Behind the Curtain

Official Blog of International City Theatre

Gerald Sternbach: Nothing Comes From a Vacuum

November 5th, 2015

Musical Director Gerald SternbachSondheim on Sondheim, now in its final week of a four-week run, has been dazzling audiences nightly. Much of that is due to wonderful musical numbers performed by our amazing cast, who have been under the guidance of the endlessly talented Musical Director Gerald Sternbach. We asked him some questions about his work on this show, and he was kind enough to respond. Enjoy!

1. As Musical Director for Sondheim on Sondheim, what has your experience been with this show?

I have had a wonderful experience doing this show. There are some of us that have been loyal Sondheim enthusiasts. I remember the excitement I personally had—since I did not live in New York (I grew up in the San Fernando Valley)—of hearing original cast albums of shows. I have been listening to his musicals since I was in high school, and there was always that element of discovery.  Something new from a master, and to my sensibility, in the 70s and 80s, there were still “masters” on Broadway. This has been a great cast, and it has been a joy to approach familiar material with fresh eyes … and the added years of “gravitas’’ certainly help.

The cast of Sondheim on Sondheim

(L to R) Josh Wise, Stephanie Fredricks, Shaina Knox and Jake Novak in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM

2. Since you have been in the business a long time, what other Sondheim shows have you worked on and which was your favorite?

As musical director of Reprise from 2002 through 2007…I started with FOLLIES (with Patty Duke, Vicki Carr and Harry Groener in the cast) … that was my debut as musical director for the organization. And it continued with COMPANY (Christopher Sieber, Judith Light, Josh Radner) and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Kelli O’Hara).  It was a thrill to conduct Broadway-size orchestras for those shows. Two of those shows were directed by the redoubtable David Lee, who just happened to direct the very first Sondheim show I ever did—SIDE BY SIDE by SONDHEIM (at the Studio One Backlot in West Hollywood. I am not going to date myself by telling you which year. Needless to say i was still in my 20s … and it was before I moved to New York. I also want to share that I saw the the original cast of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE perform the final preview … when the show was “frozen,” so to speak. It will always remain one of the top five theatrical experiences of my life—and it was my thrill to conduct it at Reprise.

3. Why do you think Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics are held in such high esteem? What makes him different from other musical theatre composers?

His craft, his sensibility and the sense of rightness of it all. People need to realize that a lot of his shows were “fashioned”… they were “created”… nothing came out of a vacuum fully formed. These works took time. Even the works that are flawed have a fascination about them.

4. On the other side of the spectrum, which musical theatre composer do you think deserves more attention or acclaim?

I’m just going to say it … me. I have several projects that I have worked on … and am working on … that hopefully will be taking further steps within the next year.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Sondheim on Sondheim?

Audiences—all audiences—that doesn’t ONLY mean new audiences—need to learn that nothing comes from a vacuum … that intelligence needs to be savored and in these times when mediocrity is the “coin of the realm” there is always something you can learn from the work of Stephen Joshua Sondheim.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Sondheim on Sondheim: please visit or call 562.436.4610.

5 Reasons Why You Should See Sondheim On Sondheim

October 7th, 2015

sondheim cartoonAs we prepare for our last production of the season, Sondheim On Sondheim (we open in one week), our excitement to be presenting a Sondheim musical is overflowing and it is becoming difficult to control it any longer. Some of that enthusiasm has created this list of five reasons why you should see this show. This production is a marriage of Stephen Sondheim’s greatest works and newest brilliance. Don’t believe us? Take a look at this list we have compiled for your viewing pleasure.

1. You saw it first

hipICT’s production of Sondheim on Sondheim is the Los Angeles premiere of the musical. Be the first, be the coolest, see Sondheim before everyone else in the county of Angels. L.A. culture thrives on trend-setting uniqueness, and we just want to help keep you hip.

