Photo by Jeremy Rill
What could be better than a Sondheim show? How about a Sondheim show set in Chicago? Though purists may balk, Porchlight Music Theatre kicks off their seventeenth season with a Chicago-centric version of the Sondheim classic, Putting it Together. Our Town spoke with the show’s director, longtime choreographer Brenda Didier about Porchlight’s unique choice and more.
Our Town So, why set the show in Chicago?
Brenda Didier To make it accessible, put a fresh and unique perspective on [it]. Our Theatre Wit playing space has a wonderful exposed brick wall that our set designer, John Zuiker, used to our advantage, [setting the show] in a loft as opposed to a penthouse apartment. There are no gowns or tuxedos here; we are in a different world now than 1999 when the show was on Broadway with Carol Burnett.
OT What do you risk and/or gain by altering a well-known show?
BD When any director changes a show, some audience members may come in expecting the original version. I always like risks because you surprise people and usually the gains are much greater. I love it when an audience members tells me that they were moved and entertained most unexpectedly and that they experienced a familiar work in a whole new way and learned something about themselves in the process.
OT You’re a director and a choreographer, how do the two inform each other?
BD I’ve choreographed for years and just recently begun the transition into directing. Choreography tells the story through movement. As a director you find the peaks and valleys of a script, the stillness and movement to make the story move along. The two really go hand in hand.
OT What unique challenges does a Sondheim show present?
BD Sondheim shows are like no other. The lyrics and music are some of the most brilliant and complicated songs for any actor to sing- let alone do it with blocking and acting behind it. As I started this process, I came to realize that each of Sondheim's songs are a play- with a clear and defined beginning, middle and end.
OT What’s most compelling to you about the rehearsal process?
BD The rehearsal process is a joy for me because I come in with my ideas and vision, but it’s the collaboration between actors, musicians, designers that really inspires me. When you add the preview process, then the final piece of the collaboration puzzle is the audience. They quickly inform you of what is working and what is not and then you go back and re-visit sections and make adjustments.
OT What’s most frustrating?
BD Tech is great, like Christmas morning, seeing all the tech elements come together. [But] when time runs out and you are on a roll, that is hard at times.
OT What makes Porchlight a unique company on the Chicago scene?
BD It’s the only theatre company in the city of Chicago that produces musicals exclusively. It is very much a family, not a commercial theatre. They want to reach audiences and give them a great night of theatre that touches them and leaves them wanting more.
"Putting it Together" runs September 2nd through October 16th. Visit theaterwit.org to purchase tickets.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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