebb's Over & Over and the world premiere of The Rhythm Club; he also directed the Sondheim revue Putting It Together on Broadway.

It's interesting to note that, aside from Schaeffer, the directors named for The Sondheim Celebration are not primarily known for their work in musicals. "That was a conscious decision," Schaeffer told me following the press conference. "Steve Sondheim and I talked about trying to find people who we thought were exciting in the theater--people who have a unique voice. We were drawn to the work of Chris and Mark and Sean, and we thought it would be great to fit them with the right show. It's almost like the next generation of directors of musicals."

By the way: Theatergoers who have been turned off by the anemic instrumental forces assembled for some recent Sondheim revivals will be delighted to hear that each of the Kennedy Center shows will be performed by full-size orchestras playing the original orchestrations. Kay Cameron is musical director of The Sondheim Celebration, which runs from May 10 through August 25, 2002. All shows will be presented in the Eisenhower Theatre at the Center. According to Michael Kaiser, "we have created a schedule that will allow patrons from outside the Washington area to see three of these works over a weekend--all six in just two weekends." For more information and a complete schedule, click here.