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An Evening of Sondheim
Philharmonic | SuperPops Series

Overture from Follies

Comedy Tonight from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Pretty Lady from Pacific Overtures

You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Company

It Takes Two from Into the Woods

Agony from Into the Woods

Children Will Listen from Into the Woods

A Weekend in the Country from A Little Night Music

Our Time from Merrily We Roll Along

- 20-Minute Intermission -

Stavisky Suite

Broadway Baby from Follies

Green Finch and Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Not While I'm Around from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Saturday Night from Saturday Night

Anyone Can Whistle from Anyone Can Whistle

Not a Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along

Getting Married Today from Company

Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music

Sunday from Sunday in the Park with George

About the Concert

The Dayton Philharmonic, in collaboration with Joe Deer and the next generation of Broadway stars from the acclaimed Musical Theatre program at Wright State University, salutes Stephen Sondheim, one of the most influential musical theatre creators of our time. Known for musicals that faced the contemporary world head-on, with lyrics filled with wit and complexity, Sondheim was the creative genius behind such favorites as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Into the Woods,” and “Sweeney Todd.” Join us as we pay homage to one of Broadway’s greats.

Featured Artists

Joe Deer and Greg Hellems, Stage Directors

F. Wade Russo and Matt Ebright, Musical Directors, Wright State University

Joe Deer, Producer, Wright State University

Dr. Nathan Nagir, Director, School of Fine and Performing Arts Combined Chorale

Alexis Ariana, Lindsay Bates, Kyle Channell, Samantha Evans, Tanner Gleeson, Abby Grace, Taylor Greny, Spencer Hall, Anna-Kate Kuszynski, Kevin Lausche, Kendra Lodewyk, Andrés Martinez, Melissa Mataresse, Emma Metzger, Eamon Mitchell, Julie Murphy, Ben Ohnemus, Hannah Rollins, Dan Rosenbaum, Anderson Rothwell, Nick Salazar, Tommy Thams, Alex Tischer, Sara Tuohy, Amy VanDyke, Trinity Wolff

Wright State Fine and Performing Arts Combined Chorale

Neal's Notes

“Where’s Waldo, er, Neal?” (Part 2)

Back in September, when I wrote my Neal’s Notes column for November 2022, I used the title “Where’s Waldo, er, Neal?” for an article about the background and benefits of yielding my November podium time to guest conductors and Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds. 

I had no idea there’d be a “(Part 2)” to the story. No idea that I’d find out in October that I had prostate cancer (thankfully treatable and likely curable). I had no idea that I’d be opting for the surgical treatment route in November. I had no idea that I’d have my pesky prostate removed in early January. And no idea that the recovery period would knock me out of my scheduled January and February workload.

So after a planned podium absence in November, I’m in an unplanned podium absence until the beginning of March. Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds will fill in for me for this month’s Sondheim SuperPops and next month’s Young People Concert and Polish-themed Masterworks program. 

As Associate Conductor, Pat has a variety of duties. He’s the conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He has certain programs he conducts each year—mostly in the pops, rock, and education. And he’s the “cover conductor” for just about everything else. Covering means two things, both absolutely critical to the Orchestra’s success. When all is well, covering means sitting in the auditorium listening to rehearsals, ready to answer questions from the podium (“Can you hear the clarinet?” “Are the trumpets too loud?”), and to give other feedback to the conductor. But when the unexpected happens and the conductor can’t conduct, covering means stepping in and taking over. 

In my 28-plus years as Conductor of the DPO, Pat has never had to/gotten to fill in for me. But now he does. And he gets to take over some wonderful programs that I was excited about conducting. But hey, I’m really excited about hearing them from the audience, too. And that’s exactly what I’ll do, starting with “An Evening of Sondheim” at the SuperPops on January 20 and 21. 

I first heard the name Stephen Sondheim when I was 14 years old, and what I heard wasn’t too good. My parents and I had just moved to suburban Boston, and I was getting a new violin teacher (who, incidentally, turned out to be the best teacher I ever had—in my very first lesson, he somehow changed me from a “squeaky violinist” to a violinist who could make a decent sound). His name was Channing Kempf, and when he wasn’t teaching kids how to play the fiddle, he was a freelancer in the Boston area. He played in several orchestras and pick-up groups, but his main regular gig was to play in the pit for touring musicals. This was 1969-1972, when Broadway musicals still played in Boston before they opened in New York. So a frequent topic of conversation in my lessons (besides vibrato, second and fourth position, and lots more about getting a good sound) was about the shows Mr. Kempf was playing.
For some reason, one of those conversations—March or April of 1970—is stuck in my memory. Me: “Any new shows lately, Mr. Kempf?” Him: “Playing one now, and it’s terrible. Company by Stephen Sondheim. He’ll never get anywhere.” 

Channing Kempf: a great teacher, but maybe not the best judge of future Broadway success! When I saw Company a few years later (a student production at Yale), I understood why he said what he said. Mr. Kempf liked the old-style musicals—Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, Camelot—but Company was one of the first musicals that was really modern, both in its subject matter (a critical, jaded look at courtship and marriage) and musical style (with a little bit of rock-and-roll feeling beginning to creep in). On the other hand, I liked Company, so when I had the chance to play in the orchestra for a student production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in 1974, I went for it. And loved it. 

I’ve been a Sondheim fan ever since. I missed Pacific Overtures while studying in France, but when I returned for grad school in New York, I saw Sweeney Todd with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. Caught the fabled (and doomed) original production of Merrily We Roll Along the Friday night when they announced it was closing on Sunday. I flew across the country from Portland to see Sunday in the Park with George (and cried several times at how beautiful and amazing it was). Drove from Syracuse to Manhattan to go Into the Woods. Missed Assassins (until a very good—but very loud—production here in Dayton a couple of years ago) and saw Passion on another trip to New York.

So I’ve seen a lot of Sondheim, but only conducted one show: Pacific Overtures, 20 years ago at the Human Race Theatre Company. It was a great experience: a stripped-down production on the Race’s Musical Theatre Workshop series with Sean Flowers on piano, Jane Varella on percussion, me conducting (plus adding extra touches on keyboard and percussion), and a fabulous racially–and a gender-diverse cast featuring George Takei in the lead role of The Reciter. George had never done a musical before and didn’t read music. The Reciter doesn’t have to sing—just speak—but a lot of their lines are spoken in rhythm above Sondheim’s music. So I—a major Star Trek fan—spent hours coaching “Mr. Sulu” for his musical debut. George did great and has gone on to perform the role in several regional productions and also Off-Broadway. But he did it with me first!

In other words, I REALLY wish I could conduct “An Evening of Sondheim.” But health and longevity come first, so I’ll be happy to hear it with you from the audience. And I’ll see you onstage in March and in the audience until then!
PS. Many thanks to everyone for your get-well wishes. As I write this (just 72 hours after being wheeled out of the OR), I’m feeling great, and everything’s going better than I’d expected. Hopefully, that trend will continue!
PPS. If you—or your partner—have a prostate, get your PSA checked. Prostate cancer is cancer, but catch it early, and it is usually curable.

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