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     August 22, 2003 :
Passion' weekend celebrates this year's installment of Ravinia's 'Sondheim 75'

The Daily Herald
by Bill Gowen Classical music

The ongoing tribute to American music theater legend Stephen Sondheim continues at 8 p.m. today and Saturday when Ravinia's "Sondheim 75" series offers as its third installment "Passion," which won 1994 Tony Awards for "Best Musical," "Best Score" and "Best Book" (written by James Lapine).

Ravinia launched its "Sondheim 75" tribute with "Sweeney Todd" in 2001 and followed with "A Little Night Music" last summer. The final two shows in the series (yet to be announced) will take place next year and in Sondheim's 75th birthday year of 2005.

As with "Sweeney Todd" and "A Little Night Music," this will be a concert presentation with some staging and special lighting effects.

The conductor will be one of Sondheim's longtime colleagues, Paul Gemignani, who has led 35 Broadway musicals, with a special tie to Sondheim's many hit shows. They include the original productions of "Sweeney Todd," "A Little Night Music," "Passion," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Follies," "Pacific Overtures," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Into the Woods," "Assassins" and "Anyone Can Whistle."

Gemignani made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut last season when he conducted the Lyric's first production of "Sweeney Todd," with Welsh superstar Bryn Terfel singing the title role for the first time.

In 2001, Gemignani was honored with a lifetime achievement Tony Award for his contributions to the Broadway theater over three decades.

The stage director will be Lonny Price, who also staged Ravinia's "Sweeney Todd" and "A Little Night Music."

"The Ravinia Festival's approach to the works of Stephen Sondheim is to present the music as equal to the action," said Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman, the driving force behind the Sondheim tribute and the entire Ravinia music theater initiative, which was launched in 2001.

"The musicians of the Ravinia Festival Orchestra are front-and-center on stage with the actors. Not only do they share the space, but they share the goal of fully realizing the wit and drama inherent in Sondheim's compositions," Kauffman said.

The addition of Gemignani to the production was confirmed by Kauffman in mid-July, at the same time singing actor Michael Cerveris was announced for the key role of Giorgio.

Cerveris portrayed Giorgio to great acclaim in the recent Kennedy Center production of "Passion" in Washington.

"In Paul Gemignani and Michael Cerveris, we're delighted to add two more musical explorers to a creative team dedicated to this unique celebration of one of America's finest composers," Kauffman said.

Also headlining the cast are Patti LuPone as Fosca and Audra McDonald as Clara. LuPone also starred in Ravinia's productions of "Sweeney Todd" and "A Little Night Music," while McDonald, one of the reigning superstars of Broadway (three Tony Awards), will portray Clara. This will be only the third time this acclaimed duo will have worked together. They previously collaborated on the New York Philharmonic's production of "Sweeney Todd" and later in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

Other cast members for "Passion" are David Girolmo as Colonel Ricci, David Darlow as Doctor Tambourri, James Rank as Lieutenant Torasso, Paul Alessandro as Sargeant Lombardi, Roger Anderson as Lieutenant Barri, Brian Herriott as Major Rizzolli, Stephan Wallem as Private Augenti, Marilynn Bogetich as Fosca's mother, Ray Frewen as Fosca's father; John Clonts as Ludovic, Kymberly Mellen as the mistress and Cory Goodrich as Jacob Langfelder.

Based on the Italian director and screenwriter Ettore Scola's 1981 film "Passione D'Amore," the story for "Passion" is set in 1863, and involves a love triangle among an ailing older woman, a soldier and a young woman.

Tickets for "Passion" (subject to availability) are $45 and $85, with lawn seating $10. Be certain to call ahead if you don't already hold a ticket, because the previous two "Sondheim 75" productions were sold out.

Stephen Sondheim will be at Ravinia for tonight's performance, which will be preceded by a 7 p.m. conversation in which he will join Kauffman in an informal discussion about how "Passion" was created in the early 1990s. This special program will take place in the Martin Theatre, and is free on a first-come, first-served basis to regular ticket-holders. However, you must obtain a pass just outside the theater to be admitted.

For additional information, call Ravinia's box office today at (847) 266-5100 or visit www.ravinia.org.

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