Extreme Sondheim (1997)

an exploration of the art of Stephen Sondheim
a world premiere revue
Conceived by Scott Miller
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
featuring songs from Company, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, Assassins, Pacific Overtures, Into the Woods, Passion, and Sunday in the Park with George
November 7-22, 1997
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Chris Brenner, Electa Carlton, Kevin Collier, Gary Cox, Cindy Duggan, Sherry Frank, Keith Hale, Alison Helmer, Lisa Karpowicz, Patrick Kerwin, Jim Merlo, Judy Moebeck, Angela Shultz, Dan Sattel, Leo Schloss

Director – Scott Miller
Assistant Director – T. Joseph Reinert
Set Designers – Scott Miller, Alison Helmer, Dennis Moore, and Greg Hunsaker
Lighting Designer – L.D. Lawson
Lighting Technician – Sara Underwood
Costume Coordinator – Quenten Schumacher II
Graphic Design – Tracy Collins

Piano – Debbie Bernardoni
Trumpet – Paul Hecht
Bass – Terry Kippenberger
Percussion – Adam Kopff

Act I
“Company” from Company
“Now/Later/Soon” from A Little Night Music
“Another Hundred People” from Company
“Franklin Shepard Inc.” from Merrily We Roll Along
Sondheim’s Women
“There’s Always a Woman” cut from Anyone Can Whistle
“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company
“Liaisons” from A Little Night Music
“Could I Leave You?” from Follies
Mad About Sondheim
“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company
“Getting Married Today” from Company
“Buddy’s Blues” from Follies
“A Weekend in the Country” from A Little Light Music

Act II
The American Dream
“Another National Anthem” from Assassins
“The Ballad of Booth” from Assassins
“The Miracle Song” from Anyone Can Whistle
“Me and My Town” from Anyone Can Whistle
Point of View
“Perpetual Anticipation” from A Little Night Music
“Pretty Lady” from Pacific Overtures
“Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods
“Someone in a Tree” from Pacific Overtures
“Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along
“Loving You” from Passion
“No One Has Ever Loved Me” from Passion
“Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George
“No One is Alone” from Into the Woods
“Hills of Tomorrow” from Merrily We Roll Along

“At New Line Theatre, where Extreme Sondheim is now playing, comedy carries the day. The show sparkles in an imaginative trio of comedy songs near the end of the first act. . . All these songs, with their dazzling lyrics and sophisticated musical style, capture Sondheim’s contemporary, New York attitude and are strong enough to work in a revue, stripped of their plot lines.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“For those not familiar with his work, this production will provide a marvelous overview of the work of a talented composer and lyricist. If you are a Sondheim fan, you will relish in sitting back and enjoying an evening of wonderful music presented by a diverse and talented group of performers.” - Norma West, KDHX-FM

“What I did realize, hearing the songs out of context this way, was not only how clever and how lyrical Sondheim’s songs are, but how dramatic they are.” – Bob Wilcox, The Riverfront Times

Stephen Sondheim once said that to be a musician, to live in music, is a gift from God.

Sometimes working on this material became so difficult, so consuming, that we forgot what a gift we had been given – the opportunity to work on, to collaborate on, some of the most brilliant, most emotional, most transforming words and music ever written for the theatre.

Hard-core Sondheim fans often seem like snobs to other musical theatre fans (I've been accused of that myself). It's not intentional. It's a lot like being a wine connoisseur. Once you've experienced the really great stuff, the mediocre stuff is just not satisfying anymore. Once you've wrapped your tongue around the romantic, passionate lyrics in Passion, once you've mastered the patter lyrics to “Getting Married Today,” once you've sung the glorious dissonances in “The Hills of Tomorrow,” nothing else will ever be the same. I know that sounds a bit over-dramatic, but it's really true.

What's so addictive about Sondheim's work is that once you've started exploring its complexities, its subtexts, its great depth, you find that the journey never ends. The more you discover about Company or Passion, the more you also discover about life, about yourself, about your relationships with those around you. We laugh at “Getting Married Today” in Company because we know Amy's fear. Tears come to our eyes when we hear “Loving You” because we've all known the pain of obsessive love.

