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PALM SPRINGS Michael Childers with Lucie Arnaz and Christine Andreas; (below) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka with Marilyn Maye


Legends of the Great White Way pay tribute to the master himself, Stephen Sondheim, as part of Michael Childers’ annual desert benefit By Billy Masters





fter 10 years of producing my Broadway charity concerts for Jewish Family Service of the Desert, I finally get a chance to honor my favorite theater composer, Stephen Sondheim,” says Michael Childers, whose ninth annual One Night Only benefit will be held later this month at Palm Desert’s McCallum Theatre with the theme Sondheim in Love. Childers is best known for his groundbreaking photographic and philanthropic work. “The show’s emphasis is the romantic motifs of his beautiful songs about relationships, and the joy and the agony of them.” When it came to signing a director, Lucie Arnaz was a perfect fit. “I was delighted to be asked to direct this event because I have been a performer in several of Michael’s shows, and I know what fun they are, and it’s Sondheim,” says Arnaz. “For an actor, there’s nothing more rewarding than to chew on a meal of Sondheim lyrics and melodies. They are so smart, so witty.” While an accomplished performer, you may not immediately think of Arnaz as a director. “I am enjoying directing every now and then,” she says. “I’m an organizer, and I like solving problems. Plus, I’ve been putting my own concerts together for a couple decades now and understand the process of finding an arc and the right balance of songs in an evening of material like this. When I am just the performer, I’m always looking at what could have been done better by the people in charge, so I might as well step up and put my money where my mouth is!” Front and center in a concert like this are those unmistakable Sondheim melodies. The music is in good hands with the incomparable John McDaniel leading the show. “It’s so thrilling to be able to arrange and orchestrate Sondheim’s greatest and most complicated love songs and to play with such an extraordinary group of artists who are being flown in from far and wide,” McDaniel says. “I’ll have a fantastic orchestra with winds, brass and strings, so it should be a glorious night all around!” Some of the cast have a close connection to Sondheim,

including Millicent Martin (Side by Side by Sondheim on Broadway and Follies in London’s West End), Brent Barrett (West Side Story on Broadway), Liz Callaway (Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway, Follies with the New York Philharmonic), Patrick Cassidy (Assassins original cast), Howard McGillin (Follies with the New York Philharmonic, Bounce original cast), and Teri Ralston (Company and A Little Night Music on Broadway). Nancy Dussault has worked with Sondheim for decades. “I’ve known Stephen since the ‘60s. I did the readings for Company and worked with him on Side by Side by Sondheim. And then I was brought into the original production of Into the Woods. It’s always a joy to perform his work. On one hand, it’s incredibly difficult and sophisticated material. On the other, it’s simple because it’s all there for you—the form, the language, the emotion, the situation. Brilliant.” Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is one of the youngest performers in this year’s concert, and he made his Broadway debut in the recent revival of A Little Night Music opposite Catherine ZetaJones and Angela Lansbury. He then closed the show alongside their replacements, Sondheim specialists Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch. So, what is it that makes Sondheim so special? “It’s hard to put into words,” he says. “I believe that Stephen Sondheim is one of the most gifted artists our world has ever known—a modern-day Shakespeare. To sing his melodies and words is really a privilege.” Then there’s 88-year-old legendary singer Marilyn Maye, who stole the show at Sondheim’s 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall. When asked what attracts her to Sondheim, she’s pretty direct: “He’s part of the great American songbook along with word masters like Cole Porter and Johnnie Mercer. I find his stories pertinent, interesting and always surprising in lyric and melody. It’s incredibly rewarding to the talented people who can learn it and perform it!”

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