The Price of Sondheim's musicals

by Kyra Atekwana '14

As an actor and director, Lonny Price has a depth of experience with the work of Stephen Sondheim. He is best known as the original Charley Kringas in Merrily We Roll Along and as the director of New York Philharmonic concert productions of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Company and other shows. On Tuesday, December 3 as part of the Learning From Performers program at the Office for the Arts, Price will be lead a master class with Harvard undergraduates, as well as sit in on a run of Company, which runs December 5-8 at Farkas Hall. I had a chance to chat with Price about Sondheim,Company, and working in the theater.

You clearly like Sondheim’s work. What is it you like about it?

The complexity of it. His work reflects what real emotions are like in that they’re complicated. The best example, I think, would be "Sorry, Grateful" from Company. You’re both sorry that the person is there, and you’re grateful that the person is there. Things don’t exist in primary colors. They’re more complicated than that, and the reflection of that in Sondheim’s work speaks to the truth of the situations. That appeals to me as an actor and as a director.

The work of Sondheim is done so often. How do you go about making his work your own?

The shows I’ve been doing are mostly in these concert forms with the New York Philharmonic. So there’s a given that the orchestra is going to be on the stage. Company was mostly staged on love seats. The idea was that we couple a lot. Bobby was a guy in a single chair. He wasn’t really willing to share his space with other people. So, with very limited space, we decided instead of an apartment we would give each couple a couch as a metaphor for relationships as being two by two or one by one. What I try do with the concerts is find a visual representation or a metaphor for an idea that reflects what the show’s themes are. It sounds very simplistic, but you don’t have a lot of time or space in these productions.

What do you think about younger performers doing Company?

The idea that you guys shouldn’t be playing people older than you is silly to me because there’s just not enough literature to be playing your own ages. And in terms of Sondheim, he’s kind of the Shakespeare of musical theater, so it makes sense to cut your teeth on what is the best. I think there’s enough universality, especially in terms of the lead and the three women being frustrated with the guy. All of that is highly relatable to people your age.

What is it you like about giving master classes?

I love to teach. I think it’s probably the thing I like best. You’re giving someone a tool to use to grow as an artist. I think it’s important to give back and work with people that are younger than you and pass on what you’ve learned and what you know, so that the craft and the profession will survive, and people can learn from the past and expand the form. I’d love to do more teaching.

Do you have any advice for those hoping to go into theater?

Be very adaptable to what is available to you. Don’t be pigheaded about the way you need to express yourself as an artists. It doesn’t have to be on Broadway and you don’t have to be a movie star. Don’t limit yourself by deciding it has to be a certain way or take a certain path. I don’t think I know anyone who’s my age who ended up where they thought they’d be. And those that seem the happiest are the ones that were the most flexible and adaptable to what was presented to them.

Lonny Price's master class is free, and tickets are not required. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

[Caption: Lonny Price]

[Caption: Price in the 1981 Broadway show "Merrily We Roll Along." ]