We hope you can throw yourself into this material the way we have; to hear the jokes, the comic literary references, and the amazing interior rhymes in “Now”; to really hear the fourteen characters who are all talking at the same time in the song “Company”; to laugh at the absurd egotism and heartlessness of Cora in “Me and My Town”; to catch all the subtle digs at organized religion in “The Miracle Song”; to savor the unparalleled beauty of Stephen Sondheim's music.

We hope Extreme Sondheim gives you an opportunity to listen to these songs more carefully than you could in their original context, without the distractions of sets and costumes, without having to follow the plot. Just the purity of the words and music.

Some critics have complained that Sondheim is too intellectual and too emotionally distant. I think tonight you'll see how wrong they are.

Scott called me one day and asked if I would be willing to be in a concert called Extreme Sondheim. I turned him down initially, because I was getting married six days before the opening of the show (which was also my birthday). I reconsidered and agreed to come sing. I was soon to find out what the phrase “art imitates life” really means. When another cast member quit the show, Scott asked me to sing “Getting Married Today” in which Amy spouts all of her fears about getting married and comes up with just about every excuse to get out of it. I must have been asked a million times how in the world I could do that song and be planning my own wedding. My wedding went off without a hitch, the show was well received, but we all know the star of that number was that neon pink veil.
– Angie Shultz

My first show with New Line was Extreme Sondheim. I was very excited to work with this company, but also extremely nervous to be working with all these great people who had done numerous shows with New Line already. The first night of rehearsal I remember being simply amazed at how wonderful the ensemble sounded already, and we hadn't even rehearsed at all. As time went along, I started to feel part of the group. I was one of the singers for the song “Someone in a Tree” and I was playing the part of the person under the floor that was listening to what was going on. I noticed that some of the other company members that were watching were starting to laugh during the song. It kept going on during the song and I was starting to wonder if I sounded that bad. After we were over, they said that when I came out on stage and crouched down for the song, it looked like I was a frog about ready to hop around on stage. Needless to say, the rest of the show, they kept calling me The Frog.
– Patrick Kerwin

Two food stories. Well, there was the “cake” incident. I ordered this wonderful cake from McArthur's bakery. The cake decoration was like the cover of the program. Well, to my horror, I did not notice till I brought the cake into the show closing night, that the R was missing. It said “Exteme Sondheim.” The joke of the night was, “So where R you?” Everybody started calling me Chis. Then, at the cast party, at my house, Bad Ass Judy (Judy Moebeck) and I made a lovely White Castle paté. People really did not care for it too much; I guess because I used pickle juice instead of white wine for flavoring. Like it would really make a difference. Extreme Sondheim was the first time I actually met some of the performers from past New Line shows. I was very intimidated; I thought, “My God, these people are so talented – what can I offer?” But everyone was so wonderful and nice and just fun to be with and so supportive of everyone.
– Chris Brenner, cast member

The Music of Sondheim – A Parody
(To the tune of “The Hills of Tomorrow”
from Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along,
with parody lyrics by Scott Miller.)

Bemoan the music of Sondheim,
His words too numerous, too.
You’ll start to seethe –
There’s no time to breathe,
As the lyrics race,
Behold your face turns blue.

Beyond this music, you long for
A simpler musical score…
Just once begin --
You will never win,
As you bust your guts
And wonder what’s it for…

The Ballad of Little Mikey (1997)

Book, Music, and Lyrics by
Mark Savage
June 13-28, 1997
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

a St. Louis premiere
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Mark Savage
June 13-28, 1997
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Mikey – Mike Porter
Steve – Keith Price
Clay – Quenten Schumacher II
David – Ryan Keller
Robert – Kevin Collier
Charles – Tim Kent
Josh – Jim Hannah
Dr. Russo/Murray Cade – Gary Cox

