Category Archives: Opinion

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.

Advertisements

Some shows are better, bigger (Guest Post)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Rebecca Coleman.  To view Musicals in Vancouver’s response, check out our guest post at the Art of the Business blog

I love independent theatre. It’s where I live, it’s where my heart is, and it’s where I make my living.

But I also love theatre in general, and, while I tend to hang out in the indie scene, I’ll go see pretty much anything going.

A few months back, I went to see Les Misérables at The Arts Club, and a couple of weeks ago, Rent at Presentation House.

First, you have to understand that these two musicals hold significant sentimental value for me. Les Miz was my favorite musical for a long, long time, and it was only replaced in my heart when Rent came along. I knew all the words in Les Miz, and used to daydream about being Éponine, even learning “On My Own” for auditions. I saw a touring version of it, about 10 years ago at the Q.E., and was blown away by the spectacle.

Then, in 1996, while watching the Tonys, I saw the original Broadway cast of Rent singing “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Bohème,” and I was instantly smitten. I’ve now seen Rent four times, including once at the Nederlander Theatre in New York, where it ran for 12 years.

The Nederlander Theatre in New York City

The Nederlander Theatre in NYC.

So, I’m pretty familiar with both of those shows. So, seeing them done in a smaller theatre, on a smaller scale, was a very interesting experience.

And I felt like they were missing something. Don’t get me wrong—both productions were excellent—big hearted, beautifully sung, and with strong production values. But because of money and size of venue, some of the big special effects were cut.

It makes a huge visual impact to see the barricade in Les Mis slowly rotating into view, strewn with dead bodies. The Arts Club production did have a barricade, and it did move, but with more of a pulling-out-a-drawer motion. The impression it made was not as strong. Similarly, Javert’s suicide was not as impactful (sorry about that choice of words).

I had a similar experience seeing Rent. I missed Mimi howling “Out Tonight” as she straddles both staircase railings and slides down, and Joanne’s first arrival on a motorcycle.

Maybe it’s just my sentimentality speaking, but maybe some things are better, bigger.

Now, anyone know of a production of Miss Saigon happening? I got a hankering to see a helicopter land on stage…

Rebecca Coleman is a freelance theatre publicist here in Vancouver. Her roster includes Touchstone Theatre, Ruby Slippers, Radix, Leaky Heaven Circus, Presentation House, Capilano University’s Theatre Department, and Itsazoo. In addition, she does social media training, and has published an e-book on the topic titled Getting Started with Social Networking for Artists and Arts Organizations. Her blog is The Art of the Business.

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca Coleman