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Norkin on Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim's successful 1970 musical, Company, has had well-received revivals in recent years, off-Broadway and in London. For me it will always be associated with a significant turning point in musical history which does not relate to Company itself. In "The Ladies Who Lunch" in Act Two, the bored and jaded urbanite played by Elaine Strich in the original cast sings cynically of the chic pastimes of her circle, referring at one point to "perhaps a piece of Mahler!" I'll drink to that!

With that glancing reference an entirely new level was reached in the evaluation of Gustav Mahler. Who would have thought he would ever become chic. Those of us devoted to this formerly abused composer would have settled for his place alongside the other greats in the standard symphonic repertoire. And the single most effective force in achieving that status was Sondheim's friend and collaborator Leonard Bernstein, who, as music director of the New York Philharmonic at the height of his popularity, launched an unprecedented Mahler festival in 1960, performing and recording all of the master's major works.

The leading man of Company, an eligible bachelor, was Dean Jones, who played with a circle of married friends. Jones was unhappy with his role during the tryouts. Director-producer Hal Prince agreed to replace him after the opening because there wasn't enough time to break in a replacement. That valiant person was Larry Kert, who had established himself in his debut as the lead in West Side Story. This was typical of Kert's career. In this case Jones received all the attention and reviews and recorded the cast album. Kert carried the long run. This gifted performer never had a successful vehicle for his talents apart from West Side Story and Company.







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