Passion (1996)

a St. Louis premiere
Music and Lyrics by
Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
November 15-23, 1996
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Clara – Deborah Sharn
Captain Giorgio Bachetti – Jim Merlo
Fosca – Laura Beard Aeling
Lieutenant Torasso – J.T. Ricroft
Colonel Ricci – Brett Kristofferson
Doctor Tambourri – Steven R. Johnson
Sergeant Lombardi – Jonathan Stone
Lieutenant Barri – Kevin Collier
Major Rizzoli – Keith Thompson
Private Augenti – Derek Silkebaken
Fosca’s Mother – Judy Moebeck
Fosca’s Father – Kevin Collier
Count Ludovic – Quenten Schumacher II
The Count’s Mistress – Sherry Frank

Director – Scott Miller
Assistant Director – Brian Tibbets
Set Designers – Leif Gantvoort and L.D. Lawson
Lighting Designer – Makeesha Coleman
Costume Designer – Quenten Schumacher II
Graphic Design – Tracy Collins

Piano – Debbie Bernardoni
Trumpet – Paul Hecht
Flute/Clarinet – Mark Strathman
Percussion – Adam Kopff

“The New Line Theatre production of Passion is a triumph for director Scott Miller and his company. . . Miller’s cast and crew supply the fervor and understanding required to bring out the haunting melancholy of [James] Lapine’s book and [Stephen] Sondheim’s words and music.” – Gerry Kowarsky, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“At once outrageous and courageous, Scott Miller’s production . . . has the audacity and insight to strip away the layers of pretension and seriousness that enveloped the original New York production. . . resulting in a wild, bold ride for the audience. Bring a friend, because you’ll have a lot to talk about. . . All involved deserve praise for attacking the difficult assignment with considerable intelligence, honesty, and of course, passion.” – Mike Isaacson, The Riverfront Time

At the beginning of Passion, Giorgio and Clara sing:
Just another love story,
That’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story –
Aren't all of them the same?
No, but this is more...
And they're not just referring to themselves. They're also describing the musical Passion itself. It is a love story after all, but it's definitely not like all the rest.

Passion is a tale of deeply felt unconditional love in a world obsessed with physical beauty. It's a profoundly emotional, disturbing story that makes us think about serious issues of love, beauty, passion, and gender roles, even as our hearts break along with Fosca, Giorgio, and Clara.

We were all anxious to work on this show because it's so unlike any other work of the musical theatre. Even for Stephen Sondheim, the greatest rule-breaker working in the art form today, this is still an experiment: his first non-ironic love story. This is not a show in which the authors step back and comment wryly on the follies of love. Instead Passion charges head first into the pain and disorienting passion of love. There is nothing separating us from Fosca and her extreme expressions of love, nor from the raw sexuality of Giorgio and Clara.

The greatest joy for an actor or director is to find material that is utterly real, that accurately represents the hopelessly confusing, conflicting human condition, and Passion is that kind of show. Even the most serious musicals condense characters into clearly defined essences for dramatic purposes. But this is a show whose story works only because the characters are not essences, but are instead fully formed, deeply complex people. None of the decisions and choices made by these people is black and white. None of the characters is wholly good or bad. Everyone populates the gray middle ground of morality, responsibility, loyalty, and self-preservation.

We're all curious to see how you will respond to this show. We think everyone will have a different reaction, that men and women will disagree, that older people and younger people, married and single people, parents and children will disagree. Everyone will bring their own experiences, past loves and losses, past and present obsessions to Fosca, Giorgio, and Clara's story.

We think it will unsettle you a little, but more importantly, move you greatly. Whatever your reaction, we hope you enjoy the show.

What an incredible, unique show. The mostly sold out audiences were absolutely spellbound every performance. I've never seen anything like that before or since. It was a very dark, sometimes disturbing yet beautiful two-hour show with no intermission. Then there were the boots. Most of the men had to wear these rented boots that squeaked with every step. When the men made a scene change, there was rhythmic squeaking. When they tried to cross backstage, there were the squeaks. There was no way to stop the boots from making noise. Watching the actors backstage trying to walk without making noise was like being at a contortionists’ convention. Some walked on their toes, others tried walking on their heels, but they all walked as if they were on a tight rope. Nothing worked. It's a good thing the show held the audiences' attention so well; otherwise they would have thought there were “military mice” in the theatre.
– Steve Johnson, “Dr. Tambourri”

