Opera Workshop presentation salutes Stephen Sondheim

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November 7, 2019

By any measure, Stephen Sondheim is one of Broadway’s greatest lyricists and composers.

He’s earned eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer, including a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater); eight Grammy Awards; an Academy Award; six Laurence Olivier Awards (including a special Laurence Olivier Award in 2011 "in recognition of his contribution to London theater;” a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 (for the play “Sunday in the Park with George”); and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sondheim has been described by Frank Rich of The New York Times in a 2000 article as “now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater.” British theater producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh called Sondheim “possibly the greatest lyricist ever” in a 2000 article in The Guardian.

All in all, it’s quite a résumé.

Now, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University Opera Workshop is bringing some of Sondheim’s vast musical catalog to campus.

“Sondheim: A Broadway Musical Revue” features music from seven of his productions. Performance times are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14-15, and 2 p.m. Nov. 16-17 at the Colman Black Box Theater in the Benedicta Arts Center, CSB.

David DeBlieck, visiting assistant professor of theater at CSB and SJU and director of the production, is using the 2010 public celebration of Sondheim’s 80th birthday “Sondheim: The Birthday Celebration” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan as a template for the local performances.

The Opera Workshop will perform 18 songs from “Assassins” (1990), “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “Into the Woods” (1987), “A Little Night Music” (1973), “Sunday in the Park with George” (1983) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979).

The ensemble includes 26 CSB and SJU students: Nathan Beal, Ellie Botz, Ian Bush, Aidan Cassidy, Jack Cassidy, Liam Conzemius, Paige Daniels, Johanna Dykhoff, Zach Fimon, Maizah Guy, Karly Hennen, Katie Hinrichs, Callie Huus, Michael Kennedy, Clare Lamb, Joe Lara (who doubles as the assistant stage manager), Laura Mitch, Maddie Molloy, Betsy Ruckman, Maria Schneider, Olivia Solano, Isiah Svoboda, Jessica Torrison, Tessa Venables, Alyssa Wedin and Peng Xiong.

The production staff includes musical director Carolyn Finley, professor of voice and opera at CSB and SJU; stage manager Callie Anderson, a CSB first-year student; pianist/coach Irina Stene, a piano instructor at St. Cloud State University; and lighting designer Adam Dahl, production manager for Fine Arts Programming at CSB and SJU.

Guest musicians include J. David Arnott, associate professor of music at CSB and SJU (violin/viola); SJU sophomore Henry Ricker (percussion); CSB senior Michaela Becker (trumpet); and CSB junior Catherine Jaroszewski (saxophone).

All tickets for the four performances are general admission and cost $6 for adults and $3 for CSB/SJU students, CSB/SJU faculty and staff, youth and seniors.

For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.

The CSB and SJU Opera Workshop provides an opportunity for students to give in-depth study, practice and presentation of classical and contemporary works of opera and musical theater. The group regularly stages full operas as well as revues and excerpts from a variety of stage works. Participation is by audition only and requires the consent of the directors.