The Hollywood Bowl will present a one-night-only benefit concert of Sondheim on Sondheim on Sunday, July 23, featuring a host of Broadway favorites and helmed by Sunday in the Park With George director Sarna Lapine. Broadway stars set to belt the music of Sondheim on the L.A. stage (to raise money for Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and other L.A. Phil educational initiatives) include Jonathan Groff, Claybourne Elder, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Vanessa Williams, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Ruthie Ann Miles, and Carmen Cusack.

As musical-theater lovers themselves, the show's cast and creative team are delighted to have the opportunity to perform the music of one of the industry's most iconic artists. In advance of the production, we took advantage of the crew's Sondheim-packed thoughts to find out some of their deepest theater-nerd secrets.


Jonathan Groff — Two-time Tony nominee for Hamilton (2016) and Spring Awakening (2007)

(photo provided by Davidson & Choy Publicity)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
I bought the VHS of Into the Woods at the "Suncoast" in the Park City Mall and watched it in the basement when I got home. And when it was over, I rewound it and immediately watched it again.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
Sunday in the Park With George. Every time I see it I get lost in it and see it for the first time. I think it's the greatest art about art.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
"Every Day a Little Death" [from A Little Night Music]. It kills me.


Claybourne Elder — Bonnie and Clyde, Solider in the 2017 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park With George


(© Brian Paulette)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
Like many young people, Into the Woods was my first glimpse into Sondheim. My mom taped it off of PBS for me and she missed the first 15 minutes or so. So years later when I finally saw it onstage, I was blown away that there was more I didn't know! It was like finding out that your favorite novel had 20 pages you'd never seen!

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
I love all the children equally. I joke, but that's a tough question. I guess it depends on my mood: Bawdy? Forum. Introspective? Company. Murderous? Sweeney Todd.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
"Talent" from Road Show. I remember driving around rural Utah when I was just out of high school and listening to that song and loving it, not knowing that a few years down the road I would record it on the Road Show cast album. It's a challenge to sing, and it's a fantastic song.


Jesse Tyler Ferguson — Five-time Emmy nominee for Modern Family, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee


(© Robert Mannis)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
I think it was the broadcasted production of Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury. Living in Albuquerque my exposure to Broadway was limited. I couldn't believe that a musical could be so epic.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
Sunday in the Park With George. It's themes about creating art for yourself over art for commerce just resonate with me. It always makes me cry.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
Actually one of the songs I get to sing at the Hollywood Bowl, "Franklin Shepard Inc.," is one of my all-time favorite songs, period. My friends and I were joking that it's the "Rose's Turn" for men, but I actually kind of think that it is.


Sarna Lapine (Director) — Director of the 2017 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park With George

(photo provided by Davidson & Choy Publicity)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
I saw my first Sondheim show when I was 8 years old. It was Sunday in the Park With George.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why? Sunday in the Park With George, Sweeney Todd, and Passion. I guess it's a three-way tie at the moment. Sunday . . . because of the subject matter and because it's a show that has resonated with me for a very long time. Sweeney because it's such a thrilling score and I've never gotten tired of listening to it. Passion because it's a daring and complicated subject matter, there's a lot to explore.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
Depends on the day and my mood. Today it happens to be "Loving You" from Passion because of the beautiful simplicity of the lyric and how that works to reveal such a complicated emotional experience.


Vanessa Williams — Tony nominee for the 2002 Broadway revival of Into the Woods


(© Rod Spicer)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
Singing "There Won't Be Trumpets" in performance class as a Musical Theatre Major at Syracuse University.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
Into the Woods. I starred on Broadway in the 2002 revival and received my first Tony nomination. I loved playing the Witch with such a spectacular cast and performing new material that I got to originate in our production, which ultimately won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
"Losing My Mind / Not A Day Goes By." It's the duet I did with the legendary Barbara Cook that continually stunned the audience every night. And it always does.


