The Arden Theatre Company Gets Passionate with Sondheim
The Arden Theatre has staged 14 productions of Stephen Sondheim shows since 1993. But opening this month is a first: Passion, a simple love story between people who are anything but simple. Artistic director Terry Nolen tells the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns why he waited until he was good and ready.
David Patrick Stearns: All Stephen Sondheim shows are distinctly different from each other. But Passion, which played 280 performances on Broadway in 1994, and was the shortest-running show to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical, is more different than any of them. The happy end, heard here with the original Broadway cast, comes at the beginning. And the end? You won't know who is the beauty and who is the beast.
Terry Nolen: It doesn't conform to traditional musical expectations. It subverts so many of them. So again and again it asks you to accept and enter into the show on its own terms.
DPS: Yet artistic director Terry Nolen admits that if the casting is right, Passion barely needs basic stuff like scenery. Set in 19th-century Italy, the story is a particularly impossible love triangle between a married woman, a handsome soldier and a chronically ill woman who has never known love. How could a homely, chronically ill woman possibly hope to win a handsome soldier? It's a learning experience like nothing else, says Liz Filios, who plays that central character.
Liz Filios: It taught me a great deal about perspectives I've never considered before. They speak of the psyche of the sick. There's a lot of discussion about love and death and what is true. It's a great challenge, but also a great honor to swim around in these questions everyday.
DPS: Such issues are particularly inescapable since it's perhaps the only Sondheim show without irony, laughs, or applause points to relieve the tension.
TN: We want to be as close as possible to these characters, and to their thoughts and feelings as possible. It's constant close-ups.
DPS: But if the audience feels a bit captive, consider that leading man Ben Michael is faced with portraying a massive nervous breakdown every night.
Ben Michael: Luckily, the guys in the show, we can joke around and talk about the Phillies and get out of that head space, so I don't take it home.
DPS: But if anybody should take it home, it's the audience. It's why we go to the theater.
Check out this article from BuzzFeed News: "Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him"