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BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 Below

The renowned author and producer is taking his long-standing show to the internet.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 BelowImpressario Phil Geoffrey Bond has created some great things in his life, from the books he has written to his own company, Above Deck Entertainment, and this month he adds filmmaker to his list of achievements. In collaboration with Feinstein's/54 Below, Mr. Bond has created a film version of one of his famed SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED shows. The series, celebrating ten years of performances in New York City, has been entertaining sold-out houses since its inception, with Bond always in the host seat providing facts and tidbits about Stephen Sondheim, his work, and his effect on others. Mr. Bond takes great care to curate the talent for each episode of the ever-changing revue, and his newest cast is one greatly representative of the times in which we live: with a diverse lineup of young talent from the Broadway and nightclub stages of Manhattan, the film promises to be one of the most exciting installments of Sondheim Unplugged to date.

I already know much of Mr. Bond's story, but I thought it was time the public got to know the man behind Sondheim Unplugged, so I asked Phil if we might have a chat and he said to me: "Does anyone still have a chat?"

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Phil Geoffrey Bond, welcome to Broadway World! Thanks for chatting with us today. Let's start with something that all three-named people should be asked: how do you like people to address you?

Phil or "PGB" is what most people use. I'm pretty open as long as it's not "Dirtbag" or something.

You are the creator of the series Sondheim Unplugged, which has a long history in the nightclub scene of New York City. Before developing the show ten long years ago, had you had any background in the club industry?

Oh yes - I've worked in clubs since I graduated college. Producer/writer/actor. I was the Director of Programming of The Duplex Cabaret Theatre, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, and the first Director of Programming for 54 Below, later Director of Original Programming. By 2010, I was fortunate enough to have five MAC Awards as well as some other nice awards. My long-running series, New Mondays, ran for many years. It was one of the first series to present composers and their new material. We had all sorts of great people - Stephen Schwartz, Jason Robert Brown, Henry Krieger, Michael John LaChuisa, Maltby & Shire, Charles Strouse, Tom Jones, Galt MacDermott - all debuting new songs in that little room in the village (The Duplex). The show culminated in a big celebration concert at the Lucille Lortel Theatre which was such an amazing night. It was a pretty thrilling time. By the time we started Sondheim Unplugged, I'd probably produced at least 100 shows in various venues and created six or seven series.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 Below

Let's talk numbers... How many installments of Sondheim Unplugged have there been in total, and how many do you average a year?

I think, when we stopped in February due to Covid, we were at performance 92 in New York. That's not including the various other places we've taken the show like London, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and various theatres here and there. We average ten a year in New York, and maybe four or five in other places. So pretty much, every twenty-five days or so, we're doing the show somewhere.

Was the show an immediate hit or did it take time to find the following that it now has?

It built quickly but took a month or so to really take off when we started out at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd Street (prior to our move to Feinstein's/54 Below). We were papering like crazy for the first few performances but word spread quickly and we were turning people away by month two. That doesn't happen often in cabaret so it's something we're all really proud of. We have such devoted and lovely audiences who come again and again since the show changes every time. I've met people, post-show, from Belgium, Hungary, Australia, Scotland, France... you name it. Folks plan their NYC trips around our shows. There is just no greater compliment.

Each installment of the show is written, curated, and produced by you, and that involves a lot of research over ten years' time - is there anything left for you to learn about Sondheim and his history? Or is it fair to say that you know all there is know?

No one besides Sondheim will ever know all there is to know. He's fascinating and, as you know, SO prolific Every time I think I might know it all, I learn something new either from a book or an interview or an audience member. Sometimes a vocalist in the show will sing a song in a way that causes me to re-examine it and see it from a different angle. That's part of Sondheim's brilliance - the songs just keep giving, as do the shows.

You are a writer by trade; when you first began hosting Sondheim Unplugged, were you immediately comfortable in front of the audience, or was there a learning curve that went along with the growth of the show?

