The stars align for Ravinia’s ‘Sondheim: 80’ concert

On July 31st, those lucky Highland Parkers are in for a real treat. Musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim has turned 80 this year, and to celebrate, Patti LuPone, George Hearn, Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris — four of Broadway’s very brightest performers — will honor some of his iconic works at the Ravinia festival.

This will actually be a reunion of sorts. This superstar Sondheim repertory group has performed many of his major pieces over the past 10 years, including Sweeney Todd (LuPone and Hearn), A Little Night Music (LuPone and Hearn), Sunday in the Park with George (Cerveris, McDonald and LuPone), Passion (LuPone, Cerveris and McDonald) and Anyone Can Whistle (LuPone, Cerveris and McDonald). In 2006, LuPone debuted her Mama Rose in the Ravinia production of Gypsy, which featured a brassy Jule Styne score fitted with lyrics by a then 25 year-old Sondheim.

I was lucky to catch nearly all of these performances (except Sweeney, as it was before I moved to Chicago), and I’ve since captured my memories here. These events were the highlight of my summers.

Some may have described these as concerts, but to me they were fully realized productions. These actors, in an extremely short amount of rehearsal time under the magical directorial hand of Lonny Price, gave compelling characterizations complete with costumes, wigs and staging. There were no scripts in hand. In fact, the only thing that indicated these were concerts was the fact that the amazing Chicago Symphony Orchestra sat onstage with the actors. And who could complain about that?

Price will direct this concert on July 31, and I can’t wait to see what he has planned. I’m sure it won’t be a “stand and sing” type of event. I’d imagine, and hope, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. However, with stars like these four, you don’t need any gimmicks to create theatrical magic.

Tickets and more information on this highly anticipated concert can be found here.

To conclude, let’s let LuPone, in her own distinct way, explain what it’s like to perform Sondheim’s work. (It looks like this was filmed last summer before her Kurt Weill concert at Ravinia, which I was fortunate to also catch):

5 thoughts on “The stars align for Ravinia’s ‘Sondheim: 80’ concert

  1. I feel like a lucky duck to have seen both LuPone’s Gypsy and the concert staging of Anyone Can Whistle. Both were, as you said, fully realized productions that I enjoyed tremendously. I won’t be able to make it out for this fantastic celebration, but I’m sure it’ll be awesome and can’t wait to read all about it.

    Oh and a side story. I know a girl who was LuPone’s stand-in during rehearsals for “Anyone Can Whistle.” As such, she was at all the rehearsals. She said that there was a rehearsal where Audra McDonald simply stood at a piano and sang, and the whole room just went silent in wonder and awe at how awesome she was. Thought I’d share. :)

  2. I believe there will be video screens on the lawn for thsis event, which was not true at past Sondheim concerts.

    1. The video screens are a major upgrade for lawn sitters. It’s almost better than pavilion seating — barring weather.

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