Sondheim On Sondheim

By Richard Schultz, November 2015 Web Exclusive.

Scottsdale Musical Theater Company (SMTC), led by executive producer David Hock, beckons local audiences to take notice. Last year, they took up residence in the Tempe Center for the Arts, an ideal venue for their continuing homage to Broadway musicals. Their 2014 production of The Producers garnered rave reviews and hinted at a promising future in their new home.

Now, they are staging the Arizona premiere of Sondheim On Sondheim, an intimate portrait of the famed songwriter in his own words and music.

Through the use of exclusive interview footage, audiences get an inside look at famed composer Stephen Sondheim's personal life and artistic process. Ranging from the beloved to the obscure, the carefully selected 24 songs hang from a framework of in-depth video interviews delving into Sondheim's personal life and artistic process.

Echo interviewed director Hector Coris and cast member Michael Schauble about bringing Sondheim up close and personal to local audiences.

Hector Coris. Courtesy photo.

Echo: Why do you think this show will resonate with local audiences?

Coris: The prevalent message is the creation of art. While it is channeled through the eyes and process of one particular artist, the fluidity of the process of creation and trying to get a singular point across through art is very palpable.

Echo: What was the greatest challenge in directing this show?

Coris: The greatest challenge is bringing to life each song and conveying the intention to the audience. Each of these songs was created as part of the whole cloth of a full-length musical. Here, the audience only has the benefit of a single song to grasp its intention. Pulling a Sondheim song out of its original context is not an easy thing, but I think the concept of this show resolves that with the added bonus of Sondheim setting up each song through his video interviews and insights.

Echo: So, multimedia plays a significant role in staging this show.

Coris: The majority of the show involves video interviews with Stephen Sondheim himself that were filmed specifically for the original 2010 Broadway production, as well as culling from old archival interviews like from the Mike Douglas Show. In a sense, Sondheim himself is a character in the show. Luckily, we have the use of the original Broadway projections.

Echo: Tell us about your role in the show?

Michael Schauble. Courtesy photo.

Schauble: This show is unique in the way that the characters we are playing are actually ourselves. I sing a song called “Beautiful” from Sunday in the Park with George. George is trying to tell his mother that all things are beautiful if you look close enough. His art captures moments that may not be pretty, but when outlined, are beautiful. Since I am playing myself singing this song, I relate to my own relationship with my mother. I want her to see that although change is difficult, when looked at in a different light, it can be very beautiful as well.

Echo: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

Coris: The section from Passion which occurs near the end of Act One always gets me. Not only does the audience get a fuller experience of one of Sondheim’s musicals, but it’s the moving story of a woman who falls deeply, wholly and obsessively in love with someone who is unattainable. It’s just heart-breaking and the solution that Sondheim created for her is exquisite.

Schauble: Being Alive is one of my favorite Sondheim songs because it deals with existence and the complexity of life and the choices we make as far as how we look at the world. It gives you a glimpse into Sondheim’s lyric writing process, and how he worked with Hal Prince in order to perfect the song. Sondheim seems more human because even he f*cked it up the first time around.

Echo: How will this show resonate with the LGBT community?

Schauble: Sondheim, though not very outspoken about his sexuality, has been known to have relationships with men. It’s Sondheim! He gets whatever divas he wants in his shows and writes perfect emotional journeys for them. He is a gay god.

Coris: I think any theatre lover holds Sondheim in the highest regard, but has never had unprecedented access to the artist. While he never goes into specific details about intimate details of his life, the information Sondheim does share will definitely resonate with an LGBT audience like his relationship with his mother, his self-imposed solitude and his reflections on love.

Coris, SMTC's associate producer, is an award-winning actor and director originally from New York City, where he worked primarily in the cabaret and concert scene. In 2010, he moved to Phoenix and has been seen on various stages and directed throughout the Valley.

Schauble studied musical theater at University of Arizona and appeared locally in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Secret Garden and the title role in Bat Boy. He then moved to New York City, where he performed in The Pajama GameWest Side StorySouth Pacific and Spamalot, before returning to the Valley in August.

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