The role of Clara in New Line's production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Passion was by far the most erotic role I had experienced and I delighted in it. Believe me, I'd had my share of passionate, scantily clad roles in the past. But the sexual intimacy that Clara and Giorgio expressed onstage, a mere three feet from the first row of the audience, not to mention the attractiveness of my costar, Jim Merlo, was a stirring theatrical experience for me. I remember the night I first kissed Jim. We were doing a publicity photo shoot and Scott suggested that I sit on Jim's lap, in my very sheer nightgown. Jim, God love him, was not wearing a shirt, and he was certainly stirring everyone at the rehearsal – he's one of those guys with perfect chest hair placement and the physique to match. What began as an awkward moment of hesitation turned into scintillating, sensual kissing that seemed to last an eternity. Scott practically had to pull us apart. Many a rehearsal I would lose my way in the lyrics and surrender to the passion of the moment. Men and women alike found Jim appealing; many a man said he was living vicariously through me. Tough luck, guys. Needless to say during performances my professionalism always won out and I ended up thinking about breath (catching my breath, that is!) and vocal technique during our songs together. Little did I know that the following March, Jim would play Marvin to my Trina in March Of The Falsettos and he’d leave me for a man. Ah, the fickleness of men!
– Deborah Sharn, “Clara”

During the rehearsal process for Passion, I was having very serious thoughts about quitting acting altogether. This was my second show in six years. I played Doctor Tambourri, and Scott and I were having trouble trying to figure out the doctor’s motivation for doing the things he did in the show. I was also having a great deal of trouble concentrating and learning my lines. I figured I was rusty and that I was getting too old to do shows. It was very frustrating. Then about three weeks before the show opened I discovered the furnace leak in my home. I had no idea carbon monoxide was slowly killing me. I got the furnace fixed. My mind cleared, I learned my lines and Scott and I had some very good conversations about my character that made sense and helped. In the end I didn't quit theatre, although Scott and others keep begging me to.
– Steve Johnson, “Dr. Tambourri”

I don’t know if I’ve ever worked on a more beautiful, more lush, more thrilling score than Passion's. To live in that music for two months was utterly overwhelming and exhilarating. It may well be the most beautiful music anyone has ever written for the stage. And the story of Passion, again so utterly overwhelming, so disturbing, so shattering, completely absorbed me. It was all I could think about, not only during the process, but for months after we closed. And then there’s our cast – a brilliant, dedicated cast that captured perfectly the pain and beauty and obsession and danger of this dark, scary, soulful tale. There was no greater thrill than watching Laura, Deborah, and Jim, and the others tackle this story night after night. From my admittedly biased position, I really believe we went deeper and took more risks than the original production did. And the other thing that made me so proud of this cast is that Passion was one of the most difficult scores we’d ever tackled, and they learned it thoroughly, every note, every rest, every entrance. It occurred to me as we worked on it that the Broadway cast had always had a conductor in front of them cuing every entrance, every difficult passage, but the New Line cast did not have that luxury. Because of the physical intimacy of our shows, there is never a conductor between the actors and the audience. Our actors never had any help in knowing when and where to sing. They had to know the score inside and out, every fascinating twist and turn (and there are a lot!). I asked of them something that had not been asked even of the original Broadway cast, and despite the difficulty, they actually sang it more accurately than the Broadway cast. They sang exactly what Sondheim wrote, and in many cases, with greater depth and meaning because they did not take liberties with Sondheim’s music. Lots of performers have said that every note of a Sondheim score counts, that there is a reason for every note and every rest. Never has that been truer than with Passion, and I will always be exceptionally proud of how true we were to this glorious score
-- Scott Miller, director

Sweeney Todd (1996)

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
June 7-22, 1996
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Sweeney Todd – Mark Stulce
Anthony Hope – Keith Thompson
Beggar Woman – Laura Beard Aeling
Nellie Lovett – Lisa Karpowicz
Johanna Turpin – Sherry Frank
Beadle Bamford – Michael Dewes
Judge Turpin – Steven R. Johnson
Tobias Ragg – Dan Sattel
Adolfo Pirelli – George M. Jones
Bird Seller – David Blake
Mr. Fogg – Jerry Smith
Cindy Duggan
Judy Moebeck