Directors – Scott Miller and Brian Tibbets
Directing Intern – Jeffrey Yapp
Costume Designer – Tim Kent
Scenic Designer – Dennis Moore
Lighting Designer – Leif Gantvoort
Props – Jeffrey Yapp
Graphic Design – Tracy Collins

Piano – Scott Miller
Guitar – Mike Bauer
Percussion – Adam Kopff

“When you think you’ve seen it all, along comes something like The Ballad of Little Mikey, the only musical comedy ever to include a number about anonymous sex in a public bathroom. . . That willingness to poke fun is the sharpest thing about the play.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Though your jaw may drop, you’ll be hard pressed not to smile, for this number [“Tap”], and in fact most of Little Mikey, is offered with such a winning spirit that you can’t resist. . . Particularly in the first act, the show is smartly self-mocking, exploring the gay ethos with predictable romantic fawning and some sure, swift kicks.” – Mike Isaacson, The Riverfront Times

“Scott Miller and his New Line Theatre continue to bring St. Louis challenging, refreshing musical theatre that you simply can’t see anywhere else. . . The Ballad of Little Mikey will make you think and it will teach you a thing or two.” – Steve Callahan, KDHX-FM

Much of the action of The Ballad of Little Mikey takes place in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. The gay movement had been gaining considerable ground since the historic Stonewall riot of 1969. In 1979 alone, the year leading up to the action of this show, a gay high school senior sued his school for the right to take another boy to prom. The first national gay march on Washington was attended by 100,000 protesters. California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order prohibiting anti-gay discrimination in state hiring. Los Angeles became the 44th city to enact gay civil rights legislation. And the Moral Majority was formed by Jerry Falwell to oppose gay rights, pornography, feminism, and communism.

At that time, gay literature was not what it is today. Most gay stories were about how hard it is to be gay, about facing rejection and discrimination, about trying to find love in a world that demonizes homosexuality. Gay characters were not at all like straight characters.

But at some point in the last decade of this millennium, things have really changed for gay Americans. Suddenly, being gay isn't so outrageous. Suddenly, there are gay characters all over mainstream TV. Suddenly, kids are coming out of the closet in high school – some kids today are never even in the closet. There are gay high school proms, gay high school students forming gay student clubs, celebrities and politicians (even Republicans) coming out of the closet in record numbers.

And gay literature and theatre have turned a corner. Instead of stories about Being Gay and the pain of being an outcast (as in The Boys in the Band, La Cage aux Folles, etc.), stories are now being written about gay characters finding love, building relationships, dealing with family, work, and friendships. Though the main characters are gay, the stories are about facing the same problems and joys straight people face.

The Ballad of Little Mikey embodies both these traditions: the scenes set in 1981 are centered on the issue of being gay and what that means in a hostile world, while the scenes set in the present are about relationships, love, compromise, and sacrifice. In fact, a straight couple could play the scenes in the present without changing a word. Mikey not only covers two distinct political and cultural periods, but also two eras in gay literature and theatre. It's interesting to realize that the fantasies the friends express in the song “Ten Percent” are actually coming true – there are gays in the House and the Senate, and people really do take their gay spouses to company picnics now.

Being gay is no longer something to be ashamed of. As a society, we've grown up with Mikey and learned as he did that it's not about who you love; it's about how you love.