2. It’s a Sondheim buffet

The very nature of Sondheim on Sondheim is equivocal to that of a sampler platter.  The songs (or should we say SOND-track? Wink.) of this production are packed with some of his best compositions and original works. Maybe you only know Sondheim for his recent stage-to-film adaptations Sweeney Todd or Into the Woods. That’s ok, whatever gets you to the theatre. For fear not, newcomer. After seeing Sondheim on Sondheim, your musical senses will be enticed and titillated, asking for more Sondheim.

3. Setting standards

The music of Sondheim on Sondheim includes “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, which argues as Stephen’s number one composition of all time. After its stage debut in 1973, both Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins picked this standard up and landed on the pop charts multiple times. Even The Simpson’s Krusty the Clown performed this little number. Sondheim on Sondheim incorporates the best of the best.

4. Oh, my Sondheim!

The original production of Sondheim on Sondheim also marks his most recent song to hit Broadway to date. The song, titled “God,” modestly parallels Sondheim with an omnipotent haughtiness that few can pull off as successfully as God—we mean Sondheim. Calling on all devout musical enthusiasts, listen to the good word of “God” below.

5. More powerful than the Wizard of Oz

Wizard of OzThis musical is special. And we’re not just saying that like a proud mama cooing over their child’s participatory ribbon. Sondheim on Sondheim is not your average self-composed biographic musical on America’s greatest modern playwright, ladies and gents. There’s even more to it. The musical uses multimedia to project the composer himself onto a giant screen, giving him a Wizard of Oz authority. As if being God wasn’t enough.

Sondheim on Sondheim runs Thursdays through Sundays from October 16 to November 8, with low-priced previews October 14-15. For tickets or more information go to or call (562) 436 – 4610.

Celebrating Sondheim

September 24th, 2015

It says quite a bit about one’s prestige when an award-winning stage director wants to create and produce a biographical musical about someone’s life while said person is still living.

International City Theatre’s next and final production of the season, James Lapine’s Sondheim on Sondheim, highlights Stephen Sondheim’s personal life and professional success and struggles through a blend of interview footage and Sondheim’s original music.

sondheim1“If people have split views about your work, I think it’s flattering. I’d rather have them feel something about it than dismiss it,” Sondheim once said.

Though Sondheim’s career has had its ups and downs in acceptance and public interest over the course of its 43 years, denying his genius would be a difficult argument to make. If someone’s getting a biographical musical in their lifetime, it’s going to be Stephen.

Sans subjectivity, no one can deny the sheer quantifiable wins in Sondheim’s corner. Starting with his first award, a Tony for Best Musical with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1963, he has since received one Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize in drama for Sunday in the Park with George, a Laurence Olivier Award and seven more Tony’s (which is more than any other composers, by the way).

Starting your professional career as a composer with Oscar Hammerstein as your mentor and the lyrics  of West Side Story in your portfolio is not a bad foot to start off on either.  Since then, Sondheim has written the music and lyrics for 25 different musicals, with 16 of them appearing on Broadway.

Even flops (yes, he shockingly had those) have been revived and revered. For example, 1990 Off-Broadway’s Assassins closed after 73 performances of the original production, never making it to Broadway as anticipated.

Assassins will have to fire with sharper aim and fewer blanks if it is to shoot to kill,” stated a Time review of the original production. Cocked and loaded, the 2004 revival brought it there though, earning the play the Tony Award for best revival.

sondheim2The Kennedy Center, which gives annual awards to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture, named the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards after him and sent out the award on March 22, Stephen’s birthday. The Kennedy Center did so to honor Sondheim’s 80th birthday and the impact mentorships have had on his success as well as what he has taught others.  After all, Sondheim once said, “teaching is a sacred profession. And art is a form of teaching.”

If art is a way to teach, Sondheim is theatre’s sensei. His lesson plan? Life. In a New York Times review of Sondheim on Sondheim in 2010, Ben Brantley wrote that it is more than Stephen’s cleverness in lyrics that make him a great composer.

“It’s because he senses and conveys the darker currents of pain and loneliness that swirl beneath even the shiniest surfaces,” Brantley wrote. “He sees inside us. And there is something kind of Godlike about that.”

