Archive for February, 2013
here. In the US, we primarily know your work in musicals (Sweeney Todd, Company, Roadshow) and opera (Peter Grimes). But you’ve also worked extensively on straight plays, including Chekhov and Brecht. What attracts you to the different forms? Is there a common denominator? JD: The bottom line is that I’m interested in storytelling. Period. And if the best way to tell a story is through the musical form, then that’s great. I have always been interested in how music affects storytelling. I’m Celtic, I come from the Highlands of Scotland. We love music; we make music together. So I’ve always seen music as a way of accessing the big idea. I was raised making repertory theatre regionally in the United Kingdom. We would do a number of plays and every season we would do a nice popular musical, and so I learned that way to do a cross-section of material. You’ve become known as one of the premier interpreters of Sondheim’s work. What do you think accounts for the affinity between the two of you? I am associated as an interpreter of his material because I was fortunate enough to do a piece in this city that attracted quite a lot of attention [Sweeney Todd], an iconic piece, and I did it in a very particular way. I didn’t know Mr. Sondheim at that point. But yes, I have gone on since then to do more than one of his shows. I’ve always been drawn to his material, simply as a human being. I first heard a cassette recording of Company the year after it came out and I thought “Oh my God, this man has written a musical about me.” Little did I know that all those years later I would be directing a pretty major Broadway revival of that show. So there’s been an enormous amount of fate involved. Obviously, I’ve gotten to know him in that time and of course that influences my understanding—up to a point—of the work, but it’s not the most important part of it. My job is to interpret and to see what I can see in the material, and what I see in all of his writing is a tremendous sense of humanity, mixed with irony and humor and tenderness and all of the things that make us human beings. So that’s why I’m interested in it. Do you feel that you have to approach Sondheim’s work differently than other musical theatre works and if so, what do you think the correct ingredients are? Well, I think it’s Barbara Cook who says Stephen Sondheim changed the face of musical theatre. And there has to be truth in that. I love the variety: the sadness of Follies or the joys of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Who ever thought anybody could write a musical like Pacific Overtures about a group of Japanese people in a particular time, or about the assassins of Presidents of the USA? Those don’t sound like subjects for musicals and that’s kind of thrilling that somebody doesn’t start by thinking, is this the subject for a musical? But he looks at the material and thinks, can this be musicalized? That’s a different thing. So you know, if I had to take some musicals to my desert island, I’m sure they would all be written by Stephen Sondheim. What specifically attracts you to Passion? Well, there’s a wonderful extraordinary human story in the middle of it. I’m attracted to exploring what is or is not beautiful, which in the world we live in today is a pretty relevant thing to be talking about, I think. What love is? What passion really is? I’m attracted to all of those things. And purely structurally, I think the weaving together in this piece—the weaving of James Lapine’s terrific book, of the spoken word and the sung word—is rather wonderful. As an artist, I’m most interested in what happens between the human beings. As a practitioner, I’m interested in what is the most sensitive way for me to tell that. Why is there no music under that text? Why does that idea take us back to music? That’s a wonderful fabric that attracts me. I feel that their material must not be in any way undervalued, their material belongs in the theatrical space. How does Passion fit alongside Sondheim’s other work? It’s not my job to define where it lies in the arc of who he is as an artist. Of course, I can hear certain echoes of things that I’ve heard in his other work—sound qualities in the soundscape. It has a strangeness that makes me think about Sweeney Todd. It has a uniqueness. I mean Sweeney is a much more overtly entertaining macabre nightmare. But there are elements in Sweeney of how the world perceives people, of the darkness of the soul, that maybe has some echo for me. I don’t think that’s overt, though. What Stephen Sondheim piece are you most interested in directing next? I’ve always had a notion that I would like to take the three Weidman/Sondheim pieces [Pacific Overtures, Assassins, Roadshow] and do the three of them all together with the same company. I’ve always had that notion, that seeing the box set of those three pieces in one day would be an amazing look at this country. So that intrigues me. But you know, I’ve not done Follies. That would be a beautiful thing to do one day. I’ve never done A Little Night Music. I almost feel I might have one of those inside me. It is like Shakespeare. You can do them any number of times and find something different every time.
Click here for more information on PASSION. Click here to purchase tickets.
here. It is our understanding that in your first projects with Stephen Sondheim (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) you brought the projects to him, but is it true that Mr. Sondheim brought Passion to you? Did that change the way you went about writing it? JL: “Brought” is the wrong verb…We spit-balled about ideas working together. And so maybe I was the catalyst for the first two and he was the catalyst for the third. Steve has done a few shows that he generated himself, and this was one of them because he loved the movie so much and so he showed me the movie. But I wouldn’t say I brought anything to him. It was just a matter of sitting together and finding ideas that appealed to both of us. Since you had both the film and the novel as source material, which had more influence? I was actually not really sold on the movie, but when I started reading the book, then I was interested and understood what I could do with it as a book writer. The book actually was out of print when we started. I believe I tracked down a translation of the book. It was one of those classic late nineteenth century novels that were done as serials. If I’m not mistaken, he [Iginio Tarchetti] died before he actually finished writing it. Somebody else finished it. They’re fun to read because they’re installments essentially. You and Mr. Sondheim had originally discussed developing Passion as half of a two-part evening. What was that other project and why did you ultimately decide to let it go? It was a book I had read called Muscle by Sam Fussell. Sam was a very well-educated, bright fellow who, by circumstance, became a competitive bodybuilder. I just thought it was an interesting contrast between the woman who is shrinking to nothing and the guy who is enlarging to bizarre proportions. And one being contemporary and one being period. I just thought they were interesting ideas as a first and second act. Steve wrote an opening number for Muscle but, by his own admission, contemporary music is not his thing. So I was just working on Passion anyway and it sort of enlarged in and of itself to a full evening. How do you and Mr. Sondheim decide what is book and what is song? And have you ever disagreed? Generally, I write the book or begin most of the book before he begins the music. So one looks at the book and one decides what should be musicalized. We never had a fight. We disagree sometimes. Sorry, no dish there. It’s just basically sitting down together and analyzing or figuring it out. It is a musical and people are coming to hear singing, so in my opinion the musical side wins out. It’s interesting in this case because I had actually thought about Passion as a sung-through musical like it is in opera. It is very operatic obviously, with the story. When we did our first workshop of it there was a lot more music, and Steve was quite impassioned by the fact that there was too much music. So we actually reinstated more book and cut music. His point was that you get tired of listening to music and what’s nice about having the book there, is that it lets the ear rest and tells the story in a different way. And the song itself will take on a more emotional and more atmospheric contribution to the evening. So that was kind of a curious discovery about it. It’s a show that doesn’t really—when we did it on Broadway anyway—allow for applause, which was really unusual. None of the numbers have big buttons, they just bleed in from one scene into the number. So it has a kind of wonderful form about it. How do you feel about having work that you originated and directed, such as Passion, being helmed by another creative mind? I love it, actually. I feel very proud that we created a work that speaks to other people and other people want to do it. They bring their own ideas and own interpretation to the project. So I generally have no objection to it. In fact I’m sort of flattered by it. I don’t always love what they do with it, but I think I can’t be very objective in that regard. I’ve kind of let it go. It was a little more difficult for me to let go earlier in my career, but now I really don’t have much interest in going back to anything. I’d rather move forward and write new stuff as I get older rather than revisit old things, so I’m happy other people are revisiting them. Click here for more information about PASSION. Click here to purchase tickets.