I found the cast album of Mikey at Webster Records and fell in love with its honesty, its humor, and its heart. Without too much effort, I got in touch with Mark Savage, who wrote the show, and we had soon made a deal for New Line to produce Mikey. The only thing that worried me about staging the show was the song “Tap,” an extended, comic musical scene about Mikey discovering the mysteries of gay men having anonymous sex in public bathrooms in the 1970s. How was I going to deal with this number, in which a bunch of gay men do a soft shoe number with their pants around their ankles? But I did what I always do when I’m stumped. I took a step back from it, and my co-director Brian and I asked that all important question, “What is this song about at its core?” I realized this song was about Mikey discovering anonymous sex and finding it altogether unpleasant and unsatisfying. This was an experience he had to go through on his journey to becoming a healthy, well-adjusted, monogamous gay man. I realized the audience had to be led to the same conclusion as Mikey. It had to be slightly disturbing, even though it was a comedy number. I also knew from past experience that if a director is afraid of offending and shies away from presenting a moment on stage honestly, the audience will smell that fear and will inevitably be offended anyway (audiences are kinda like dogs, that way). But if you present that moment honestly, the reaction is generally much better. So we really went for it in “Tap.” We simulated every sexual position a person could navigate in a public bathroom. We created a Busby Berkeley-inspired rainbow colored ring of toilet seats. We created an in-your-face, no-holds-barred, admittedly sexual, comedy number, and it worked. Audiences loved it, and few people were offended. Only one person walked out during the entire run. But Mark Savage himself had the funniest reaction. When I asked him what he thought of that number, he told me it was so extreme, so sexual. I laughed and said, “Mark, you’re the one who wrote a song about anonymous bathroom sex!”
-- Scott Miller, director

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1997)

Music and Original French Lyrics by Jacques Brel
Conception, English Lyrics and Additional Material by
Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, based on Brel’s Commentary
February 21-March 1, 1997
St. Marcus Theatre, St. Louis

Laura Beard Aeling, Kevin Collier, Johanna Schloss, Mark Stulce

THE ARTISTIC STAFFDirectors – Scott Miller and Brian Tibbets
Scene Painter – Andy Milner
Set Decorator -- Leif Gantvoort
Lighting Designer – L.D. Lawson
Lighting Technician – Makeesha Coleman
Costume Coordinator – Quenten Schumacher II
Graphic Designer – Tracy Collins

THE BANDPiano – Scott Miller
Guitar/Mandolin – Mike Bauer
Bass – Terry Kippenberger
Percussion – Adam Kopff

“New Line Theatre . . . has taken on the challenge and acquits itself with an entertaining and thoughtful production. . . directors Scott Miller and Brian Tibbets have understood and captured Brel’s smoky, bittersweet flavor.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Jacques Brel himself may have died a few years ago, but his spirit and his unique songs are indeed alive and well and living at the St. Marcus Theatre. . .The New Line Theatre’s current production captures all the potent poetry of Brel, and it is surprisingly fresh and current, despite the sometimes strong political or social content.” – Steve Callahan, KDHX-FM

More than any other piece written for the musical stage, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris defies description. It is an evening of independent songs (almost one-act musicals), yet it's not a revue. It doesn't have a plot or even an immediately recognizable cast of characters, so it's not really a book musical.

We think it's a one-character musical with a cast of four. Two women and two men all portray one character: Jacques Brel. The words are Brel's, the opinions, insights, and satiric wit are Brel's. The underlying, sometimes nearly hidden optimism is Brel's. The show is more a character study than anything else, but we must ask if it is a character study of just Jacques Brel the man or also of western civilization at the end of the 20th century?

Jacques Brel was born in Belgium in 1929 but moved to Paris to be a singer and songwriter. By the early 1960s, Brel had established a reputation as one of France's greatest writers and interpreters of modern songs. In 1957, the first American recording of Brel's songs was released. In 1961, Elly Stone sang two Brel songs, “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don't Leave Me”) and “La Valse mille temps,” (“The Waltz in 1,000 Time”) in a strange off-Broadway revue called O, Oysters!

Though the show didn't run long, Stone continued to perform these two songs. In 1968, Eric Blau and Mort Shuman created an off-Broadway musical using twenty-five of Brel's songs, called Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and it ran for 1,847 performances. The show has been revived twice in New York. A film version was released in 1975, which included an appearance by Brel. Since the show first opened, Brel's songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as David Bowie, Judy Collins, and Barry Manilow. Brel died in 1978 at age 49, but they didn't change the title of the show. You'll see why tonight.

