Laura Hanson of the SIUE Department of Theater and Dance was recently had her article, “A Rose by Any Other Name,” featured in the Sondheim Review. The piece examines two Saint Louis based Sondheim productions, one put on by an opera company and the other by a theater company, and in doing so questions where the boundary between musical and operas lies and if there is one at all.
Hanson compared the production of, “Sunday in the park with George,” performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis production of “Sweeney Todd.” Sondheim’s work is typically categorized as being musicals, however several have become quite popular with opera companies. In this instance both Sondheim works shared the same venue, the Loretto-Hilton Center, within the same year yet their approach to the material varied considerably.
Hanson notes in her article that the contrast between these two companies approach to the material is fairly typical of their respective genre’s. Musicals typically take on longer rehearsal periods, more frequent showings, and smaller orchestral sections. By contrast opera companies typically focus more heavily on musical performance over acting and story, and feature a far shorter rehearsal time-line.
Hanson’s parents were both performers and theater teachers who got her hooked on musical theater at a very early age. Hanson shared that her first exposure to Sondheim was when her father brought home a record of, “Sweeny Todd,” from the library and insisted that she had to listen to the incredible music. Hooked from then on out Hanson went on to study musical theater and did her dissertation on Sondheim.
“You either love his work and really get it or you don’t,” Hanson shared.
Hanson explained that her love for Sondheim’s work comes from the combination of music and drama, and the way that his musical numbers are integral to the plots of his plays. In concluding her articles Hanson cites other experts on where Sondheims’s work falls between musical and opera with the general consensus being that there need not be a black and white definition, but that the work can exist somewhere on a continuum between the two.
Filed Under: Theater & Dance