A living legend of American theater, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, comes to Chicago to chat at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in an unscripted conversation with moderator Gary Griffin, associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater and associate producer for Drury Lane Oakbrook.
"I'm thrilled that I get the opportunity," Griffin said. "It's fantastic to get the chance to sit and have a conversation about his work."
Griffin's selection as moderator makes sense, since he has locally directed a plethora of professional Sondheim productions this past decade for Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Pacific Overtures, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music and Passion were all included in seasons that featured works by masters like Shakespeare and Moliere. Griffin also directed a critically acclaimed production of West Side Story last summer at Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
"It's exciting to see musical theater arrive and be embraced in a classical theater," Griffin said. "Audiences can see the power of West Side Story along side classical works like a Cyrano de Bergerac or A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Griffin also acknowledges other Chicago institutions have played an important part in nurturing Sondheim musicals. The Goodman Theatre hosted the world premiere of Sondheim and John Weidman's musical Bounce in 2003 ( it would later be refashioned into 2008's Road Show ) , while Pegasus Players in the late 1990s staged the American premiere of Sondheim's early un-produced musical Saturday Night.
"Chicago has always been a Sondheim town," Griffin said. "I think our audiences really love the work."Read more story below....
This Harris Theater chat is a prelude to many Sondheim 80th birthday celebrations that are taking place this year around the world. Locally, the Ravinia Festival continues its multi-year Sondheim spotlight by staging an 80th birthday concert on July 31. Frequent Sondheim producer Porchlight Music Theatre also gets in the act with an upcoming production of Into the Woods.
Griffin wishes he was more artistically involved with Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations, but he is glad to converse with him in front of a Chicago audience.
"I know he doesn't want a tribute," Griffin said about the approaching chat. "But one of the things I'm hoping to talk about is the people he's worked with and how those specific collaborators inspire what he's doneI think that's one of the most fascinating parts of the process."
And since audiences get a chance to ask questions, Griffin suspects there might be controversial topics raised like reduced orchestrations for Sondheim revivals ( notably the a flap about the current Broadway revival of A Little Night Music starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury ) , or perhaps why Sondheim waited until 1998 to come out publicly as gay in Meryle Secrest's biography Sondheim: A Life.
Griffin knows that the evening should be all about Sondheim, but he himself might get a question that is frequently put to him.
"Every time I'm in the lobby in previews for anything ( at Chicago Shakespeare Theater ) , people always come up to me and ask, 'When's the next Sondheim?'" Griffin wouldn't divulge what the next Sondheim show is that he plans to direct, but he said, "Definitely, there will be something."
A Conversation with Stephen Sondheim: A Life in the Theatre is 7:30 p.m. March 4 at Millennium Park's Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $35-$65; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org .
Holly Hughes goes to the dogs
Lesbian performance artist and feminist Holly Hughes returns to Chicago with The Dog and Pony Show ( Bring Your Own Pony ) . It's a new piece Hughes is presenting as part of Victory Gardens Theater's Fresh Squeezed series, but she questions whether she should have named it differently.
"There's a part of me that wishes that I had gone with my first choice of a title, which was 'Teaser Bitch.'" Hughes said with a laugh. "If people come to the show, then they'll find out what 'Teaser Bitch' means and how they can become one."
Hughes wouldn't divulge more about that tantalizing expression, but she said her show would be about her experience moving from New York to the Midwest after being a "professional homosexual taking my dog and pony show around the country and getting a respectable job" at the University of Michigan as a professor. Her first day of school was a memorable one since it fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
But what's most surprising to Hughes herself is that since she has taken up the sport of competitive dog agility training. It's a hobby that most people wouldn't associate with Hughes, since she's most famous for being one of the "NEA 4" ( performance artists like herself, Tim Miller, Karen Findlay and John Finch, who each faced a political firestorm and court battles in the 1990s when their National Endowment for the Arts performance grants were turned down due to the "controversial" material of their work ) .
"Everywhere I go, I'm an out queer person," Hughes said noting how her performance piece examines that in relation to the dog show world she has become a part of.
When asked about if there are any parallels with dog agility to the Christopher Guest film comedy Best in Show, Hughes said, "It's a parallel world… Those people are not too exaggerated from that world, but it's a slightly different set of characters."
When she's not talking about training dogs, Hughes is also continuing her work that she developed with Megan Carney for About Face Theatre's XYZ Festival earlier this season called Let Them Eat Cake. Hughes said that they are in talks with Lambda Legal Defense Fund to remount and refashion the show about gay marriage in other communities around the country.
"It's not a simple advocacy piece," Hughes said. "It's about starting a civic dialogue."
Holly Hughes' The Dog and Pony Show ( Bring Your Own Pony ) plays 7:30 p.m. March 18 and 21, 9:30 p.m. March 19 and 5 p.m. March 20 at the Richard Christiansen Theater at the Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. The show runs as part of the Fresh Squeezed series in repertory with Tim Miller's Lay of the Land. Tickets are $25; $40 for both shows. Call 773-871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org .