2015-04-29 / Features

Sondheim Comes To APAC

BY GEORGINA YOUNG-ELLIS


Actors rehearse for the upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at APAC. 
Photo Bradley Hawks Actors rehearse for the upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at APAC. Photo Bradley Hawks Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) will be bringing New York audiences the organization’s first ever Stephen Sondheim musical this spring, Merrily We Roll Along. First produced on Broadway in the early 1980s, the show will also be the first musical directed at APAC by its new Artistic Director Dev Bondarin. Based on a Kaufman and Hart play of the same name, George Furth wrote the book, and Sondheim provided the music and lyrics. This show has always been a favorite of Bondarin’s partly because she’s always been interested in how time functions in a play. The show charts the course of 20 years in three characters’ lives from 1950s New York City to the 1970s. However, the interesting feature of the story is that it is told backward, beginning with a tense moment in the life of main character, Frank Shepard, and then, through eight key scenes that illustrate certain choices he made for good or bad, moves back in time to the point of optimism and hope where he and his friends first started out.

Bondarin grew up in New York City on Union Square, and went to Friends Seminary Day School. There she had a drama teacher who instilled in her the love, not just of performing, but of putting on a complete show as a group effort. Bondarin built and painted sets, participating in all the aspects of constructing a piece of theatre. They performed in the meeting house at the seminary, creating something from nothing (not unlike what APAC does with every show in their performing space, the gymnasium at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent Street). Bondarin went on to study Art History at Brandeis, which, she mentioned, has strong student-run theatre clubs. She figured out how to take a heavy course load in her junior year so that in her senior year she could double major in art history and theatre, ultimately receiving an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. During her time at Brandeis, she was Assistant Stage Manager of Merrily We Roll Along, and became entranced with it.

“I love this show...it has stayed with me,” she said, adding that it has very familiar musical theatre songs, such as “Not a Day Goes By,” made famous by Bernadette Peters. People know of them as Stephen Sondheim songs, she said, but not always that they’re from Merrily.

Actually, the version that will be on the boards at APAC is not the original Broadway version, Bondarin stressed, because the show continued to be workshopped in New York and Los Angeles in the following months and years after that production closed. The final incarnation of the piece needed that time to take shape, she commented, adding that there was a very successful version done in 1994 at The York Theatre, and that is the version APAC is doing now.

“I find a lot of depth and great understanding in that,” she said. “It wasn’t there in the way they wanted it to be so they continued to work on it.”

She said she’s proud of the production team she put together to work on the show, working in close concert with Music Director Ming Aldrich-Gan and Choreographer Misha Shields, while the actors, she stated, are “tremendous.” Many of both the crew and cast are new to APAC, though there are a few veterans as well.

“Lots of people want to do this material,” she said. “They know of APAC even though they might not live in Astoria. They want to come be a part of our community and our professional world.”

She pointed out that there are 10 chorus members in the ensemble, who are used in the transitions between scenes as a way to help the main character, and the audience, discover where things might have gone awry.

When asked what she might say about the show to a potential audience member who is not necessarily a fan of Sondheim or musical theatre, she returns to the story.

“There’s something for everyone in this show. The ideas have the power to reach out and affect an audience in a way that has nothing to do with the performing arts or the music...it feels new and innovative, present, in the moment...a smart, savvy and meaningful story,” she said.

And to those who do love a good musical, she wants them to know the music is very “hummable,” adding that the audience will actually hear the reprises before they hear the songs, so that by the time they do hear them, they will already know them.

“It has a classic Broadway feel that will invite people in,” she said.

Merrily We Roll Along opens April 30 and runs through May 23. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and are available now at www.apacny.org.

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