THE ARTISTIC STAFFDirector – Scott Miller
Assistant Director – Matthew R. Kerns
Lighting Designer – L.D. Lawson
Set Coordinator – Greg Hunsaker
Costumes and Props Designer – Quenten Schumacher II
Special Prop Construction – Pat Edmonds
Graphic Design – Tracy Collins

Piano – Catherine Edwards
Keyboards – Jim Ryan
Percussion – Adam Kopff

“Under director Scott Miller, Sweeney appears in a completely different light, pared down and bitterly funny. . . Miller’s treatment makes sense and the tiny, peculiarly shaped St. Marcus Theatre is exactly the right setting for it. . . To be honest, I’ve seen Sweeney Todd before and never liked it. But this production made me consider it from a different perspective; I appreciate that.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Ultimately, it is the challenges that make Sweeney Todd, like so much Sondheim, a stimulating evening in the theatre.” – Box Wilcox, The Riverfront Times
“I was amazed at how beautifully the show fits in the tiny St. Marcus Theatre. . . I’m now convinced that is how it is most effective.” – Steve Callahan, KDHX-FM

Sweeney Todd is one of only two musicals that Stephen Sondheim has initiated himself (the other is Passion). Though the massive original production was very effective, Sondheim has said that he intended it to be an intimate chamber musical with few sets. And that may be the way it is the most effective, the most chilling, the most personal. This is not a show intended to leave an audience happy and safe in the knowledge that Good always triumphs over Evil. Sweeney Todd is meant to disturb.

Of the many musical motifs used in Sweeney Todd, one of the most interesting – and appropriate – is the dies irae. This chant melody from the Mass for the Dead has been used for centuries in music about death and dying. It first appears in “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” as the melody to the chorus (“Swing your razor wide, Sweeney...”). It's also found, upside-down, as the accompaniment to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” and used as underscoring throughout the show. This inverted version also becomes the vocal melody to “My Friends.” Thus, the dies irae connects the opening number describing Sweeney with both his song about why he will kill (“Barber and His Wife”) and his song about how he will kill (“My Friends”).

This show has several things to say about human nature and about society. The most obvious statement the authors are making is that we all have the capacity for revenge that Sweeney has. In the last song, the chorus sings to us, “Perhaps today you gave a nod to Sweeney Todd,” and later, “Sweeney waits in the parlor hall, Sweeney leans on the office wall. No one can help, Nothing can hide you. Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?”

To some extent, they are saying, we all live in the past, we all make mistakes we regret, and we all have revenge in our hearts at one time or another. Perhaps we don't go to the extremes that Sweeney did; but then again, how often are we put in the very extreme circumstances into which Sweeney has been thrust?

Like Sondheim's Assassins, Sweeney Todd also makes the case that society is to blame – for the unfair class structure, exploitation of the working classes, the abuse of power, a corrupt government and justice system. Like Assassins, the black humor in Sweeney Todd allows us to distance ourselves from the horror of what's happening, but it also makes us realize how easily we can trivialize murder and brutality. Is “A Little Priest” all that different from Oliver Stone's film Natural Born Killers or Quenten Tarentino's Pulp Fiction? As a society, we have grown numb to death; we see it so much on the news, in television shows, in the movies, that it hardly fazes us anymore. Through wars, urban riots, and “ethnic cleansing,” killing has become an impersonal act. And perhaps that's one of Sondheim's points – the fact that Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett can joke about the brutal murders they will commit is an indictment of our culture. But remember that they're not the only ones laughing – so are we.

Scott blocked the show using the entire theatre as a stage. The cast was often out among the audience. There were two satellite stages, one on the left of the main stage and one on the right. The main stage was used only as Sweeney's barber shop. Scott blocked the opening number with the cast spaced and staggered the width of the theatre on the floor in front of the main stage. During the song there are quite a few one line solos from various cast members. I think the cast enjoyed watching the audience during the opening number as much as the audience enjoyed watching us. As each solo was performed, the audiences' heads would turn in unison toward the sound. First left, then right, then center. It was quite a funny sight. It was almost like they were watching a tennis match or they were a hundred cats looking at the same piece of string being dangled in front of them.
– Steve Johnson, “Judge Turpin”