Very few of Jacques Brel's songs are simple and straight-forward. He was a poet as much as a songwriter, and the words he writes often cloak a deeper meaning. So many of the songs in the show are not what they appear to be. “I Loved” is about being in love with the symbols of love instead of with a person. “Bachelor's Dance” is about unrealistic expectations. “My Death” is a view of death as inevitable but patient. “Jackie” is a man who hates his life and wishes he could return to the innocence and simplicity of childhood. “The Statue” condemns the false (and dangerous?) romanticizing of war and soldiering. “Brussels” is about denial in the face of danger. “No Love, You're Not Alone,” is about how we project our own sorrow onto someone else so that they will “need” us. Every single song is an adventure and a meditation.

You'll never see another show like this one, and we'll never work on another show like this. So we really treasure this experience.

We hope you will, too.

This was one of my favorite New Line shows. Not only was the material challenging and inspiring, but also the small company was genuinely warm and supportive. Many events during the run were memorable in their own right – Laura slicing her hand open with her umbrella during “Madeleine” (and finishing the last hour and forty-five minutes of the show with her hand wrapped in whatever clean cloth could be found); Mark hiding words to his songs in the doorway to steal a glance when he could; Scott and Brian demonstrating the complicated choreography of “Carousel” as the four of us watched in fascination and horror; Kevin's incredibly poignant rendition of “The Statue” resonating through a silenced house. However, there is one simple memory that sticks with me, too – the memory of Kevin's and Laura's hands holding mine while we stood in semi-darkness at the edge of the stage and sang “The Desperate Ones” and “If We Only Have Love.” At the end of each of those songs, there would be a quiet moment, and just before the audience applauded, we'd lightly squeeze each other's hands. That remains one of my favorite theatre moments.
– Johanna Schloss, cast member

One of the most rewarding experiences that I had working with New Line was assisting with the choreography on both “Marathon” and “Carousel” for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. These two songs provided such a good framing mechanism for the entire show, incorporating all of the show’s warnings and prophecies into fiercely overt language and imagery. The choreography for both songs needed to mirror those warnings accurately. This was a large task because of the wildly different types of music in the show. Staying true to the music was necessary, and in the end, it is what made those two songs most effective.

For “Marathon,” the lyrics “flashed” different images of various aspects of the twentieth century, ranging from “the twenties roar because there’s bathtub gin” to the prophetic “and the nineties whimper and the century hangs.” Scott and I spent hours working with different ideas until we finally ended up with a frantic, whirlwind tour of the century, the actors mimicking the lyrics. It opened the evening very nicely and set the stage for the rest of the show.

The choreography for “Carousel” gave us fits because of the repetition and increasingly frantic pace of the music. Again, the music dictated the sense of urgency and warning, wrapped up in a seemingly innocent amusement ride. The circular motion of the carousel translated nicely into a tight circle that moved with the music, ever scarier, like a machine out of control. Johanna, Kevin, Mark, and Laura nailed the foreboding hand movements perfectly, and I was always left breathless on the final beat. The most satisfying aspect of working with Scott on the choreography for Brel, and these two songs in particular, was that it was a truly organic process. We tried things. We researched. We argued over ideas. We consulted the cast. The music was revisited over and over again to insure that everything was timed perfectly and that it continued to make sense, even in the waning days of rehearsal. In the end, I believe those two songs really shone through because of the work and the attention to detail that we gave it. At no point was the message of Brel compromised by the movements of the actors, one of the many things that I am most proud of during my work with New Line.

– Brian Tibbets, co-director

I’m sitting at the piano during one performance of Jacques Brel and I’m thinking everything is going really well. The audience is with us and the cast looks like they’re having a great time. It’s not until after the performance that I find out that Laura has sliced her hand open with a umbrella that had broken during the show’s fourth song, “Madeleine.” Apparently, she had just sat there and bled until she could get off stage, and then couldn’t find a first aid kit. The most impressive thing was that she never missed a beat and it didn’t affect her performance in the least. The funniest thing was the next night when we assembled onstage to warm up and we found a dozen or so puddles of dried blood scattered around the stage. Laura examined the spots calmly and then said, “I bet that’s a bio-hazard.”

– Scott Miller, director