Thursday, June 21, 2018

Three Ideas Hidden in A Little Night Music, Revealed by Music Director Tom Vendafreddo

Musical Director Tom Vendafreddo reveals some of the background information he researched for BoHo's production of A Little Night Music:

Theme and Variations

A Little Night Music was originally intended to be a musical and theatrical representation of Theme and Variations, Stephen Sonheim's favorite musical form. Theme and Variations is a musical structure where the primary material is repeated, but in altered forms. For example, the composer might change the rhythm, the melody, or the orchestration of the “theme” in order to create a variation. Mozart’s Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" (1785), known in the English-speaking world as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” exemplifies a number of common variation techniques. Here is a great video of Alberto Lodoletti playing the piece.

Early on, at the beginning of the A Little Night Music, Madame Armfeldt would shuffle her cards and Act 1 was a farce. She’d shuffle again and Act 2 was a tragedy. After the third shuffle, the show would end with a romantic comedy. If you've seen the show, you know that ultimately the creators decided that a farce was the proper genre for the piece. According to Sondheim, “Hal Prince once described the show as being ‘whipped cream with knives,’ but he was more interested in the whipped cream and I was more interested in the knives.” No surprise there!

Rule of Threes

One element of the original conceit that remains is Sondheim’s use of triple meter for every song in the show (a Theme and Variations on ¾ time, if you will). Sondheim writes, “A score of waltz variations would be appropriate, and would supply a structural thread that could help cohere a disparate group of songs.” Throughout the score, Sondheim riffs off of countless triple meter styles, including the Polish Mazurka and Polonaise, the Latin Bolero and Saraband, the Italian Tarantella and Barcarolle, the Austrian Ländler, the French Gavotte, and the multinational Elegie.

Many of the styles mentioned above are recognizable as dance forms. And how fitting that a farce about the switching of partners to find the “right match” would be accompanied by a score of social dance forms! This is only the beginning of the synthesis between the number THREE and the subject matter in A Little Night Music. The plot revolves around several different love triangles, for one thing. Another interesting thing to note is that most solos have three very distinct verses or sections of music. In “Liaisons,” Madame Armfeldt talks of three past lovers, while in “Miller’s Son,” Petra muses on three potential husbands (the miller’s son, the businessman, and the Prince of Wales). Also, in songs that are duets, two characters are usually singing about a third person! So you see, the significance of THREES is not only embedded into the musical score, it is also a large part of the subject matter, the plot, and the relationships.

Drawing From History

There are countless influences throughout the Night Music score, including Mozart and Maurice Revel. The title of the show is an English translation of Mozart’s popular Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major. Not only does Mozart’s piece share an elegance found in many of the “Night Waltz” pieces throughout the show, but a serenade, by definition, is a song performed in honor of someone else. (Think of a man standing below his lover’s window belting it out.) Though there are many indirect references to Ravel’s harmonically complex music, the opening chords of “Liaisons” are taken directly from his “Valses nobles et sentimentales.”

Tom Vendafreddo is a Jeff Award-winning music director/actor with Chicago credits at Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare, Writers Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Porchlight Music Theatre, and BoHo Theatre (where he garnered his first Jeff Nomination for music direction of THE SPITFIRE GRILL). Regional credits include: Old Globe Theatre, Mason Street Warehouse, Capital City Theatre, Musical Theatre Heritage, Chestnut Fine Arts Center, and Red Mountain Theatre Company. Tom is the proud founding Artistic Director of the Chicago Artists Chorale. BM: Eastman School of Music. MFA: San Diego State University

Thursday, May 31, 2018

BoHo Announces New Artistic Director

BoHo Theatre is excited to announce that Stephen Schellhardt will become BoHo’s new Artistic Director beginning next season. Schellhardt has been the Artistic Associate with the company since 2015. He assumes the position from outgoing Artistic Director Peter Marston Sullivan, who will remain with BoHo as the new Artistic Associate.

“While I have absolutely loved being a leader in this fantastic company for almost a decade,” Sullivan says, “I’m afraid it’s come to my attention that I have very little time to do anything other than theatre! Due to my recent nuptials, I thought it might be advantageous to spend a little more time with my wife.”