I'm sure that everyone who has been involved in theatre has one show that will forever stand out as a career highlight. For me, this highlight is New Line's production of Sweeney Todd. Mrs. Lovett possesses a delicious sense of humor and that, paired with her obvious character flaws, provided me with a never-ending source of challenges, pleasures, and memories. One of my least favorite memories of this production, however, occurred on opening night. I was always particularly nervous before my first scene which contained the song “Worst Pies in London,” a song in which it is very easy to become tongue-tied or drop a line. This night, however, it went flawlessly and I was ecstatic. Just off stage I uttered a very quiet but jubilant “Yes!” and in doing so missed the two steps leading down and, instead, fell off the side with my ankle twisted underneath me. As soon as I heard that “crunch” sound and felt the sickening pain, I knew it was sprained. I literally crawled back to the dressing room where everyone thought, at first, that I was just playing some kind of joke. I guess it was the tears streaming down my face that convinced them that I was definitely not pretending. We were able to find a roll of duct tape with which I wrapped my ankle and the show went on. I can honestly say that, on that particular night, at least, I had no trouble finding the right motivation for Mrs. Lovett's cry of anguish as Sweeney throws her into the oven!
– Lisa Karpowicz, “Mrs. Lovett”

Every night, several white shirts and barber cloths would get fake blood on them, and someone had to wash them each night after the show to make sure they were blood-free for the next performance. That task fell to me. Let's talk about stress. I'm disabled. It's my first show in six years. It's my fourth musical in twenty-five years. It's my first Sondheim show. It's a New Line show and I'm working with Scott Miller for the first time. The temperature in the theatre is near one hundred degrees each night. Now, let's add to that, I'm crossing state lines, from Missouri to Illinois, every night with a trunk full of “blood-soaked” clothes. If the police had ever stopped me during that time, they would still be digging up my yard looking for bodies. And yet, New Line's Sweeney Todd was the best thing to happen to me in years. It was interesting and a great deal of fun.
– Steve Johnson, “Judge Turpin”

Out on Broadway (1996)

a world premiere
featuring songs from Bye Bye Birdie, Girl Crazy, She Loves Me, Dear World, Falsettos, Once Upon a Mattress, Merrily We Roll Along, City of Angels, Les Misérables, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Victor/Victoria, Mame, Dreamgirls, Follies, Company, The Robber Bridegroom, Phantom of the Opera, La Cage aux Folles, Passion, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, The Rothschilds, South Pacific, Assassins, and other shows
Conceived by Scott Miller
March 1-9, 1996
Additional Performances August 16-24, 1996
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Chris Brenner, Tracy Collins, Quenten Schumacher II, Keith Thompson, Eddie Webb

Director – Scott Miller
Additional Staging – J.T. Ricroft
Lighting Designer – Linda Lawson
Graphic Design – Tracy Collins
Pianist – Scott Miller

“A sweetly rewarding and happy surprise. . . Not since Tom Clear and Joan Lipkin’s Some of My Best Friends Are held court has a musical evening so expertly fused the intimacy, politics, and spirit of the St. Marcus. . . United in song and spirit, the cast and audience celebrate the fusion of a Broadway past into the home for a community’s political future.” – Mike Isaacson, The Riverfront Times

“Entertaining and thought-provoking, Out on Broadway, the new revue from New Line Theatre, offers musical theatre with a decidedly different twist. . . It’s what theater, at its best, is for.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“A most thought-provoking, touching, and entertaining production.” – News-Telegraph

“Some of the evening’s best moments owe their power to flawless harmonizing.” – Harry Weber, The Riverfront Times

(March 1996)
Gay men and lesbians have been playing straight characters since time began. They've had to sing about a kind of love they never felt, never able (until recently) to sing about the feelings they actually have. Stars like Danny Kaye, Larry Kert, George Rose, Jack Cassidy and many others never had a chance to explore in their work the issues they faced in their daily lives.

Gay or bisexual writers, including Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Jerry Herman, Leonard Bernstein, Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, Arthur Laurents, Howard Ashman, and so many others have had to “transpose” their feelings in order to write for the characters in their shows.

Only a few gay musicals have ever played on Broadway. And though TV and movies are finally accepting gay characters as something more than a punch line, the Broadway musical is much slower to do the same. However, in regional theatres gay issues are being explored in many new musicals by writers like Mark Savage, Linda Eisenstein, Chris Jackson, myself, and others. Two songs from Mark Savage's new musical, The Ballad of Little Mikey will be performed tonight. This spring, an album of songs from gay musicals will be released by AEI Records, including songs from The Ballad of Little Mikey and the gay vampire musical In the Blood, which New Line premiered last season.

