If Faye Nepon could have dinner with any famous person, living or dead, it would be Stephen Sondheim, hands down.
While it is highly doubtful that the Boulder singer’s wish will come true, local audiences will definitely get to vicariously cozy up to the musical theater genius at the tribute concert Nepon is presenting as part of music@theJ on Sunday, March 3, 7:00 pm at the Boulder JCC. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS.
While Sondheim, now 88, won’t be at the Boulder JCC for his tribute concert, his legacy will be on full display, marking seven decades of accomplishment unparalleled in the history of musical theater.
Why is Faye Nepon drawn to the works of Stephen Sondheim, and thrilled to be serving as artistic director and lead singer in ACE’s “Celebrating Sondheim: A Little Night Music?”
“I have adored musical comedy ever since being exposed to it by my parents as a really young kid,” she explains. “Early in the ‘70s, with Stephen Sondheim, I discovered what felt like a new genre to me – musical theater – real plays, with music.”
Nepon notes that Sondheim always wrote for actors, not singers, adding that when you sing Sondheim, you act the song.
“It’s always a challenge, always exhilarating,” she continues. “Whether witty, dark, hilarious, devastating, or tender – and at times uncomfortable – Sondheim’s work is always about the human condition. To study and sing his songs is not only a truly great musical experience, but it also teaches empathy. What a gift he has given us!”
Nepon recently found a quote by Sondheim that particularly excited her:
“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences,” Sondheim says. “Otherwise I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.”
Nepon has assembled a group of 15 singers – who will be accompanied on piano by Susan Olenwine – and selected compositions from 10 plays that best reflect Sondheim’s stylized blending of edgy text and compelling melody.
A few short film clips will be shown during the show, which conveys essential biographical details of his life and work.
An intensely private man, Sondheim grew up on the Upper West Side, pained by his parents’ divorce, lonely and isolated, an artist who gravitated to dark themes. He was fortunate to find a mentor in a friend’s father, Oscar Hammerstein.
Sondheim found early success working on “West Side Story” in the 1950s alongside four other Jewish geniuses: Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, and Harold Prince.
In the ‘60s, he teamed up with composer Jule Styne to write the lyrics for Gypsy starring Ethel Merman. Sondheim then wrote both lyrics and music for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a Zero Mostel farce based on comedies by ancient playwright Plautus. Sondheim won several more Tony Awards in the 1970s for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company, a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies, an homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music, a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd, a gory melodrama set in Victorian London that film director Tim Burton turned into a movie in 2007.
Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards (a record for a composer), eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The New York Times in 2017 stated: “It’s hard to overemphasize Sondheim’s influence on American musical theater. As a young man, he was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the songwriting duo who revolutionized musicals with “Oklahoma!” in 1943. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote fully integrated songs that advanced the plot and revealed hidden depths in their characters; in their hands, musical theater matured into a storytelling art form. Sondheim built on Hammerstein’s innovations by experimenting relentlessly with subject matter and form: from his early lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s music in the seminal “West Side Story” (1957) and for Jule Styne’s music in “Gypsy” (1959) to more than 50 years’ worth of scores that have pushed the boundaries and subject matter of musical theater in every conceivable direction. He is musical theater’s greatest lyricist, full stop.”
Faye Nepon is an eclectic singer, performing repertoire ranging from musical theater and jazz to Italian and Jewish song. During the twenty-five years she lived in Italy, she performed throughout Europe, including the Ghetto of Venice, the Jewish Cultural Center in Krakow, and the Yiddish Theater in the Warsaw Ghetto. Faye has appeared on television and radio, in film, and has recorded three CDs of Jewish music. Also a passionate educator, she teaches voice and piano, and directs the adult musical theater program, Broadway Boomers, at the Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette. Faye frequently performs in the Denver area with some of the finest local musicians, as well as singing and teaching regularly in Italy.
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