By Fredric Dannen
On September 15, 2021, Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist, appeared as a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and made a surprising announcement. Sondheim, then 91, had for many years been exalted as the greatest living songwriter for the musical stage. There are two theaters named after him, one on Broadway and the other in London’s West End. Though he had not written original songs for a new musical since 1994, it seemed he had nothing more to prove. And yet, that evening, Sondheim announced he was at work on a new show, Square One, based on two movies of the avant-garde filmmaker Luis Buñuel.
That Sondheim was coming out of retirement was the surprise. That he was planning to musicalize Buñuel was no surprise at all. Sondheim was known for turning offbeat subjects into shows. This was the man, after all, who gave us musicals about a pointillist painting (Sunday in the Park with George), a homicidal barber (Sweeney Todd), the westernization of Japan (Pacific Overtures), and historical figures bent on killing U.S. Presidents (Assassins).
Square One was not to be. Sondheim died November 26, 2021, leaving behind an extraordinary body of work. In the 1950s, he wrote the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy. Starting in 1962, with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, he wrote both words and music to all his shows. The 1970s brought Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd, followed by Into the Woods in 1987.
What every Sondheim fan knows is that beneath the seriousness and experimentation, there lurked a wicked, wonderful sense of humor. Many of Sondheim’s song are screamingly funny.
Lee Duberman, the San Miguel-based restauranteur who, with husband Richard Fink, runs Casa Papaya, is one of those knowing fans. Duberman and Fink are both theater veterans. In 2017, Duberman directed Little Shop of Horrors at the San Miguel Playhouse, featuring Fink, who returned the favor two years later by directing Duberman in a production of The Roommate, also at the Playhouse.
Between March 23 and April 2 (Thursdays through Saturdays at 7pm, Sundays at 3pm), the San Miguel Playhouse will present a revue created and directed by Duberman called Comedy Tonight: The Lighter Side of Stephen Sondheim, featuring a cast of ten singers and one witty Sondheim song after another. The performers, in alphabetical order, are Aliya Benabderrazak, Ulises de la Cruz, David Daniels, Fredric Dannen, Desiree Duncan, Clara Dunham, Richard Fink, Phoebe Greyson, Tara Lynne Khaler, and Tuti Lennon. Susan Varcoe is musical director.
The songs include “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” (Company), “Gee, Office Krupke” (West Side Story), “Agony” (Into the Woods), “Broadway Baby” (Follies), and “A Little Priest” (Sweeney Todd), among many others.
Reserved seat tickets are 600 and 500 pesos, and may be purchased at boletocity.com, or at the door starting an hour before the performance.
Comedy Tonight: The Lighter Side of Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Lee Duberman, musical direction by Susan Varcoe, with a ten-person cast.
Thurs. – Sat., Mar. 23 to 25, 7pm; Sun., Mar. 26, 3pm; Thurs. – Sat., Mar. 30 to April 1, 7pm; Sun., April 2, 3pm
San Miguel Playhouse
Av. Independencia 82