Washington, D.C.’s Signature Theatre never intended to become tied to the work of Stephen Sondheim. Yet, with its upcoming production of Assassins, beginning August 11, the theatre marks its 30th Sonhdeim production in as many years—which is more than any other company in the United States.
“Professional theatres in Washington were not really producing musical theatre. And no one was producing Sondheim,” says Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer of the local theatrical landscape in the early ’90s. “I knew that I wanted our first musical to be Sweeney Todd, and then we grabbed the rights for Assassins after it closed at Playwrights Horizons. It was our audience that then asked the question: ‘What is the next Sondheim?’”
Over the years, the theatre has produced Company, Into the Woods, Passion, A Little Night Music, Gypsy, Putting It Together, Follies, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Side by Side by Sondheim, Saturday Night, Sunday in the Park With George, Simply Sondheim, West Side Story, and Road Show.
The casts have starred the best of Signature’s actors, including names that would quickly be known on Broadway, including Norm Lewis, Joshua Lamon, Max Clayton, Brynn O’Malley, and Nancy Anderson.
And Schaeffer sees no reason to break the link now.
“We know that our audiences come to expect his work on our stage every season and we are delighted to oblige,” he says. “And that is how Sondheim musicals have become Signature’s signature.”