Well, I also have a BFA in acting from NYU/Tisch. The guy who hosts Sondheim Unplugged isn't really me - he's more like a shade of me. It took some time, like anything, to find my groove with the material and the audience. There is always a learning curve. Still, every show, I have to go out there and find it again, the groove that works for THAT night, like any performer.

Was it your intent to create a series that would last ten years, or was the longevity just a happy byproduct of the show's popularity?

It was just supposed to be four shows slated for July 2010, filling space on the calendar during a slow summer at The Beechman. I had absolutely no idea I'd still be doing it ten years later.

You are about to present the first-ever virtual version of Sondheim Unplugged: put a picture in my head of what the fans can expect.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 BelowWell, we've changed some things up given that it's a different medium. Neither myself as host nor the brilliant vocalists have a live audience so it's just different. I call it Sondheim Unplugged: The Movie, which is fun. For this first one (I say that as though they'll ask us back!), we stuck to a lot of the big Sondheim chestnuts... Unlike the live show where we really strive to include some more obscure material, your readers will know most if not all of the songs intimately, accompanied by the brilliant Joe Goodrich on piano.

How was the experience of putting together your first online show? Did you film with a socially distanced audience? Did you enjoy it enough to continue this type of work moving forward?

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 BelowIt was great fun and yes, we took major Covid precautions. 54 outlined a whole set of guidelines which I shared with the cast before we moved forward with the filming. We were very careful and the rules were strictly adhered to. Because of the restrictions, as I mentioned above, there was no audience.

Other than the online show on the 26th, what does the future look like for you and Sondheim Unplugged?

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 BelowWell, we have the "movie" coming out on the 26th! Then, it will stream for a week or so after that, so we're hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible. I'm so grateful that we get to share this incredible music interpreted by such a dream cast. Then, we've gone into the studio and our fans can expect a series of Sondheim Unplugged cast albums to begin appearing next year from Yellow Sound Label. I'm very excited about this project! We couldn't do just ONE album, because there is just too much good stuff and too many great singers. So we'll probably release about one hundred tracks by the time the project is over. We'll also be making our fourth appearance in London on July 18th at Crazy Coqs right off Piccadilly. London loves Sondheim and has very graciously welcomed our little show.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 Below

Let's play a little rapid-fire game, shall we?

YES!

Your very first exposure to Stephen Sondheim was...

When I was fourteen PBS broadcast that amazing Scott Ellis production of A Little Night Music starring George Lee Andrews, Sally Ann Howes, Maureen Moore, Danielle Ferland, Regina Resnick, etc. I was just bowled over. Later that year, I got to run follow spot for a community theatre production of Side by Side by Sondheim. I was so enamored and couldn't wait for them to get to songs like Broadway Baby and Move On and Anyone Can Whistle... It was like a whole new way of storytelling and music-making. I couldn't believe musical theatre could be so unique, funny, sly, witty, beautiful, and completely original. I've actually been thrilled to welcome George Lee to the show on several occasions as well as Danielle. Full circle.

Speaking of my adolescence - I used to save my lunch money so I could walk to the local record store and special order the cassettes (yep) of EVERY Sondheim musical and I would put them in my tape recorder at night after everyone had gone to bed and listen to them over and over... I was enraptured. The only Madonna album I ever owned was Dick Tracy. So you can imagine how thrilling it's been to have worked with many of those very same voices who so graciously agree to be our special guests at Unplugged. We've had everyone from Len Cariou to Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, Jim Walton, the late Victoria Mallory, Pamela Myers, Harvey Evans, Annie Golden, Pamela Winslow, Donna McKechnie, Teri Ralston, Sarah Rice, Ann Morrison, Danielle Ferland... the list, happily, goes on...

That's one of the reasons I'm SO excited about our appearance in 54 Premieres... maybe some fourteen-year-old kid living in lord knows where will get his first exposure to Sondheim which will begin a lifelong love of theatre. Here's to you, kid.

