Monday, April 30, 2012

A 'Passion' that took forever to come

I had a drama teacher in college who claimed that Sean O'Casey -- an Irishman who hadn't written a play in decades -- was the greatest living playwright. I asked how that could be. "Well," he replied, "O'Casey wrote the largest number of great plays -- all of them long before you were born -- and he's not dead."

By those standards, Stephen Sondheim -- who turned 82 last month and has written only one totally new show in 18 years -- is still our greatest living Broadway lyricist-composer. So it's surprising to realize his 1994  "Passion," which won Tony Awards for best musical, book and score, has never been done in Charlotte.

Queen City Theatre Company will fill this gap as of Thursday.  The company specializes in plays and musicals about outsiders longing to find acceptance or understanding from people unlike them, and this fills the bill: There's nobody more "outside" than Fosca, the obsessive and sickly woman who attaches herself to a military officer in 19th-century Italy. Though he thinks he loves someone else, the intensity of her passion overwhelms him. (Go to for details.)

So why hasn't this been done here before? Three reasons, I'd guess. First, it's musically tricky: not cut into easily absorbed songs, like "Forum" or even "Sweeney Todd," but sung in long, rolling waves of music that repeat with variations. Second, it's about a stalker -- there's nothing else to call Fosca -- and those folks are scary, however deeply they yearn.

Third, it's Sondheim. He's no longer Broadway news, and except for "Into the Woods," his works from the last 40 years don't get done much any more. This is a rare chance to see why he's still called -- correctly -- the greatest living lyricist-composer for the American stage.


WAnglais said...

You might want to think about changing that headline.