It wasn’t planned, but the early months of 2016 have become a Stephen Sondheim musical bonanza. Actor’s Express has just finished a version of “Sweeney Todd” and now Aurora Theatre is set to tackle one of the gay composer’s most famous works, “Into the Woods.” We caught up with Justin Anderson, one of the busiest directors around (including the gay-themed “Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” from last year) and Aurora’s associate artistic director, to tell us about his take on the musical.
Georgia Voice: So what drew you and Aurora to “Into the Woods?”
Justin Anderson: This is the third time I have danced with the material. I did a production when I was a high school teacher back in 2005 and then a production in 2014 at KSU, so when we were bandying around the Aurora schedule, this felt like kind of an anchor, with some familiarity. I didn’t want anything that felt reminiscent of the original production, or the film version that recently came out.
Where does this fit into Sondheim’s oeuvre?
I would say it’s probably one of his most accessible, like “Sweeney Todd.” It seems to be what the average Joe off the street knows.
Why does this show have such a gay appeal?
Lyrically, in Act Two, you get into (notions) such as the idea of fi guring it out, how to own your life and your pursuit of happiness and the choices you have to make.
Of course, in 1986 when Sondheim wrote this, it wasn’t an overt exploration of the AIDS epidemic, but it certainly has lots of overtones for the time period. It gets really dark, really fast. It was his way of exploring, both he and writer James Lapine. There is a lot of the blame game in Act Two – “It’s your fault; No, it’s your fault.” It’s an indictment of the Reagan administration, both overt and covert. It’s not like “The Normal Heart” though. It’s much more metaphoric.
Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, Atlanta Women’s Chorus join forces
Both organizations perform around town frequently but for the first time the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus (AGMC) and its sister organization, the Atlanta Women’s Chorus (AWC); join forces at an upcoming event. The concert “And Justice For All” is the project that has inspired the collaboration between the groups, collectively referred to as Voices of Note.
The inspiration comes both from a place of unity between the two choruses but also a desire to change hearts and minds through music, says Kevin Robison, artistic director of AGMC. “We sought an opportunity to perform together in something that is unique, not the norm. We do want to maintain our own identity, but we saw an opportunity and took it.”
Dr. Melissa Arasi, artistic director of the Atlanta Women’s Chorus since its inception three years ago, feels the concert is one that, despite its themes, is ultimately uplifting and inspirational.