The best Sondheim musical is...

Sunday in the Park with George.

Your personal favorite Sondheim musical is...

Sunday in the Park with George.

Your all-time favorite Sondheim performance, in a play, on an album, in a concert, on YouTube, all-inclusive is...

Mandy and Bernadette in Sunday. I'm also very fond of Dorothy Loudon singing Losing My Mind/You Could Drive a Person Crazy at Carnegie Hall. Billions of others, of course. Ben Wright in Woods, Donna Murphy in Passion... Oh - Joe Iconis and his crew used to do this wonderfully mad-capped version of Back in Business from Dick Tracy in Unplugged. Love that so much. There were kazoos!

The Sondheim song you sing most often is...

Now You Know from Merrily. I'm forever saying to myself "put your dimple down, now you know." Or sometimes, when someone says something I agree with, I'll say "Egerman, right, score one for you!"

The cleverest Sondheim lyric is...

"The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not."

The Sondheim that most tugs at your heartstrings is...

No One is Alone.

The pre-existing work that you dream Sondheim would have musicalized is...

The Last Year at Low Tide by Phil Geoffrey Bond or The Fall of Mrs. Parsons, which also happens to be by Phil Geoffrey Bond. Kidding aside... I'm no one to tell Mr. Sondheim what to musicalize... he's doing okay there.

Phil, thank you again for chatting with us today. I'm a great admirer and supporter of this series. I'll be watching on December 26th!

You're the absolute best. Thank you, Stephen.

Aw shucks.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 Below

Photos provided by Phil Geoffrey Bond. On-set photos by Richard Peri.

Sondheim Unplugged airs December 26th: for information and tickets click HERE.

Below, please see the Feinstein's/54 Below press release for the entire 54 BELOW PRESENTS series that is premiering SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED. The series has aired two concerts already, both of which are currently available for streaming, with more shows being planned.

BWW Interview: Phil Geoffrey Bond of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at 54 Below

Holiday concerts from Broadway Princess Party and Norm Lewis and a new show from Sondheim Unplugged will kick off the series

(New York, NY) Feinstein's/54 Below is thrilled to announce a new streaming series, 54 Below Premieres. These curated concerts will feature cinematic, four-camera HD shoots to bring the glamour and intimacy of Broadway's Living Room directly to in-home screens. Each show will be designed and directed especially for streaming by an award-winning production team, with audio and video that reflect the high standards of presentation that have made evenings at Feinstein's/54 Below New York's most unique cabaret experiences.

These virtual performances, which will provide theater fans worldwide with artistic content from their favorite Broadway stars, will be performed and recorded on Feinstein's/54 Below's iconic stage, with no public audience and following strict COVID guidelines to maintain a safe environment for all the artists and staff.

54 Below Premieres will kick off with a special yuletide edition of a beloved show with Broadway Princess Holiday Party (starring Laura Osnes, Susan Egan, and Courtney Reed with special guests Aisha Jackson and Adam J. Levy and musical director Benjamin Rauhala) on December 12, followed by Norm Lewis (with special guests Sierra Boggess and Pastor Bobby Lewis and musical director Joseph Joubert) on December 17, and Sondheim Unplugged (featuring Darius DeHaas, Natalie Douglas, Telly Leung, T. Oliver Reid, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Lucia Spina, hosted by creator Phil Geoffrey Bond, with music direction by Joe Goodrich) on December 26. All shows are at 8 pm. Future shows will be announced in the coming weeks.

Tickets are $25. Each premiere date will include a live chat for fans to interact with each other before and during the show. Following the initial premiere date, concerts will be made available on demand for two weeks and be accessible to fans across the world. To purchase tickets or for further information, visit 54Below.com/Premieres.

