Like thoroughbred horses and fast cars, once the music of Stephen Sondheim gets in your blood, you’re a hopeless fan.
Sondheim’s compositions are daunting, complex, sophisticated. The composer throws down a musical gauntlet to audiences, singers, musicians and aficionados, who revel in his creations.
The Village Theatre Guild of Glen Ellyn, led by Craig Gustafson and Doug Orlyk, is preparing to meet the challenge by producing one of Sondheim’s most celebrated works, “A Little Night Music.”
Opening night and the start of the troupe’s 50th season, is Friday, Oct. 19.
Gustafson, who is directing the show (book by Hugh Wheeler), is truly a Sondheim enthusiast. On his 2012-13 calendar he has no less than three Sondheim musicals: “A Little Night Music” at the VTG; “Into the Woods,” which will be produced next year at Wheaton Drama; and “Assassins,” which he tackled this summer.
“I love Sondheim because he ain’t easy,” Gustafson says. “The best of his music is incredibly challenging to do. When I was directing ‘Assassins’ this summer, my music director was frequently shaking her fist at the sky yelling, ‘(Darn) you, Stephen Sondheim!’ and then getting right back to work.
“Believe it or not, I love about half of his musicals and can’t stand the other half. This is because, being an expert collaborator, Sondheim tailors the music to the needs of the script; so in a very real sense, the librettist determines the course of the show,” Gustafson says.
Music director Orlyk, a music graduate from Elmhurst College, has decades of experience in musical theater.
“I love the way Sondheim weaves the music and lyrics together. I also love the wordplay that makes his lyrics so unique,” he says. “There are lots of clever internal rhymes that one only hears after studying the lyrics closely.”
As a team, Gustafson and Orlyk support each other, one directing the action that is celebrated in song and lyric, the other bringing the songs to life.
In addition to his music, Sondheim, who’s 82 and has received eight Tony Awards and a Pulitzer, wins the support of his fans in other ways.
“In addition to his brilliant work, the man’s dedication to theater and willingness to help is extraordinary,” Gustafson says.
“Just after it premiered, I did a program of scenes and songs from ‘Assassins’ for a membership meeting at VTG. I asked him to let me know where I could get a copy of ‘The Gun Song.’ He wrote me back, giving me permission to do the program and telling me who to clear it with at Music Theatre International. Oh, and he Xeroxed his own copy of ‘The Gun Song’ and sent it to me.”
Orlyk says, “I am a fan and an admirer. I love almost everything of his, with few exceptions. I wrote him a letter once and he wrote back — typed on an old typewriter. It was very sweet.”
“He is one of a kind,” Orlyk adds. “He doesn’t try to write feel-good, hummable show tunes. He composes songs that are artistic; he stays true to his own style. He embraces occasional discord and creates music that often requires a cerebral approach to be appreciated.”
In “A Little Night Music,” says Gustafson, “the audience can expect to see a very funny show with some of the most beautiful music in the history of theater, sung by actors with spectacular voices.”
The cast features Mark Mavetz (Berwyn), Justin Triezenberg (Naperville), Randall Knott (Montgomery), Stan Austin (Wheaton), Steve Schroeder (Warrenville), Peter Lemongelli (Cicero), Pam Turlow (Elmhurst), Brynn Frantz (Bolingbrook), Teresa Arnold (Hoffman Estates), Heather Miller (Naperville), Karen Bronson (Oak Park), Teresa Reinalda (Mount Prospect), Patty Yuen (Lombard), Becky Messerschmidt (Glen Ellyn), and Susan O’Byrne (Hinsdale).
The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 19-Nov. 10, and 3 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 21 and 28 and Nov. 4, at the theater, Butterfield Road and Park Boulevard in Glen Ellyn. For tickets and information, call (630) 469-8230.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.