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JAM Orchestra salutes Sondheim with Blank Theater Company in Evanston concert – Chicago Tribune

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

“I was planning on doing a Sondheim concert to celebrate his 90th birthday in March of 2020. Obviously, that did not happen,” said JAM Orchestra Artistic Director and Conductor Aaron Kaplan of Northbrook. “The intent was always to have vocalists 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 provide the vocalists.

“Aaron Kaplan has directed music for a couple of our shows,” said Northbrook native Rothbart. “My working relationship with him dates back to high school. It was a natural progression when he approached us and asked if that would be a day that we would be interested in doing.”

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

Park Ridge native Kapinos reported that “each of the singers we have asked to perform in this event is thrilled because they understand what a special, rare opportunity this is.”

“It’s a good combination because both of our groups are younger, they’re newer groups,” Kaplan noted. “They aim to put on high-quality productions. We aim to put on high-quality orchestral concerts.”

He added that both of the groups have an affinity for Sondheim and, after the composer passed away in November, “It seemed like the right time to do a concert.”

“In my opinion, Stephen Sondheim was not just 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 declared. “He was the master of his craft.”

The three men worked together to develop the program.

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

Selections will include the overture from “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 many more. They will also perform several selections from film scores that Sondheim wrote. That will include “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy,” for which Sondheim won an Oscar.

Rothbart will solo 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 is rare that an audience gets to hear this many musicians on pieces of musical theater,” Rothbart said. “The singers are really excited to do it.”

The musicians in Jam Orchestra are equally excited about the opportunity to perform in this concert.

Violist Elizabeth Shepherd, a Northbrook native who lives in Mundelein, has performed with the JAM orchestra since it was founded in 2018. Shepherd began playing viola when she was eight years old. She earned a degree in viola from 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 played with orchestras for productions of “Into the Woods.”

“Aaron has impeccable taste,” Shepherd declared. “I can guarantee you that any program that Aaron Kaplan is in charge of is going to make anybody happy.”

Kapinos agreed that this will be true of every member of the audience at “Marvelous Moments.”

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

‘Marvelous Moments: The Music of Stephen Sondheim’

When: 7:30pm June 25

Where: Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston

Tickets: $25; $20 students/industry

Info: jamorchestra.org

Note: Audience members must wear masks and show proof of vaccination.

Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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