Sondheimas 2k16: "Evening Primrose" with Ali Ewoldt and Olli Haaskivi
Evening Primrose is one of the stranger parts of Sondheim's output. An hour-long tv show written in 1966 with James Goldman, it has only four songs. But they are wonderful songs! Following in the footsteps of Mandy Patinkin & Bernadette Peters, we created a suite of these songs. For time's sake, three of the four songs have edits. It pained me a little to cut them down, but we didn't want our evening to come to a screeching halt during this performance - and we didn't want our show to run over time!
Evening Primrose is based on a James Collier short story from 1951. In it, a poet finds refuge in a department store, discovering a secret society of people who live in the store, avoiding workers by day, living their lives by night. Charles falls in love with Ella; Ella has long been unhappy and wants to leave the store, but is afraid of being captured by the "Dark Men." They begin an affair and plan to escape, only to be thwarted and turned into mannequins in the department store's main window display.
This evening, our Charles was Olli Haaskivi; our Ella, Ali Ewoldt. Both tackled the material with aplomb - as did the wonderful band. I enjoyed every song we played at Sondheimas, but this suite was one of my favorites to perform.
It was also an exciting challenge to arrange it! The recorded versions by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, and by Neil Patrick Harris and Theresa McCarthy, have some fabulous orchestrations, which I lovingly took ideas (and cello lines!) from. The songs work really well when incorporated into a larger whole; only a few bars had to be added to ease transitions and key changes.
The suite begins with "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here," sung by Charles. It opens with a heartbeat in the bass and drums as Charles realizes he's alone in the department store and decides that he's going to stay away from the world that doesn't appreciate him. "I Remember" is Ella's wistful wishes to be back in the outside world. "When" follows their blossoming affair - cut from this performance are the lines of (intentionally) bad poetry that Charles sings ("Ella, gay as a tarantella").
We end the suite with a full performance of "Take Me To the World," complete with three key changes as the energy pushes towards the end. The song begins with Ella asking Charles to escape with her. Charles initially tries to convince her to stay in the department store, where they're safe, but turns around rather quickly, and at the end they are solidly in love and ready to leave the store. In my opinion, this is one of Sondheim's most beautiful songs, which is why I couldn't bring myself to cut anything out. I want to curl up and live in those harmonies.
Now - when can we get an off-Broadway production of this?