So tonight we present the history of Broadway musicals the way it should have been.
Every song you'll hear tonight was chosen for a reason. “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” was written about racism, but its message against intolerance is as relevant today as ever, as religious extremists demonize gays and lesbians. “In My Own Lifetime” and “Do You Hear the People Sing” are particularly potent, reminding us of the all the work we have to do. “Children Will Listen” is a warning to those political and religious leaders who would promote prejudice and fear instead of understanding. And in this explosive election year, “Our Time” and “Everybody's Got the Right” are no longer just show tunes – they are battle cries.

“Everything Possible” is the song we all wish someone had sung to us when we were little, a song that we hope will be sung to children from now on.

Very few of these songs were written in the context in which you find them tonight, but I think you'll be surprised at how easily they work this way. The experiences we're exploring tonight are universal. A love song written for a straight couple fits a gay couple no less perfectly: One lyric sums it all up: “They're writing songs of love, but not for me . . .” Well, tonight these songs are for us all.

(August 1996)
Well, here we are, back “Out” at the St. Marcus.

This is the first time New Line has ever done a show a second time. It's the first time we thought a piece was important enough. We decided that if we can reach people this time that we didn't reach the first time, then it's worth doing again.

We didn't realize this show was as special as it is until we put it in front of an audience last March. It's the only gay revue I'm aware of that doesn't make fun of gays and also doesn't ask for pity for gays. It's a very proud, brave, and occasionally political look at being gay in America. This is a show that sees gays as regular people, with the same kind of joy and heartache as everyone else, despite their often unique societal obstacles. And I think that's a big part of what made it so incredibly popular the first time around.

Gay men and lesbians have been playing straight characters since theatre began. We've had to sing about a kind of love we never felt, never able (until recently) to sing about the feelings we actually have. Stars like Danny Kaye, Larry Kert, George Rose, Jack Cassidy, and many others never had a chance to explore in their work the issues they faced in their daily lives.

Gay or bisexual writers, including Cole Porter, Jerry Herman, Leonard Bernstein, Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, Arthur Laurents, Howard Ashman, and so many others never had a chance to explore their lives in their writing.

Only a few gay musicals have ever played on Broadway. And though TV and movies are finally accepting gay characters as something more than a punch line, the Broadway musical is much slower to do the same. However, in regional theatres gay issues are being explored in many new musicals by writers like Mark Savage, Linda Eisenstein, Cindy O'Connor & Larry.Johnson, Chris Jackson, myself, and others. Two songs from Mark Savage's new musical, The Ballad of Little Mikey (which New Line will produce in June 1997) will be performed tonight.

We've made some small changes since the last time we were here – a few songs cut, a few added, a few moved. We hope you like the show even better. Very few of these songs were written in the context in which you find them tonight, but I think you'll be surprised at how easily they work this way.

Many of the experiences we're exploring are indeed universal. As Congress passes new (possibly un-Constitutional) laws to exclude gays and lesbians from legal marriage, as Bob Dole and his friends work to prevent us from enjoying other equal rights, as national religious leaders misuse and misquote the Bible to demonize us, this is an important lesson for his all to take with us.

What wonderful voices and great people to work with, and more talent that intimidated me. There was so much time and effort put into each song, which I think helped us to make the show our own. I could not believe the audiences we got; they loved us. That was a major high. But I wish I could go back and rerecord the CD. Having the knowledge I have now with several vocal master classes under my belt (trust me, my pants still fit snug), I would sing everything very different. How great we are – the only New Line show that made a CD, but we are not the only ones that should have made one.

– Chris Brenner, cast member

I remember how I felt being involved in such a unique production and how the concept of the show excited me. Using songs traditionally meant for women, but putting a new twist to them by using the male voice and form. As a choreographer, it created challenges that were fun to work out, especially with a cast that was so eager to try anything. We were all limitless, since this had not been done before and we had no expectations or past “female” interpretations to consider. During rehearsals, we had so much fun creating pictures that would allow the audience to experience each song in a new way. It was amazing to watch as each song took on a new meaning, due to the conscious choices each performer made along the way. I cried, I laughed, I smiled, and I traveled the journey with anticipation... it was better than Cats! I was grateful that the St. Louis audiences embraced this production. My fear was that it would be received as “a bunch of men singing songs about other men.” The sense of community and love, regardless of the sex or sexual disposition, was felt and experienced by all who attended and shared in the production. Whew! They got it. I was honored to be a part of it all.

– John Ricroft, choreographer