Described as omnipotent, it is no wonder Sondheim would have a musical created about his life and career, and who better to compose the music than himself? The Los Angeles premiere of Sondheim on Sondheim at International City Theatre runs October 14 through November 8. For more information, call (562) 436-4610 or go to

Gregg T. Daniel Finds Truth in Fences

September 11th, 2015

Gregg T. Daniel

Fences, now in its final week of a four-week run, has received standing ovations every performance. Our critically acclaimed production is curated under the direction of Gregg T. Daniel. We asked him some questions about his work on this powerful show, and he was kind enough to respond. Enjoy!

1.  Since this is your first time directing at ICT, what has your experience been like?

Directing Fences at ICT has been a dream. From the very beginning, Artistic Director caryn desai expressed the confidence and support we needed to realize this Pulitzer Prize winning play. I was very moved by the trust caryn placed in me. The design team, the crew and ICT’s staff all worked together seamlessly.

Jermelle Simon, Karole Foreman and Michael A. Shepperd in Fences at ICT

Jermelle Simon, Karole Foreman and Michael A. Shepperd in Fences at ICT

2. As someone who has acted in a production of Fences, how did that aid your approach

when directing our show?

The fact that I had experienced the power of the play from the” inside out” definitely helped my knowledge of the play. Having performed in a production gave me a familiarity with the material which served me well. Of course, working this specific group of actors and what they were able to bring to the production brought a freshness and a first-time quality to my direction of Fences.

3. Is there added pressure when directing a modern classic such as this?

There’s always a sense of trepidation when a director (or a cast) takes on a “modern classic.”  The question arises, “will we be able to do justice to this marvelous play?” However, once you get in a room with a group of talented and committed actors you slowly begin to find your “truth” through the play. Additionally, I knew this was the first time an August Wilson play had been mounted at ICT, so I was proud and inspired to introduce ICT’s audience to this towering playwright.

4. As one of the most prolific playwrights of the modern era, what do you think makes August Wilson’s work so significant and transcendent?

The universality of Wilson’s work never ceases to amaze. While ostensibly Wilson wrote characters from the African American culture, audience members of all ethnicities and races repeatedly relay to me how Troy Maxson reminds them of their Father.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Fences?

I hope audiences will understand and appreciate the complexity of a man like Troy Maxson. Ultimately, we see in Troy a deeply flawed individual who tried to love and support his family the only way he knew how. Just as the character Cory learns to forgive his father at the climax of the play, perhaps we can all learn a lesson about acceptance and forgiveness as well.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Fences: please visit or call 562.436.4610.

Michael A. Shepperd Knows the Power of Good Theatre

September 8th, 2015

Michael A. Shepperd

Fences opened three weeks ago to stunning reviews and audience responses. Michael A. Shepperd plays the show’s protagonist, Troy Maxson. His performance is one of the main reasons for the accolades the show has received. He was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us about the show and himself. Enjoy!

1.  As someone who has worked at ICT before (Raisin), welcome back.  How is your experience this time around?

Night and day really. While the pressure to put up a show from start to finish in 3-and-a-half weeks is incredibly intense, with Raisin we had an awful blow. We lost our leading lady a week before previews. The incredible Nell Carter passed away just before opening. There was a lot of sadness and anger and fear that was very rampant in me at the time. And I feel at times it carried over into my work. I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. The show went up with Carol Dennis replacing Nell. She was amazing. But I wish that I had handled it better. As for this show, we were a strong tight-knit family from the start and I think it shows in the work this cast is doing. I can honestly say I care very deeply for this cast.

2. What kind of preparation outside of learning your lines did you undertake in preparing for such an iconic role as Troy Maxson?

It was truly about the lines. And still very much is. I read my script daily and will still read something that wasn’t there the last time. That’s the beauty of Mr. Wilson’s works. You are constantly discovering. I also like to spend time figuring out where he lives in my body. Working on the physicality. He moves very different than me and every time I get to play him he shows me something new.

