Houston's Sondheim Drought Won't End Anytime Soon

Categories: Spaced City
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Photo by CarbonNYC
TUTS has announced its musical choices for the 2009-10 season; the information is embargoed until Sunday, so we can't divulge it, but let's just say there are (as usual) no surprises.

If you're a Sondheim fan, you're out of luck. Not that we would expect TUTS to put on any Sondheim but, you know, hope springs eternal.

It's clear: Houston is a bad, bad place to be a Sondheim fan. Years can go by without a production, and even then it's typically Sweeney Todd, which we've seen, man.

We called Paul Hope, the actor behind the terrific Bayou City Concert Musicals, the non-profit group that puts on a weekend's worth of (almost always) exquisitely executed musicals as an annual fund-raiser. Cast and musicians work for $100 each, and since it's not a long run the best in local talent participates.

A while back, while talking to Hope as research for giving Bayou City a Best of Houston award, he told us he planned on choosing a Sondheim show every other year for the annual event.

Now, he's talking every five years.
Which, given the stunning productions Bayou City did of Assassins and A Little Night Music, is a development that -- as Sondheim probably wouldn't say -- sucks monkey balls.

"I haven't abandoned Sondheim -- it's just I thought I could build our audiences faster if I did older, more accepted titles," he says. "Then I can get away with doing a Sondheim show."

This year's show will be On the Town; after that it's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Finian's Rainbow and One Touch of Venus.

Part of the blame, Hope says, should go to Everett Evans, the Houston Chronicle stage critic. Bayou City depends on heavy amounts of preview coverage and then a review, and Everett has shown, Hope says, that he won't do that for shows that have been produced in Houston before, even if it was a relatively long time ago.

Evans is a Sondheim fan himself, it must be said, but Hope says Bayou City had to back away from doing Company because they didn't think they'd get the needed Chron publicity.

"I'm under a lot of pressure from him not to do anything that's been done before," he says. "Even with Company, I told him 'It's been done, yes, but this time it will be with a full orchestra.' Didn't matter."

So why does Houston shy away from Sondheim?

"I just think Houston audiences are more conservative," Hope says. A Little Night Music is a big-enough name, and Follies presents a chance to have beloved Houston stage vets appear again.

"Anything else, though -- except maybe Into the Woods -- and you start to have a dicey game," he says.

Your loss, Houston.





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