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Preview: Chicago Celebrates Sondheim @ Auditorium Theater

The Auditorium Theatre salutes Stephen Sondheim, America’s greatest living composer and lyricist who celebrates his 90ths birthday this season, with a one-night-only performance. Singers from across the city will contribute their voices to selections from some of Sondheim’s most famous works including Sweeney Todd, Follies, Company, West Side Story, and more! Musical accompaniment will be performed by the talented Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Rich Daniels.

The evening’s performance is directed and produced by Chicago’s own Joan Curto. With an extensive resume, Curto will also perform in the evening’s festivities. Ms. Curto was kind enough to take a moment away from preparations to answer a few questions in regards to this upcoming weekend’s big evening.

When did you first come into contact with Stephen Sondheim’s work? What was that experience like?

I first encountered his work when I performed in Gypsy in summer stock theatre, but it was when I was in ‘Side by Side by Sondheim” that I really began to appreciate his work. I found his songs astonishing. Not just because of his melodies, which are complicated and different than what had come before, but also his lyrics. They are filled with depth, intelligence and wit. And so smart, yet so accessible. There is a reason many theatre performers refer to him as a god!

In your opinion, what makes Sondheim such an iconic and enduring composer and lyricist?

His music and lyrics shaped a new Broadway. His songs were different, they often moved the plot along, they added to the character creation. And they are so dang smart.

How did you become involved with this performance and the idea of bringing in cabaret and theater performers from across the city together for this evening?

In my partnership with the Auditorium over three concerts (this Sondheim tribute, a Cole Porter commemoration, and a celebration of Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne), we have focused on bringing in Chicago artists – singers, songwriters, performers, musicians that are Chicago-based. We have a deep talent pool in this city, and we wanted to highlight that. Also, for this concert, I wanted to include many different genres of music – folk, classical, jazz, theatre, pop and cabaret and have those particular artists lend their unique voices and interpretations to these songs.

In creating this performance, can you share any challenges you or the team have overcome? Alternatively, what has been the most exciting part in this process?

The challenge for me has been, how do you encompass a lifetime of work into 2 hours and 15 minutes? Sondheim has written hundreds of truly remarkable songs. How do we show the audience his depth and breadth of work? We have tried by making sure we are touching on many of his shows, incorporating a variety of works, so the audience can hear his many voices.

And that’s the exciting part as well, hearing what these artists are bringing to his songs. Hearing the variety of singers and musicians and their interpretations of his music, is beyond exciting. It’s thrilling!

If there was one message or feeling you would like the audience to leave with after seeing this performance of “Chicago Celebrates Sondheim”, what would that be?

Stephen Sondheim is an American Treasure. His compositions are a significant part of the history of American musical theatre (or musical comedy), and his work has shaped the world of theatre as much as his predecessors have (Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein). But mostly I want the audience to hear his songs in,  perhaps, a way they haven’t before, to recognize his immense talents, and to be entertained! 

“Chicago Celebrates Sondheim” is a one-night only event on Saturday, November 16th, 2019 at the Auditorium Theater (50 E. Ida B Wells Drive, Chicago IL 60605). For more information and tickets, please visit,