The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Nov15Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Musicals, Opera, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Adam VonAlmen, Alex Parker, An Evening With Stephen Sondheim, Brittny Congleton, Clayton Burchell, David Erem, Everett McCorvey, Gilbert and Sullivan, Margo Buchanan, Pamela Perlman, Patrick Joel Martin, Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd, Transylvania University, UKMOO
Brittny Congleton loves Stephen Sondheim’s music but has always been told that college students are too young to sing it.
“They’ll say, ‘Until you’ve had two divorces and suffered through alcoholism, how can you possibly understand Sondheim?” says Congleton, 22, a Transylvania University graduate.
But there she was in the rehearsal room at UK’s Schmidt Vocal Arts Center, devouring “A Little Priest,” the number from Sweeney Todd in which Congleton as murderous Mrs. Lovett and Alex Parker as the “Demon Barber from Fleet Street” joke about all the people they have cooked into their pies.
“‘Sweeney’ is wonderful because you are exposed to Sondheim’s manic genius,” Congleton says. “He wrote this terrifying music about a demon barber, but it’s still so honest – it’s really scary, but based on incredible truth.”
Congleton and Parker’s performance will be part of “An Evening With Stephen Sondheim,” on Thursday at UK’s Memorial Hall.
It is the second production of the UK Musical and Operetta Organization, or UKMOO, which debuted with a Valentine’s-themed show at Natasha’s Bistro & Bar on a snowy night in February 2008.
The group’s formation exemplified one of the beauties of college: students using their skills to make opportunities for themselves.
The two opportunities that UKMOO forged were presenting musical theater and operetta, something that neither UK Theatre nor UK Opera Theatre do on a regular basis, and giving undergraduates more opportunities to perform.
“The main focus of the group is undergraduates and people from the community,” says Patrick Joel Martin, 22, a senior from Louisville. “Most of the leads in the opera productions are graduate students.”
The original plan for UKMOO’s second act was a full production of “Company,” Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning drama revolving around a man on his 35th birthday and his group of married friends and girlfriends.
Martin, who’s directing Thursday’s show, had studied “Company” through the summer and had some ideal casting lined up, including UK student Adam VonAlmen as commitment-phobic Bobby and Lexington attorney Pamela Perlman as acerbic, oft-married Joanne.
But it became clear, Martin says, that because of classes and other performance demands, some key players wouldn’t have enough time to devote to a full-fledged “Company.” So, on the advice of faculty advisers Everett McCorvey and Margo Buchanan, they changed the production to a Sondheim revue. The audience will get a taste “Company”: VonAlmen and Perlman will perform their characters’ big numbers – ”Being Alive” and “The Ladies Who Lunch,” respectively – as part of the show.
“Sondheim isn’t performed much around here,” Martin says. “The thing I like about this is it gives people a look at the breadth of his work.
“Some composers, like Mozart, you hear something and immediately recognize that’s Mozart. But there are things people have heard in this show and said, ‘I didn’t know Sondheim wrote that.’”
Sondheim has his fans in the cast, but the show has been an introduction to the Broadway legend for a few cast members, including Parker, who plays Sweeney.
“He has interesting melodies that start in one place and then don’t go where you expect them to go,” he says. “It’s been a real growing experience.”
In addition to “Company” and “Sweeney,” Thursday’s show will include numbers from “Into the Woods,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park With George” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Next, Martin says, UKMOO will dip into the operetta pool with a Gilbert and Sullivan revue during the spring semester.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich