Peterborough’s New Stages celebrates the life and music of American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim

Written and narrated by Beth McMaster, 'Sondheim: A Celebration' on November 25 at Market Hall features an all-star cast

American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) pictured in New York City in March 1994 when he was 63 years old. (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)
American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) pictured in New York City in March 1994 when he was 63 years old. (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

When American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, 2021 at the age of 91, the world mourned the passing of a songwriting titan whose music and lyrics set the standard for musical theatre in the 20th century — a legacy that continues to this day.

On the one-year anniversary of his death, New Stages Theatre Company in Peterborough is hosting an evening of story and song to celebrate Sondheim’s life and music and his profound influence on musical theatre.

Written and narrated by Peterborough theatre icon Beth McMaster — known for her Legendary Icon Series profiling iconic entertainers of the 20th century — Sondheim: A Celebration will feature local performers Kate Suhr, Linda Kash, and Geoff Bemrose as well as Shannon McCracken and, fresh off his run of Chicago on the Stratford Festival stage, Henry Firmston.

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The show will welcome musical director Benjamin Kersey, who made his debut at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre this past summer with the award-winning production of the smash musical & Juliet.

New Stages founder Randy Read and incoming artistic director Mark Wallace will also take the stage, along with 11-year-old Indigo Chesser, who starred this past summer in 4th Line Theatre’s production of The Great Shadow.

Sondheim: A Celebration takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 25th at Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in downtown Peterborough. Tickets are $35 and are available over the phone at 705-775-1503, in person at the Market Hall box office at 140 Charlotte Street (3rd floor) from noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, or online anytime at tickets.markethall.org.

Written and narrated by Beth McMaster (top left), "Sondheim, A Celebration" also features (left to right, top to bottom):  musical director Benjamin Kersey, Kate Suhr, Shannon McCracken, Linda Kash, Geoff Bemrose, Henry Firmston, Mark Wallace and Randy Read, and Indigo Chesser. (kawarthaNOW collage)
Written and narrated by Beth McMaster (top left), “Sondheim, A Celebration” also features (left to right, top to bottom): musical director Benjamin Kersey, Kate Suhr, Shannon McCracken, Linda Kash, Geoff Bemrose, Henry Firmston, Mark Wallace and Randy Read, and Indigo Chesser. (kawarthaNOW collage)

Born into a Jewish family in New York City in 1930, Stephen Sondheim’s interest in musical theatre began when he saw his first Broadway musical at nine years old.

When he was 10, he formed a close friendship with James Hammerstein, son of lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II who was a neighbour. Sondheim’s parents were getting divorced at the time (he had an unhappy home life) and the elder Hammerstein became his surrogate father, further developing Sondheim’s love of musical theatre.

When Sondheim was 15 years old and a student at George School, a private Quaker preparatory school, he wrote his first musical By George. While it was a success among his peers, Hammerstein called the musical “terrible” and designed an informal course in musical theatre for Sondheim, having him write four musicals over the next six years that were never professionally produced.

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Sondheim studied music at Williams College in Massachusetts, writing college shows there, and then went on to study in New York City with the composer Milton Babbitt. At the 1949 opening of South Pacific, Hammerstein’s musical with Richard Rodgers, a 19-year-old Sondheim met Hal Prince, who would later direct many of Sondheim’s own productions. In the early 1950s, Sondheim wrote scripts in Hollywood for the television series Topper before returning to New York City where he wrote incidental music for the play The Girls of Summer (1956).

Sondheim’s career began in earnest when he wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957, as well as the lyrics for Gypsy in 1959. He began writing both lyrics and music with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). His other best-known works are Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1987).

During his career, Sondheim earned eight Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2008), an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also has a theatre named after him both on Broadway and in the West End of London. Film adaptations of his works include West Side Story (1961 and 2021), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Into the Woods (2014).

Stephen Sondheim in 1962, 1972, 1980, and in 2015 receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photos: Michael Hardy, Bernard Gotfryd, Martha Swope, Evan Vucci)
Stephen Sondheim in 1962, 1972, 1980, and in 2015 receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photos: Michael Hardy, Bernard Gotfryd, Martha Swope, Evan Vucci)

For more information about New Stages Theatre Company, its 2022-23 season, and for season subscriptions, visit www.newstages.ca.

 

kawarthaNOW is proud to be media sponsor of New Stages Theatre Company’s 25th anniversary season.