Feature: SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at The Garden Theater

Stephanie Amber finds magic, challenges in SNS musical salute to Sondheim

By: Sep. 01, 2023
Feature: SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at The Garden Theater
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As she gets ready to perform in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, Stephanie Amber admits presenting Stephen Sondheim’s works leaves her stomach, as well as her tongue, in knots.

Amber joins a talented cast of singers tackling the Sondheim Songbook in a fundraiser for the Short North Stage. The show runs Sept. 8-10 at the Garden Theater (1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus).

“His name immediately instills a little bit of fear with a lot of respect,” Amber said. “Outside of the insanity of the lyrics and the melody, it's (nerve wracking) performing music from such a musical titan.

“You want to do a good job, and make sure the work of a legend is brought to life in a (powerful) way. For me, it causes a little bit of fear, but it’s more excitement than anything else.”

Sondheim, who died at 91 on Nov. 26, 2021, was known for creating beauty within the chaos of his lightning fast delivery of lyrics (witness the 653-word “I’m Getting Married” from COMPANY) and monstrous mouthfuls like this: “Rooting through my rutabaga, raiding my arugula ripping up the Rampion My champion!” (“The Witch’s Entrance” from INTO THE WOODS).

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM gives theatergoers a glimpse behind the curtain of “the father of the modern musical,” who brought to life, INTO THE WOODS, ASSASINS, COMPANY, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and more. The performance also has a multimedia presentation of pictures, films, and interviews with Sondheim as Amber, Amber Knicole, Dionysia Williams, Shauna Marie, Thom Warren, Corbin Payne, Cary Mitchell, and Edward Carignan perform his works.

Amber joined the fund raiser as a way of repaying a debt to the Short North Stage for reigniting her love of music theater.

“We have a beautiful theater (scene) here in Columbus, but there's nothing like the Short North Stage,” Amber said. “What they're doing there is nothing short of remarkable.”

When Amber was eight, her mother introduced her to musicals with CALAMITY JANE. From that moment on, she was a musical junkie.

“I was completely obsessed with CALAMITY JANE) and Doris Day,” she said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I'm going to be her when I grow up.’ I realized if I could focus, work hard, and learn more about music, maybe someday I could do what those actors did.

“However, it took me an exceptionally long time to find confidence. I had severe stage fright growing up. I found it exceedingly difficult to be on stage in front of people and not be so much in my head.”

Amber attended the prestigious American Musical and Drama Academy in New York City to pursue her dreams. AMADA made Amber take a hard look at her skill set as a performer in “a way I didn’t anticipate.”

“Everything was put under a microscope as I figured things out,” she said. “Acting was like this beautiful, comfortable blanket you have in high school. When you get into college, there’s this awakening of having to search deep for these characters.”

After AMADA, Amber left musical theater and ended up forming the duo of Honey and Blue with Adam Darling in Los Angeles in 2013. The two came to Columbus for a recording session and never left.

The two recently released, “Bloom,” an album of 10 original songs. The record was produced by Charlie Hunter, who has collaborated with John Mayer, Mos Def, D’Angelo, and Norah Jones.

“So much of my musicality and my songwriting actually comes from musical theater,” she said. “I love how you could tell a story, move people, and bring these characters to life in less than three minutes.”

Knicole, the lead singer of Mojo Flow as well as a star of several Short North productions, urged Amber to try out for SNS’ LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

“I was a little fearful because I hadn’t been in a musical for so long, but she encouraged me to go out on a limb and audition,” she said.

Although she wore out her mother’s copy of INTO THE WOODS when Amber was young, the singer admits this is her first time performing in a Sondheim piece.

“You have to be so intentional every time you're working on his music,” she said. “His lyrics and these insane, gorgeous, syncopated rhythms and melodies are coming out of left field. Every time you think you know where a song is going, you turn the page over and you're like ‘Oh no.’ It's what makes it so much fun.”

Amber remembers feeling a sense of loss when she heard Sondheim had passed away.

“The ridiculous part of my brain always hoped someday I would meet him, even if I were to pass him on a street corner,” she said. “I’d tell him about the impact he’s had not only on me, but on so many others.

“But that’s the thing about legends. They don’t ever leave us. And that’s a beautiful thing.”


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