How Chicago-area theaters gave Stephen Sondheim musicals a boost

  • Stephen Sondheim arrives at the premiere of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in Los Angeles in 2007.

    Stephen Sondheim arrives at the premiere of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in Los Angeles in 2007. Associated Press

  • Actors Richard Kind, left, Jane Powell and Howard McGillin pose in the lobby of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2003. The actors starred in "Bounce," a new musical by Stephan Sondheim.

    Actors Richard Kind, left, Jane Powell and Howard McGillin pose in the lobby of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2003. The actors starred in "Bounce," a new musical by Stephan Sondheim. Associated Press

  • The Witch (Kelsey Burd, left) warns her adopted daughter Rapunzel (Kim Green) about the danger that awaits in the woods in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's 2017 revival of "Into the Woods," by Stephen Sondheim and writer James Lapine.

    The Witch (Kelsey Burd, left) warns her adopted daughter Rapunzel (Kim Green) about the danger that awaits in the woods in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's 2017 revival of "Into the Woods," by Stephen Sondheim and writer James Lapine. Courtesy of Ellen Prather

  • Paul-Jordan Jansen plays Sweeney Todd in the production of "Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora in 2017.

    Paul-Jordan Jansen plays Sweeney Todd in the production of "Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora in 2017. Liz Lauren

  • Sweeney Todd (Gregg Edelman) and his partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovett (Liz McCartney) dance (literally) on the graves of their victims in Drury Lane Theatre's 2011 production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "Sweeney Todd."

    Sweeney Todd (Gregg Edelman) and his partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovett (Liz McCartney) dance (literally) on the graves of their victims in Drury Lane Theatre's 2011 production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "Sweeney Todd."

 
 
Updated 11/27/2021 7:44 AM

Chicago arts institutions played an important part in the development of two musicals by Stephen Sondheim. And the American theater legend who died Friday at age 91 also has been celebrated by suburban venues over decades.

The world premiere of "Bounce" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2003 marked the final collaboration between Sondheim and director Harold Prince, who had worked on a number of musicals written in part or in whole by Sondheim like "West Side Story," "Sweeney Todd," "Company" and "Pacific Overtures."

 

But the 2003 Goodman version of "Bounce" was not a critical success, and Sondheim later reworked the show as "Road Show" for a 2008 off-Broadway production with director John Doyle, who in 2005 won a Tony for directing a Broadway production of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd."

Before the "Bounce" effort, the Pegasus Players in Chicago helped revive Sondheim's unproduced 1950s musical "Saturday Night" with a 1999 American-premiere production that later became available for regional licensing in the 2000s.

Also in the 2000s, the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park produced a string of summer concert stagings of Sondheim musicals such as "Sweeney Todd," "A Little Night Music" and "Sunday in the Park with George," often starring Tony Award-winning stars Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris.

That culminated in Ravinia's 2010 salute to the composer in honor of his 80th birthday, with Sondheim songs conducted by frequent collaborator Paul Gemignani and performed again by Tony winners.

Sondheim work has appeared in suburban theaters, too. The Paramount Theatre in Aurora staged a production of "Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in 2017; the Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook did one in 2011. The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights put on Sondheim's "Into the Woods" in 2017.

A revival of "West Side Story," for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics at the beginning of his career, opens at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire in February 2022. The Paramount staged its own production in 2016.

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