Sarah Uriarte Berry — The Light in the Piazza, Next to Normal

(photo provided by Davidson & Choy Publicity)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
My first introduction to Sondheim came when I was in ninth grade and I watched the PBS broadcast of the original Broadway production of Sunday in the Park With George, starring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, on a 12-inch black-and-white TV in this little guesthouse behind my Grandma's house in Fresno, California. I remember thinking that if this was what was happening on Broadway, I had to be a part of it.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
It is nearly impossible to choose a favorite Sondheim show. The first Sondheim show in which I performed — at U.C.L.A. — was Merrily We Roll Along. That entire score was my favorite for a very long time. Then for many years my favorite show was Into the Woods. I loved all the amazing women's roles in that show — different ages, different voice types — and the intertwining of all of those fairy tales.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
My first favorite Sondheim song was "A Weekend in the Country" from A Little Night Music. I've performed in two productions of that show, and there is this amazing feeling of exhilaration and joy when you come off of that song. It's also fun to try to sing every role in that number.

Nowadays, my favorite song is "Send in the Clowns". Because I finally really understand it! It also feels great in my voice. Sondheim writes so beautifully for women of all ages. It's such a simple sounding song, but so very complex and layered at the same time.


Ruthie Ann Miles — Tony winner for The King and I, Frieda/Betty in the 2017 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park With George

(photo provided by Davidson & Choy Publicity)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
One of my first professional jobs was playing Pirelli in John Doyle's revival of Sweeney Todd, the one where the actors played the instruments. I played a male Italian barber, and also played the accordion, flute, and piano onstage. Talk about intimidating. It was my first personal encounter with Mr. Sondheim's work, and to this day, remains one of the most difficult and rewarding pieces of theater I have been part of.

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
My favorite Sondheim musical was and always may be Sunday in the Park With George. The audience is freely invited to enter the mind of an artist and explore both the wonder and frustrations that fuel and torment him. The music makes me feel vulnerable, and the lyrics punch me in the gut.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
This feels like a trick question. At different stages in my life I've noticed I have gripped onto several "absolute favorite" Sondheim songs.

When I was testing the waters in theater, "I Remember" from Evening Primrose was a song that helped me understand the concept of singing while acting. In a way this was my gateway song into theater, and it made me want to study music theater.

In grad school the lyrics "look at what you want, not at where you are" kept me going on many a dark day ["Move On" from Sunday in the Park With George].

After giving birth to our daughter I found myself lullabying, "Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around," from Sweeney. And as we're raising her, the lyrics "children may not obey, but children will listen" constantly flow through my head ["Children Will Listen" from Into The Woods].

Perhaps because it's rooted itself deeply during a hard time, the song "Move On" has always resonated very much with me and I may always hold it the (very, very) closest. "Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see."


Carmen Cusack — Tony nominee for Bright Star

(photo provided by Davidson & Choy Publicity)

What was your first encounter with a Sondheim show or score?
My first experience singing Sondheim was for a charity concert in the U.K. several years back. I was learning the duet "Move On" from Sunday in the Park With George. I was so moved by this song that I couldn't sing the last line. "Anything you do let it come from you, than it will be new, give us more to see."

What is your favorite Sondheim musical and why?
It's a toss up between Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George! In 2012, I played the role of Dot/Marie with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater directed by the talented Gary Griffen. We sang "Sunday" in front of the original painting of A Sunday at La Grande Jatte 1884 at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was an indescribably beautiful day. This show came at a pivotal point in my life. I had been questioning my artistic intellect and choices constantly. I even contemplated quitting the business altogether. The depth of this piece was so intimidating, but it forced me to face my vulnerabilities and embrace them. This show was a lesson, a gift, and came at the perfect time in my life.

What is your favorite Sondheim song and why?
I couldn't possibly pick a favorite Sondheim song, but I will say that one of my favorite lyrics is "pretty isn't beautiful, Mother, pretty is what changes, what the eye arranges is what is beautiful."