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Honoring the Man Who Puts The Magic in Musicals, Films

Theater

Have pity on poor Jonathan Tunick, the famed orchestrator of musicals and films, the favorite of Stephen Sondheim, one of only 16 people in the history of the world to hold the coveted EGOT (an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award). 

Pity? Yes, pity. For most of his life he’s been able to go quietly about his work, taking a tune and turning it into a score with all the instruments and all the voices and all the magic.

But on Saturday, Oct. 2, he will have to step into the limelight when he is the centerpiece of the Sharon Playhouse Spotlight Gala, with a show called “The Sound of Broadway: A Salute to Jonathan Tunick.”

Well, with a title like that, there really is no place for Tunick to hide. 

“I’m not accustomed to being the center of attention,” Tunick sighed in an interview last week. 

How does he think he’ll handle it?

“I’ll just have to see. There’s something I’ve always liked about my job: It’s a mysterious profession. I’m the person who hangs around backstage in a hat and trench coat and everyone says, ‘Who’s that?’”

After Oct. 2, pretty much everyone will know — at least, everyone in the Tristate area. Now Tunick will have to wear dark glasses and a baseball cap when he leaves his home in Sharon, Conn., and goes to the grocery store. How can he avoid talking to fans about working with Sondheim, about working with Placido Domingo, about working with Hugh Jackman on “The Music Man,” opening on Broadway in December. 

Tunick will be able to remain anonymous for at least the first half of the evening, sitting quietly with his wife, Leigh Berry, also a Broadway star. 

He and the rest of the audience will enjoy a stroll through Tunick’s work, from his early days (“Promises, Promises,” “Dames at Sea”), with special  stops along the way to enjoy the work he’s done with Maury Yeston (the Tony Award-winning composer of “Nine” and “Titanic”). In the second portion of the evening, of course: There will be Sondheim. 

Playhouse Artistic Director Alan M-L Wager, a walking encyclopedia/Rolodex  of Broadway, who has conceived and directs the evening, has worked with Tunick and Playhouse orchestra contractor Rich Conley to organize a 26-piece orchestra and a cast of 18 amazing singers, including six local performers and some Playhouse favorites. They will also welcome some Playhouse newcomers — all with enough Tony Award-winning legendary Broadway firepower to light up the entire neighborhood for the night. 

Wager said that the songs selected for the evening will not necessarily be the biggest hits from beloved shows including “Into the Woods,” “Titanic,” “Sweeney Todd”  and “A Chorus Line.”

“This evening isn’t about the hits so much as it is about Jonathan’s wonderful arrangements,” Wager said.

After the performances, Tunick will come up and say a few words and then the party will carry over to the patio, where there will be champagne toasts. 

Of course it will be very difficult for Tunick to be so publicly adored but he is taking one for the team, so to speak. He is a supporter, of course, of Sharon Playhouse and of regional/summer theater in general. 

“I got my start in summer theater, as we all did,” he said. “I used to do one week of summer stock every year as a conductor; that’s how I learned how musicals are made and presented and how to get them on.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for good honest summer theater and have always supported and enjoyed it.”

To order tickets, go to the Sharon Playhouse website at www.sharonplayhouse.org or call 860-364-7469. Tickets start at $125; that includes a light supper, the performance and the champagne reception. 

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