Stephen Sondheim, Master Of Musical Theater, Dies At 91

Six area theater companies are joining forces to celebrate the life and work of Stephen Sondheim, the renowned musical theater composer-lyricist who died Nov. 26 at age 91.

“For Stephen: A Review in Remembrance of Stephen Sondheim” is scheduled for 8 p.m. Jan. 15 at The Lamp Theatre in Irwin.

“It’s the first time for these six organizations to be arm in arm on stage,” said Rob Jessup, co-founder of Split Stage Productions.

Following Sondheim’s death, Jessup said, Split Stage board chairman Ben Wren suggested the company perform the musical revue, “Sondheim on Sondheim.”

“I said, ‘Oh, no — I’ve done it before and it’s a lot to do,’” he said. They decided on a more modest approach, enlisting input from other area troupes.

The lineup will include two performers each from Split Stage, Stage Right!, Greensburg Civic Theatre, The Theatre Factory, Geyer Performing Arts Center and Actors and Artists of Fayette County.

“The passing of Stephen Sondheim is certainly worthy of a collaboration,” said Chris McAllister, executive director of Stage Right! “He’s arguably the largest agent of change in modern musical theater. He had a very prodigious career beginning in the 1950s, and there was a rumor that he was working on a new show at the time of his death.”

Among best-known works in the Sondheim catalog are “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music” and “Company.”

Master of changes

“The show was put together rather quickly,” Jessup said. “We asked each group to give us four or five Sondheim songs that they were familiar with. We said, ‘Let us know what you know.’”

Prior knowledge was important in putting a Sondheim tribute together in short order, said Becky Ziegler Koch, Greensburg Civic Theatre director.

“Sondheim musicals are very difficult,” she said. “You need to have the right cast and enough rehearsal time, you can’t just sit down and sight-read the songs. He was the master of key changes and time changes, and his lyrics are words and words and words.

“It’s very challenging, but he definitely left the standard for anyone coming up in musical theater,” she added.

Participants worked to include numbers from Sondheim’s best-known musicals. The program will include a medley from “Into the Woods,” along with “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” and “Comedy Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

“We’ll be tying the music together with an homage to him, some personal experiences, like the organization’s first experience with Sondheim and what it meant to them,” Jessup said.

“There will be laughter and tears, pathos and ethos, and a slight surprise or two,” McAllister added.

The numbers will be performed solo and in duos, trios and ensembles. The show will be staged by Laura Wurzell, with musical direction by Matt Thomas.

Big, happy family

Admission to “For Stephen” is free, although ticket reservations are suggested and are available from each of the participating theater groups. Tickets also will be available at the door of the theater at 222 Main St.

Donations will be accepted, with proceeds to be shared evenly among the participating organizations.

“The Lamp is opening its doors free of charge to support all of these organizations,” Jessup said. “We hope now to keep something going in this time slot annually to showcase the organizations, maybe something they have upcoming or something from the past season.”

The Sondheim revue also will showcase what makes area theater groups so special, Ziegler Koch said.

“We’re all one big, happy family. We share spaces and performers and we don’t compete against each other,” she said. “This will be a great opportunity for everyone to see that we all made it through the pandemic and we’re all still here, ready to perform.”

For more information, call 724-367-4000 or visit

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