Eric McCormack, Cynthia Dale on Sondheim’s ‘A Small Evening Music’

Chat to me about Stephen Sondheim and our conversation could final for hours. I’ve prolonged been fascinated by his preternatural melodies and incisive lyrics, and how they’ve formed the modern-day American musical.

I could check out to explain Sondheim’s unmatched genius or why his performs remain so enduringly preferred, but Cynthia Dale already explained it best: His exhibits are “full of the wrinkles of lifestyle,” observed the Canadian tv and stage performer. “If you’re at all a flawed specific or the sort of man or woman who strives or goals or struggles, then you acknowledge all of that in his tunes.”

The “Street Legal” actor is no stranger to Sondheim’s operate. She’s appeared in every little thing from the showbiz-centred “Follies” to the Tony-winning “Passion” her current solo demonstrate “Take the Moment” even highlighted tracks from the composer-lyricist’s expansive catalogue.

From Friday to Sunday, Dale will headline a live performance output of Sondheim’s “A Tiny Night Songs,” signing up for a business that includes “Will & Grace’s” Eric McCormack and Stratford Festival favourite Dan Chameroy.

It’s been 18 months because Sondheim died in 2021, at age 91. With this star-studded forged established to consider on a single of the musical mastermind’s most legendary displays — on the 50th anniversary of its first Broadway bow, no significantly less — I was eager to catch up with some of the actors to talk about Sondheim’s legacy and his effect on their occupations.

For McCormack, Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” was just one of his initial enjoys. The musical, about a vengeful barber who groups up with a baker downstairs to turn his customers into meat pies, “truly captivated” him as a teenager, he reported.

And nevertheless he never ever observed the show’s original Broadway production, McCormack understood the score backwards by listening to the cast recording. He later auditioned for, and was accepted to a theatre program just after substantial university, by singing “Johanna” from the musical.

“So that started my romance with Sondheim,” stated McCormack, speaking right before the commence of rehearsals. “It’s the most refined things that we get a possibility to do in the musical theatre.”

McCormack recalled assembly Sondheim yrs afterwards, when the actor was invited to conduct at a Hollywood Bowl concert in 2005 celebrating the American composer’s 75th birthday.

It was a rehearsal, McCormack stated, and up onstage were being Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, stars in the initial cast of “Sweeney Todd.” They were being managing the show’s pun-crammed, 1st-act finale, “A Tiny Priest.”

“I walked to the very again of the Hollywood Bowl, to soak that in: the two of them accomplishing their first track,” he mentioned. “And then I could see, going for walks up the stairs, any individual else who clearly experienced the similar notion. And as he got closer, I understood that it was Stephen.

“He sat down on the other facet of the aisle and all I stated was, ‘Hi, hi Steve.’ And he stated, ‘Oh, hello, Eric.’ And that was it,” McCormack ongoing. “We sat there and I just could not quite fathom that I was looking at the first Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett while Stephen was sitting throughout the aisle from me.”

At its essence, Sondheim’s get the job done is nothing at all far more than notes and phrases on a webpage. But the way he arranges individuals elements, injecting these complexity and originality — but never ever compromising compound for design and style — has pushed the sort ahead additional than any other author since Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Through his approximately seven-decade career, Sondheim been given 7 competitive Tony Awards for works this kind of as “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Into the Woods” and “Company.”

His 1973 musical “A Tiny Night Tunes,” with book writer Hugh Wheeler, is arguably Sondheim’s most experienced piece. Created nearly completely in the waltzlike, 3-quarter time signature, and regarded by some as a light opera as a substitute of a traditional musical, it wistfully explores complicated themes of motivation and regret.

Dependent on the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film “Smiles of a Summertime Evening,” the musical follows the internet of relationships amid a variety of partners in Sweden at the starting of the 20th century. In addition to featuring one particular of Sondheim’s most well-known songs, “Send in the Clowns,” the musical features some of the writer’s greatest lyrics. (Inside rhymes never get significantly much better than this: “The hip-tub … About that hip-bathtub … How can you slip and trip into a hip-tub?”)

“He has a great deal of phrases, they seldom repeat precisely the similar way, but his melodies are generally distinctive,” mentioned Chameroy, who performs the philandering Depend Carl-Magnus Malcolm and sings that ingenious lyric. “When you get on the Sondheim train, there’s no way off.”

With fewer than a 7 days to the to start with efficiency, I was invited to observe a rehearsal of “A Minimal Night Music” in the course of the Victoria Day long weekend.

Staging any theatrical output is a challenging job, but putting on a Sondheim musical, with all of its usually concealed intricacies, calls for a Herculean effort and hard work. All the more so when you have considerably less than two months of comprehensive rehearsal, as was the case for director Richard Ouzounian (former Toronto Star theatre critic) and his team.

At the rehearsal I attended, the scene was a single of controlled chaos, however the temper remained mild and playful. In the centre of the space, McCormack and Dale talked by way of their entrances and exits for a scene in 1 corner, 4 performers worked on accurately timing their dialogue with orchestrator Jonathan Tunick’s underscoring elsewhere, actors Tess Benger and Edmond Clark have been cleaning up a elevate.

“If you imagine it is uncomplicated, then you’re just not doing the perform ideal,” mentioned Dale of Sondheim’s materials.

She performs Desiree Armfeldt, a as soon as-profitable actor who no more time prospects “the glamorous lifetime.” Desiree is torn in between Chameroy’s Rely Malcolm and her previous lover, Fredrik Egerman, performed by McCormack.

But as challenging as the material is, Chameroy also mentioned it’s incredibly gratifying to take a look at the several layers of Sondheim’s get the job done.

“As I get older and I appear back again at the lyrics, my relationship with the product as an viewers member and an actor is a lot further,” he mirrored. “It’s beautiful to type of come to this materials and look into it when yet again many years later and see lifetime as a result of a different lens.”

That quality of Sondheim’s get the job done — its paradoxical universality and specificity — is probable why it has ongoing to be produced in excess of and around once again. This Broadway year by yourself has introduced revivals of “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods,” while up coming time will see a output of “Merrily We Roll Along” with Daniel Radcliffe.

Sadie Laflamme-Snow, who plays Fredrik’s young wife, Anne Egerman, mentioned she believes it’s Sondheim’s subtle topicality that can make his work come to feel so resonant, no subject when or where by it plays.

“Some of the points that are taking place in the environment correct now are so darkish and it would be truly hard to tackle them head on in musical theatre,” she explained. “But there is a little something about a great deal of Sondheim’s do the job and its capacity to contact on the profound or the darkness in the world with out remaining as well in your deal with.

“And what I consider audiences are craving are these profound themes about humanity and men and women and modern society.”

The Royal Conservatory of Music’s concert manufacturing of “A Very little Night time Music” runs at Koerner Corridor, 273 Bloor St. W., from Friday to Sunday. See for tickets.

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