PASSION at Signature Theatre - A Musical About Obsession and Romance

There is no other theatre in the country that produces more Stephen Sondheim musicals than the Signature Theatre. Thank you Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer.

Now they are presenting PASSION featuring music and lyrics by Sondheim with a book by James Lapine.

The musical opens in 1863 Milan. The play is about Giorgio (the superb Claybourne Elder), a handsome young captain in the Italian army who is having an affair with a beautiful married woman named Clara (the wondrous Steffanie Leigh). The first number takes place in a bed with the two in a rapturous embrace. They sing the gorgeous duet "Happiness" where it is revealed they met in a park by chance. Giorgio reveals that he has been transferred to a frontier outpost and they agree to keep in touch with letters. Clara promises to write every day.

At his frontier post, Giorgio joins the other soldiers and during dinner hears screams from above the dining room. Colonel Ricci (the talented Christopher Mueller in for Will Gartshore) explains the screams are from his cousin Fosca (Natascia Diaz in a role she was made to play). Sondheim in his book "Look I Made a Hat" describes her as "an ugly, sickly, woman, preternaturally thin and sallow, her face all bones and nose, her hair pulled tightly back." Talk about acting against type!!

After Giorgio lends some books to a very appreciative Fosca, she sings the haunting "I Read to Live".

The two visit a castle garden and once again Fosca sings to Giorgio about her initial infatuation of him. She sings a lovely melody about how she observed him as soon as he arrived. She laments "I saw that you were kind and good. I thought you understood." She continues, "Don't reject me, Don't deny me Captain. Understand me, be my friend..."

After Fosca forces a love note to Giorgio, he requests leave from his Colonel to visit his true love Clara. What follows is a repeat of "Happiness" but this time as a complex trio for Giorgio, Clara, and Fosca.

Doctor Tambourri (John Leslie Wolfe who not only appeared in PASSION at the Kennedy Center but in the Original Broadway Cast) treats Fosca for all her maladies and implores Giorgio to attend to Fosca at her bedside where he feels she is letting herself die due to her being rejected. Fosca then dictates a letter for Giorgio to write about Fosca. The moving ballad "My Dearest Fosca" is powerful. She sings, "I wish I I could forget you, Erase you from my mind. But ever since I met you. I find, I cannot leave the thought of you behind".

After Giorgio falls ill and gets forty days leave (to visit Clara), Fosca shows up on his train. This is the turning point of the show. She sings the most beautiful Sondheim ballad "Loving You".

"Loving you is why I do the things I do. Loving you is not in my control. But loving you I have a goal for what's left of my life...I will live and I would die for you."

Giorgio now is perplexed about his relationship with Fosca. He returns Fosca back to his post.

I will not continue any more. It is imperative to keep some mystery to the experience.

You will not forget PASSION nor experience love the same way after you see it.

The excellent ensemble includes Rayanne Gonzales, Gregory Maheu, Ian McEuen, Katie Mariko Murray, Lawrence Redmond, Bobby Smith, Harrison Smith, and Eleanor Todd.

Having seen the Tony-winning Broadway production in 1994, it is such a treat to see it in the intimate 277 MAX Theatre. PASSION by the way only played 280 performances and holds the record for the least amount of performances for a Tony-winning musical. But do not let this fact keep you away.

When you walk into the theater you immediately notice the ceiling is filled with flowers and chandeliers. Lee Savage has designed a splendid set that featured two-sided bleachers with a runway in the middle. Put down some ice and you would have a great place for the Olympic sport of Curling.

On one side is an iron spiral staircase, on the other side a balcony which holds the superb 14 piece orchestra playing the lush Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick who I was thrilled to meet when he was honored a few years ago at the Signature. Musical Director Jon Kalbfleisch was off for this performance and Associate Conductor William Yanesh picked up the baton.

The Costumes by Robert Perdiziola were spot on. There is a nice article in the program and how he did his magic. The lighting is just plain brilliant. Kolin K. Bills has done a masterful job. Ryan Hickey id the superb sound. Not one lyric is lost.

Putting it together is Director Matthew Gardner who does a masterful job, especially in light that the actors must always remember there is an audience to their backs.

This is a PASSSION for the ages. Do not miss it this intermissionless classic.

I hope Signature replenishes the gift shop with more copies of the PASSION CD.

PASSION runs until September 23. For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

"Inside Signature: Will Gartshore takes place Sept. 6 from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Mead Lobby where he will speak to Education Director David Zobell about playing two very different military men in Sondheim's musicals.

Next up is HEISENBERG playing September 18 to November 11 in "The Ark" Theatre.

And get your tickets now for musical BILLY ELLIOT which runs October 30 to January 6, 2019.

THIS AND THAT

MAMMA MIA! runs until September 9, 2018 and is selling out quickly. Please, do not miss it! For tickets, call 410-730-8311 or visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Next up at Toby's is AIN'T MISBEHAVEN running September 14 to November 4, 2018.

Baltimore Center Stage has just announced their new Artistic Director, Stephanie Ybarra. Ybarra comes from New York's Public Theater where she currently serves as Director of Special Artistic Projects. She will transition to Center Stage beginning in October and join the staff full-time in December.

Olney Theatre Company presents SOUTH PACIFIC opening August 31 until October 7. Make note of their three noteworthy one night only concerts: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (October 12, 2018), FINIAN'S RAINBOW (March 15, 2019) and CHILDREN OF EDEN (July 26, 2019).

Another Sondheim hit musical SWEENEY TODD heads to the Rep Stage in Columbia running September 6 to September 23.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is at Round House Theatre from August 29 to September 23, 2018.

The Kennedy Center continues with HAMILTON (until September 16).

The Hippodrome has LES MISERABLES for one week starting October 9, 2018.

Jason Robert Brown's Tony-winning musical THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY continues until Sept. 2 at the Keegan Theatre.

DANCING AT LUGHNASA comes to Everyman Theatre running September 4 to October 7.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF opens the season at Baltimore Center Stage beginning Sept. 13 and running until October 14.

Shakespeare Theatre Company opens with THE COMEDY OF ERRORS running from September 25 to October 28, 2018.

Folger Theatre has MACBETH from September 4 to Sept. 23.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER September 28 to October 21, 2018.

Baltimore's Vagabond Theatre has SHAKESPEARE'S R&J running Sept. 7 to Sept. 30.

Fells Point Corner Theatre has SEX WITH STRANGERS Sept 14 to Oct. 7.

Spotlighters has LYSISTRATA September 21 to October 14, 2018.

Beginning September 12 at the Studio Theatre is IF I FORGET until October 14, 2018.

The Broadway star for THE COLOR PURPLE and Tony-winning British actress Cynthia Erivo will be performing at the Baltimore Symphony's2018 Gala Concert Saturday night, September 15 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50. Call 410-783-8000.

PBS has just announced its fall 2018 GREAT PERFORAMNCES line-up which will commence on Friday, November 2 and continue November 9, 16, and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m. Look for the Tony Award-winning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a live production recorded in the UK of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, John Leguizamo's latest theatrical showcase "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway", and "Harold Prince - A Director's Journey, a retrospective look at the 60-year career of this Tony Award-winning producer and director.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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