Signature Theatre to stream virtual Stephen Sondheim tribute for 72 hours

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Signature's Sondheim tribute (Part 1)

Broadway was rocked by the death of the legendary Stephen Sondheim in November.

This weekend, Signature Theatre presents “Everybody Rise: Signature Remembers Stephen Sondheim,” which streams online for 72 hours from Friday through Sunday.

“I think we were all afraid it was going to happen for a very long time,” Actress Tracy Lynn Olivera told WTOP. “Basically [Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner] emailed us asking if you’d like to participate and just said, ‘Send me back a couple songs you’d be comfortable throwing up last minute.’ We all apparently returned 10 songs because we all loved him.”

The concert was recorded live on Dec. 13 and is now presented with little editing.

“I’m sure they cut out some applause breaks, but I don’t think it’s going to be much of a difference between seeing it live,” Olivera said. “You’re getting it warts and all. I had one lyric flub that I personally think was really funny. The cool thing is you get to experience actual live theater, as opposed to the production we recorded of ‘Simply Sondheim.'”

You’ll hear such iconic numbers like “Broadway Baby” (“Follies”), “(Not) Getting Married Today” (“Company”), “Giants in the Sky” (“Into the Woods”), “A Boy Like That” (“West Side Story”), “Send in the Clowns” (“A Little Night Music”), “Pretty Women” (“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”) and “Sunday” (“Sunday in the Park with George”).

“I know that Signature wanted to cover every one of his major shows, so you’ll hear something from ‘Assassins’ to ‘Follies’ to ‘Company,'” Olivera said.

What made Sondheim’s showtime lyrics so darn special?

“He writes the way you speak,” Olivera said. “‘Into the Woods’ opens with, ‘I wish more than anything, more than life.’ … He writes in speech rhythm. No one has ever written lyrics and rhymes like he did, and no one ever will again, not to that level. The complexity of his rhyme schemes. … He was the greatest musical theater composer of our time.”

His decades-long career spans from esteemed legends to new visionaries.

“He bridges the gap,” Olivera said. “He worked with Oscar Hammerstein, he worked with [Leonard] Bernstein, all the old-school guys, Jule Styne, but then he bridges the gap into modern musical theater [with Jonathan Larson and Lin-Manuel Miranda]. The fact that he was around for so long and writing for so long, we are so lucky to have had him.”

Fittingly, the virtual concert was recorded on the set of Signature Theatre’s “Rent.”

“We’re on the set of ‘Rent,’ which is hilarious and the opposite of Sondheim,” Olivera said. “It’s an alley staging in the round, so the camera guys had their work cut out for them. … It’s one at a time, people come out, do their thing and go back. The lighting is lovely.”

You can enjoy the show even if you don’t think you know Sondheim’s work.

“If you’ve ever enjoyed musical theater of any kind, this is worth watching,” Olivera said. “If you like ‘Hamilton,’ he influenced ‘Hamilton.’ If you like ‘Wicked,’ he influenced Stephen Schwartz, who wrote ‘Wicked.’ I guarantee you will recognize songs. You’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was him. He’s that guy.’ You have no idea how much of this guy’s canon you know.”

Of course, it’s even better for all of you Sondheim diehards out there.

“This is his greatest hits,” Olivera said. “This is all the songs you know and love. … To me, Sondheim is like coming home. It’s the first professional show I ever did with ‘Sweeney Todd.’ … There’s something about his music that holds to our memories and really taps into our feelings. The people that already appreciate that will find a lot to love in this.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Signature's Sondheim tribute (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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