“Sondheim is a genius”: an interview with COMPANY musical director, Ian Southgate

In advance of this week’s performances by the Brentwood Operatic Society, COMPANY musical director, Ian Southgate, took a few moments out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the “genius” of Stephen Sondheim’s music:

How are rehearsals going? 

Very well.  With only days to go, we’ve done several run throughs and the songs are continually improving.  The cast energy is good and all the actors are getting into character well.  Our full dress rehearsal last Sunday was very successful.

This is the second time you’ve directed a Sondheim production for Brentwood Operatic Society [Ian was musical director for “A Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum”].  How  are you finding COMPANY?

I’m really enjoying it.  This is a meatier show and the music is much more complex.  Sondheim is so different from anyone else – he marries his words and music perfectly.  As you sing, it sounds like dialogue, it just fits together so well.   Sondheim is a genius.  Working with [COMPANY director], Emma Sweeney, has been a delight.  She’s really helped the actors find their characters.

Sondheim is notoriously challenging.   How do you approach rehearsals?

Sondheim is daunting, even for the seasoned of professional performers.  But I love a challenge.  As a musical director, I love seeing performers develop.  The key with Sondheim is to break the songs down.  A lot of COMPANY is about rhythm.  So I get the performers to practice speaking the lyrics before we gradually build up to the music.  Get the rhythm, then the pitches and then put everything else on top.

For any theatregoers not familiar with Sondheim or COMPANY, what can they expect from the show next week?

Always expect the unexpected with Sondheim.  He is a master of writing.  You will be singing the songs from the show for a week afterwards because you can’t get the tunes out of your head.  COMPANY has more recognisable songs than you might realise [‘Being Alive’, ‘Ladies Who Lunch’, ‘Side by Side’, ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’].  The show really has the ‘wow’ factor:  it’s witty, heartbreaking, thought provoking and slapstick in equal measures.

Do you have a favourite song from COMPANY?

“Marry Me a Little”.  I just love the point in the show where song where it’s sung [end of act 1]. It leaves you hanging during the interval, and desperate for Act 2 to begin so you can find out what happens next.

Tickets will be available for purchase online until midnight on 30 October 2011.  Afterwards, tickets may be purchased at the Brentwood Theatre on 01277 200305 or on the door on the evening of the performance (pending availability).

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