Musical company

JAM Orchestra Salutes Sondheim with Blank Theater Company at Evanston Concert – Chicago Tribune

The power and beauty of the late incomparable composer Stephen Sondheim’s works will be showcased when the 30-piece JAM Orchestra is joined by 10 actors/singers from the Blank Theater Company to perform “Marvelous Moments: The Music of Stephen Sondheim” on June 25 at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

“I was planning to do a concert in Sondheim to celebrate his 90th birthday in March 2020. Obviously that didn’t happen,” said JAM Orchestra artistic director and conductor Aaron Kaplan of Northbrook. “The intention was always to have singers join us.”

Kaplan discussed his concept with longtime friends and associates Danny Kapinos and Dustin Rothbart, co-artistic directors of Blank Theater Company, who offered to supply the singers.

“Aaron Kaplan conducted the music for a few of our shows,” said Rothbart, a Northbrook native. “My working relationship with him goes back to high school. It was a natural progression when he approached us and asked if this would be a day we were interested in.

Rothbart, who is an actor, will star in the show. Kapinos, who is a director, will direct.

Kapinos, from Park Ridge, reported that “every single singer we’ve asked to perform at this event is thrilled because they understand what a special and rare opportunity this is.”

“It’s a good combination because both of our bands are younger, they’re newer bands,” Kaplan noted. “They aim to put on high quality productions. Our goal is to provide high quality orchestral concerts.

He added that both bands had an affinity for Sondheim and, following the composer’s death in November, “It seemed like a good time to do a gig”.

“In my opinion, Stephen Sondheim was not only one of the greatest musical theater writers, but one of the greatest artists of all time, in the same category as Shakespeare and Mozart,” Kapinos said. “He was the master of his craft.”

The three men worked together to develop the program.

“I wanted to make sure we did at least one piece from every show that Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for to show off his wide range and prolific songwriting,” Kaplan said.

Selections will include the opener to “Merrily We Roll Along”, “The Last Midnight” from “Into the Woods”, “Me and My Town” from “Anyone Can Whistle”, “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” from “Follies , ” and much more. They will also perform several selections of film scores written by Sondheim. This will include “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy,” for which Sondheim won an Oscar.

Rothbart will be soloing on “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park with George.” He will also sing the role of Sweeney Todd in the “Johanna Quartet” from “Sweeney Todd”, and is a member of the quartet singing “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” from “Follies”.

“It’s rare that an audience can hear so many musicians on musical theater pieces,” Rothbart said. “The singers are really excited to do this.”

The musicians of Jam Orchestra are equally enthusiastic about participating in this concert.

Viola player Elizabeth Shepherd, a Northbrook native who lives in Mundelein, has performed with the JAM orchestra since its inception in 2018. Shepherd started playing the viola when she was eight years old. She earned a viola degree at North Park and has performed with the Northbrook Symphony and the Evanston Symphony, as well as other organizations.

Shepherd is a huge Sondheim fan who has performed with orchestras for productions of “Into the Woods.”

“Aaron has impeccable taste,” Shepherd said. “I can guarantee you that any program that Aaron Kaplan is responsible for will make everyone happy.”

Kapinos agreed that this will be true for all “Marvelous Moments” audience members.

“Hearing some of these songs performed live by top singers and a 30-piece orchestra is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.

‘Marvelous Moments: The Music of Stephen Sondheim’

When: 7:30 p.m. June 25

Where: Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston

Tickets: $25; $20 students/industry


To note: Spectators must wear masks and present proof of vaccination.

Myrna Petlicki is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.