With the production, PTC proves that it's more alive now than ever before — the new musical that brings African-American music idioms to the beloved show music of composer-lyricist Sondheim is the inaugural staging in PTC's sparkling new 365-seat Suzanne Roberts Theatre, which enjoyed an open house/unveiling Oct. 21 followed by an opening gala Oct. 22.
Sara Garonzik, artistic director of the company devoted to Philly premieres or world premieres by contemporary American writers, considers Being Alive a de facto world premiere, even though it was seen in late summer at Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut.
"Being Alive is totally new," she said with the touch of hyperbole you'd expect from an artistic leader whose troupe has reached a major goal — a permanent home where they can control their own destiny.
"Since Westport," she told Playbill.com, "we put this back into rehearsal — it rehearsed for five weeks, songs have been cut, it's a largely new cast, the script has changed, the design has morphed into new elements. It really has transformed. So I consider this very new."
The freshly constructed revue of Sondheim songs (officially opening Oct. 31) merges Sondheim's genius with Shakespeare's poetry — and infuses both bards in African-American musical styles. According to PTC, "Being Alive is a unique musical fusion which blends four decades of Stephen Sondheim's inventive music and lyrics with the passion and style of jazz, blues, soul, R&B, hip-hop and gospel. Using Shakespeare's 'Seven Ages of Man' from As You Like It for dramatic structure, director-conceiver Billy Porter brings it all to vibrant life in this joyous celebration…" The Philadelphia production includes some holdover cast members from the show's August-September world premiere at Westport Country Playhouse.
Conceived and directed by Billy Porter, who worked closely with Sondheim to make the show happen, the ensemble cast features Bryan Terrell Clark, Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper (who appeared in Westport), Vanita Harbour, Patina Miller, Jesse Nader, Leslie Odom, Jr. (who appeared in Westport), Nandi Walker and Barrymore Award nominee Rema Webb (who appeared in Westport).
The score includes "Send in the Clowns," "Pretty Women," "Children Will Listen" and "Being Alive," among many others.
Philadelphia Theatre Company's new Suzanne Roberts Theatre is located at Broad and Lombard Streets.
Commercial producers Susan Dietz, Paula Holt and Jayson Raitt are attached to the show, hoping to shepherd it to a wider future.
As an actor, Billy Porter has appeared on Broadway in Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named Moe, Grease, Smokey Joe's Café, Dreamgirls and Hair and Off-Broadway and regionally in Romance in Hard Times, The Merchant of Venice, House of Lear, Radiant Baby, Birdie Blue, Topdog/Underdog, Angels in America, Going Native, Songs for a New World, Jesus Christ Superstar and Jelly's Last Jam. His one-man show, Ghetto Superstar: The Man That I Am, debuted at the Public Theater and was nominated for both a 2005 Drama League Award and a GLAAD Media Award.
The Being Alive production team includes set designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Anita Yavich, Tony Award-winning lighting designer Kevin Adams, sound designer Rob Killenberger, choreographer AC Ciulla (Tony and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for Footloose), music supervisor James Sampliner (Broadway's Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer and Brooklyn: The Musical), and vocal director, arranger, and orchestrators Michael McElroy (Grammy nominated for "Great Joy! A Gospel Christmas") and Joseph Joubert (Grammy nominated for "Beautiful Star").
Philadelphia Theatre Company's dramaturg for Being Alive is Warren Hoffman.
Performances will play Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $10-$63, with discounts for students, seniors and groups. Tickets are available by calling the PTC box office at (215) 985-0420 or visiting www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.