Saturday’s company performance became a tribute to Sondheim

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Society Director Marianne Elliott addresses the crowd ahead of Saturday night’s performance at the Jacobs.
Photo: Christophe Bonanos

“We got the alert on the 96th Street train,” Daniel Hrdlicka told me this evening as we stood in the aisle of the Jacobs Theater with her husband, Tyson Jurgens, “and had booked the tickets before the 116th Street. “. Tickets were for Society, the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical which is now premiering for an opening on December 9, and the news alert had been the surprising fact of Sondheim’s death earlier today. “We don’t usually sit down here“- he gestured towards his very good seat, in the aisle a few rows away from the stage,” because our theater budget is limited. But… “He paused, and his point was clear, even before continuing,” We wanted to pay homage in this tiny little way. “

Usually, when the lights go out in a Broadway house, a few minutes after 8 p.m., there is a sort of calm, excited whisper, an exhale as everyone sits down and prepares to watch the show. Tonight at Society instead there was a dead silence. Then Marianne Elliott, the production manager, took the stage. “Truly the greatest artist of our life that we may ever know in this art form,” she said in her short tribute. “I really hope tonight will be a celebration of his joy.” It only took two or three sentences before he had to stop, as the crowd was standing, cheering and clapping. Elliott introduced the cast, saying she wanted to “share this pain and love together,” and the curtain went up to reveal the assembled company of Society. Patti LuPone, who has appeared in three Sondheim Broadway productions in the past fifteen years – not to mention a moment of his concert for his 80th birthday it was truly one for the ages – spoke briefly, dedicating this one to him.

The cast of Society summoned on stage before the start of the night’s performance.
Photo: Christophe Bonanos

It was a Saturday, the cast had finished a morning performance when the ad fell. Elliott explained to me, after her introductory remarks, that she brought the actors together after they left the stage to tell them the sad news. The mood was dark, with “a lot of tears,” she said. “But then we all got together and ate something and shared anecdotes – it was a beautiful thing.” This is the ninth preview of the show; Coincidentally, she noted, this production hit its ninth preview a year and a half ago, in March 2020, the night that Broadway closed. There was no way it was dark tonight, she said. “People want to keep his words alive, to do it for him. A lot of the songs will have a resonance that we’ve never seen before.

And it’s true: this already moving musical seemed to touch audiences a little more than usual tonight. The laugh lines sparked some really big laughs and emotional highlights on the show – the chatty freight train from a song that’s “Getting Married Today” and of course “The Ladies Who Lunch” by LuPone – both elicited thunderous responses. The latter actually stopped the show for a standing ovation. (Although it is suspected that Patti LuPone might be able to do it any night.) And of course, the big emotional thunder sheet that is Society’The latest issue, “Being Alive,” is intense under normal circumstances. Katrina Lenk, who sings it here, performs the song differently than some of its predecessors, with a little less desperation and more sweetness and hope. I couldn’t help but think, as the cheers rang out at the end of it and the performers bowed shortly after, that the usual upward cast movement of the arm upward. group also seemed to be a gesture to the sky. Lenk and LuPone, leaving the stage after the salutes, leaned heavily on each other, as if the night had been exhausting. Outside, as we all made our way to Times Square, bouquets of roses wrapped in cellophane had started to pile up on the steps near the stage door.

Tributes began to pile up at the end of the performance.
Photo: Christophe Bonanos


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