Stephen Sondheim in Vancouver (Guest Post)

I was sick and missed seeing Stephen Sondheim when he stopped in Vancouver at the end of October.  Local theatre director and producer Ryan Mooney (Rent) offered to share his thoughts on the experience.

Stephen Sondheim is arguably the best there is when it comes to musical theatre, although anyone who would argue it might need to give their heads a shake.  His résumé is impressive; his first Broadway show was West Side Story and he followed that up with Gypsy.  Not a bad start to a career.  He’s had his fair share of flops; however I was surprised to find out after checking out Wikipedia that not a single Sondheim title appears in the one-hundred longest running Broadway shows.
Stephen Sondheim
On Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 Stephen Sondheim made his first trip ever to Vancouver to speak at the Vogue Theatre as part of his “Life in the Theatre” series.  It was sponsored through APPLAUSE! Musicals in Concert which is presenting an entire season of Stephen Sondheim (Passion will be up next).  I, myself, have had the opportunity to check out Sondheim speaking before when I was in NYC for his 75th birthday, so I had some idea of what a kind and personable person he was.  What I wasn’t prepared for was just how attentive he would be when I met him in person. I had the opportunity to meet him briefly and talk to him at a gala event beforehand.  He spoke highly of our city – about how our main park (Stanley Park) is beautiful.  I was there with a few friends and he mentioned how happy he was to see “some young people” at the event, since apparently it’s usually a lot of the older set at these meet and greets.

Following that, we headed to a packed Vogue Theatre for a discussion moderated by Jerry Wasserman.  I’ve heard a few people mention that they think Jerry could’ve been more prepared.  Myself, I feel like it was a crazy task to assign anyone.  Where do you even scratch the surface when it comes to a man who has had such a distinguished career?  I’ve read the Stephen Sondheim biography by Meryle Secrest and I was the emcee for Fighting Chance’s production of Side by Side by Sondheim, so I certainly felt I had some Sondheim knowledge, but I was thrilled to hear anecdotes that I hadn’t heard before. There was one moment in particular where I became acutely aware of just how quiet the Vogue Theatre was.  An entire room full of our theatre community hanging on this man’s every word.  Nobody wanted to move for fear of missing something that he had to share.  I know that I speak for many people when I say that I could’ve listened to hours more of his stories.

He spoke about how he’s writing a two-volume set of annotated lyrics to all of his shows; the first due out this time next year.  Sondheim fans (myself included) will be thrilled to get their hands on such a gem of authorship.

Kudos must be paid to Scott Ashton Swan and APPLAUSE! Musicals in Concert for bringing Sondheim to Vancouver.  It was a rare treat.  I can only hope that this is the start of bringing first rate Broadway talent (in all forms) to our city, as there certainly seems to be the appetite for it.

Ryan Mooney is the artistic director and founder of Fighting Chance Productions.

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