Peter Marston Sullivan has helmed the company since 2010, when he took over for founding Artistic Director Steve Genovese. During his time as Artistic Director, Sullivan has steered BoHo through a number of major changes. Early in his tenure, he helped retool the company’s mission to focus more specifically on interpersonal relationships. During this time, BoHo also left behind the 30-seat Heartland Studio in Rogers Park to produce more consistently on larger stages at Theater Wit, Stage 773, and the Greenhouse Theater Center. Under his leadership, BoHo has been recognized with 59 Jeff Award nominations. As Artistic Director, Sullivan directed BoHo’s acclaimed productions of Big River, Icarus, Pippin, Floyd Collins, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Amadeus, and Dogfight. He will also direct 110 in the Shade, which will close out BoHo’s 2018 season this fall.

“Leading a company is not easy,” says BoHo Executive Director Meg Love, “but Peter has made every day fun, exciting, and fulfilling. I am happy that he will remain in the company and continue to give so generously of artistic talents.”

Taking over for Sullivan, Stephen Schellhardt first worked with BoHo on its 10th anniversary celebration in 2014. He became BoHo’s Artistic Associate soon after. His productions with BoHo include Dogfight (choreographer – Jeff nominated), Fugitive Songs (assistant director), Urinetown (director – Jeff nominated), and creating and directing BoHo’s ongoing cabaret series at Stage 773. Previously, he served as Producer and Casting Director at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, and has directed and choreographed at Timber Lake Playhouse, Summer Theatre of New Canaan, and Ars Nova in New York City. He is a founding member of The Chicago Artists Chorale and a proud graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. Currently, Schellhardt is a faculty member at Northwestern, where he recently directed the 87th Annual Waa-Mu show. He is also producing and directing BoHo’s freedom-themed summer cabaret The Open Road.

“I am humbled by the trust that the talented, dedicated and energetic Company and Board has placed in me,” Schellhardt says. “I am excited to continue growing BoHo and introducing fresh, inventive programming. In addition to our cabaret series, I am also captivated by the idea of establishing a play-reading series, master classes, and educational outreach for young, aspiring creatives.

Schellhardt also emphasizes his commitment to finding a new permanent theatre space for the company. Over the past three years, the company has been fundraising while actively looking for an adaptable theatre venue to call home. “BoHo is a family,” he says, “and it would be fantastic to establish a landing place where actors and creative artists can return and continue their relationship with us for years to come.”

“I am very excited for this transition,” says Love. “I think the infusion of new blood in leadership positions always holds such promise for new energy and ideas. Stephen brings with him a wealth of knowledge and talent. He has a unique artistic viewpoint that I think is exuberant, fresh and smart. But most of all, he is a joyful human being who so clearly makes the relationships in his life his greatest priority.”

BoHo will close out its 2018 season with 110 in the Shade, directed by Peter Marston Sullivan, at Theater Wit September 27 through December 17. BoHo’s 2019 season, marking the company’s 15th anniversary, will be announced later this month.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Removing the Pretention and Finding the Truth In "Cyrano"

Somewhere in the midst of an incoherent ramble, I stopped talking. I had nothing left to say and everything left to say. I was tongue-tied and tired, and four weeks into rehearsing Cyrano for BoHo Theatre, the largest show I had ever directed.

My ramble came courtesy of a question that was asked of me by BoHo Marketing Director Charles Riffenburg during an interview that was (supposed) to be used for marketing purposes. (Look for it on the DVD extras!) Chuck’s question dealt with the amount of theatre being produced in Chicago and wondered, with all the choices that the Chicago theatergoing public had, why someone should come and see Cyrano.

I immediately dug into a word salad full of themes and platitudes about the importance of Chicago Theatre, it’s aesthetic and how this adaptation of Cyrano seemed to be tailor-made for Chicago (9 actors, playing 20 roles over the span of 15 years). I had just finished reading Richard Christiansen’s fantastic book on the history of Chicago Theatre, A Theatre Of Our Own: A History and Memoir of 1001 Nights In Chicago and I was all hopped up on the idea of Chicago Theatre and what that idea represented: honesty, passion, scrappiness, innovation, intelligence. Cyrano has all these traits, so why not make Cyrano a direct reflection of what it means to make theatre in this city! I was going to honor BoHo and Chicago and all those that came before me. With this production of Cyrano, I was going to honor my idea of Chicago Theatre!