Broadway Princess Holiday Party - Premieres Saturday, December 12 at 8 pm Eastern Time & On Demand December 13 - 26

Brush off your tiara and unleash your inner princess with Broadway's original Cinderella, Belle, and Jasmine as they celebrate the season in this hit concert, live from the concert's original home, Feinstein's/54 Below! Two-time Tony-nominee Laura Osnes (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) Tony-nominee Susan Egan (Disney's Beauty and the Beast and voice of 'Meg' in Hercules), and Grammy-nominee Courtney Reed (Disney's Aladdin) host the festivities alongside their Fairy Godfairy and musical director extraordinaire, Benjamin Rauhala (Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof) and resident prince Adam J. Levy (Waitress) and special guest Aisha Jackson (Disney's Frozen).

Your every dream will come true as five knockout voices sing the petticoats off every princess and holiday song in the book, sharing hilarious and heartfelt stories of their royal antics backstage, on stage, and beyond! Critics call the show: "spectacular," "enchanting," "empowering," - this is the princess party you WISH you'd had as a kid. Catch the carriage and embrace the adventure - gather your besties, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mom, your kids, and anyone who will be tempted to sing along! Tune in for the virtual concert event of the season, and see what over 18 million fans are raving about on YouTube!

Norm Lewis - Thursday, December 17 at 8 pm Eastern Time & On Demand December 18 - 31 Norm Lewis and his holiday shows at Feinstein's/54 Below have become a New York City tradition over the past five years and this year will be no different as Broadway's charming and acclaimed leading man returns to perform a very special concert this year-online! Each December, Norm's festive sold-out shows help ring in the season, and audiences travel from across the globe to join in the hottest party in town. This year, we bring Norm and his holiday cheer direct from Broadway's Living Room into your home.

Norm will be joined by his swingin' band: Musical Director Joseph Joubert on keyboards, George Farmer on Upright & Electric Bass, and Perry Cavari on Drums & Percussion. He and the boys will perform material from the past shows, songs from The NORM LEWIS Christmas Album, and some new songs he's excited to debut for you as he reflects on 2020. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander and Executive Produced by The Katz Company, the show will feature special guests: the extraordinary Sierra Boggess and Norm's cousin, the renowned Pastor Bobby Lewis, as well as a few surprises. So, cozy up with your favorite libations and snacks and let Norm bring you real joy in a year when we all need to have our spirits lifted!

Sondheim Unplugged - Saturday, December 26 at 8 pm Eastern Time and On Demand December 27 - Jan 9 We're Still Here! Silenced since February, the Company of our award-winning series, Sondheim Unplugged is thrilled to be Back in Business, this time in the comfort of your own living room (what an Epiphany!) A celebrated New York event since 2010 (It's a Hit!), Sondheim Unplugged features some of Broadway and cabaret's most dynamic voices, accompanied by piano only, delving into the musical world of Broadway's master composer. Hosted by series creator Phil Geoffrey Bond, expect fun facts and tidbits about the original productions and an evening well spent with Old Friends. God, That's Good!

Featuring Darius DeHaas, Natalie Douglas, Telly Leung, T. Oliver Reid, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Lucia Spina, Sondheim Unplugged is created and hosted by Phil Geoffrey Bond, with music direction by Joe Goodrich.

Visit 54below.com/Premieres to purchase tickets or for more information on the series.

MORE ABOUT FEINSTEIN'S/54 BELOW:

Feinstein's/54 Below, Broadway's Supper Club & Private Event Destination, is a performance venue in the grand tradition of New York City nightlife. A few blocks from the heart of Times Square and just below the legendary Studio 54, Feinstein's/54 Below is a classically designed state-of-the-art nightclub in the theatre district that hosts audiences with warmth and style. Feinstein's/54 Below presents iconic and rising stars from the worlds of Broadway and popular music and has set a new standard for culinary excellence worthy of the world-class entertainment on the stage.

Located at 254 West 54th Street, Feinstein's/54 Below is currently closed, pending New York State official re-opening policies. For more information, visit 54Below.com/Feinsteins


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