Michael A. Shepperd & Christopher Carrington in Fences

Michael A. Shepperd & Christopher Carrington in Fences

3. Troy Maxson is a role actors dream to play one day. What other role(s) would you like to undertake?

Sweeney in Sweeney Todd. The MC in Cabaret. Mama Rose in Gypsy.

4. As one of the most prolific playwrights of the modern era, what do you think makes August Wilson’s work so significant and transcendent?

He explores the human condition. So many people want to make this just a black show. This is a human show. A show about family dynamics. A show about love and betrayal and forgiveness. The same struggles all people go through from day to day. Just because it’s set in a time and place that might be foreign to some people doesn’t make the work any less valid and valuable. Any less real.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Fences?

That Mr. Wilson had his finger on the pulse of not only social issues but familial ones. That even though the people on stage might not resemble your immediate family but the struggles they go through directly relate to your own. And that is the power of good theatre.


For more information or to purchase tickets to Fences: please visit or call 562.436.4610.

Diary of an ICT Intern: Finding the Hidden Curriculum

August 6th, 2015

Outreach Photos002

International City Theatre is excited to introduce Amy Patton, our Summer Administrative and Production Intern. She will be working with us this summer thru the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship program, and will be producing a Blog series entitled “Diary of an ICT Summer Intern.”

Arts education is supposed to be a core part of public education, equally as important as science or literature as passed by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. Yet, when the budget is tight, the arts are often the first thing to go. If children don’t receive crucial arts education within their daily education or in the home, they can turn to extracurricular programs or private lessons. In addition to running the year-round Performing Arts Classroom Teaching, or PACT, International City Theatre also offers the Summer Youth Conservatory every summer to try and help mend the lapse in arts education.

A 5-week program for kids ages 7-15, the conservatory is quickly coming to a close for the season. Ending with a free special performance on Thursday, August 6, the conservatory is a crucial program to the Long Beach community. Aside from educating participants to sing, dance and act in the theatre, the conservatory provides an outlet for the “hidden curriculum,” that are not often achieved in a classroom setting or everyday life.

The “hidden curriculum” is essentially a set of unwritten, unofficial lessons values and perspectives students are supposed to learn in school, such patience or tolerance. The hidden curriculum often gets swept under the rug, with the many formal curriculum requirements expected to be taught in a school year. The conservatory teaches the kids enrolled to think creatively, how to hold themselves accountable, how to work well with others, responsibility and many other valuable life skills that may not get addressed as often as a parent may like.


On top of exploring the hidden curriculum, children’s involvement with the arts directly correlates to their success in academia as well. A 2002 study conducted by UCLA found that children involved in the arts performed better on standardized tests than students with little or no involvement in the arts. The research compendium Critical Links found that the arts directly benefits a child’s reading and language skills, math skills, social skills, motivation to learn and positive attitude towards school.

With the art curriculum drying up nationally in the education system, it is crucial to seek the arts through other outlets. According to a 2012 National Center for Education Statistics study, performing arts availability in public schools declined by 17 percent in the past 10 years and 40 percent of public schools do not require arts education to graduate. ICT’s Summer Youth Conservatory offers kids at their most impressionable and developing stage of life an outlet to express themselves, learn crucial life and academic skills and spend their summer productively.

Diary of an ICT Summer Intern: Why Young Adults Should See FENCES

August 3rd, 2015

Michael A. Shepperd & Karole Foreman in August Wilson's Fences

Michael A. Shepperd & Karole Foreman in August Wilson’s Fences at ICT.

International City Theatre is excited to introduce Lea Catbagan, our Summer Marketing and Development Intern. She will be working with us this summer thru the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship program, and will be producing a Blog series entitled “Diary of an ICT Summer Intern.”

Color. What is it? You’re probably thinking red, blue, or maybe yellow—and rightfully so.

But what exactly is color? Merriam-Webster defines color as “a visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects”. However, this description specifically states the word “objects”. Let’s disregard it and substitute humans. Now, how appropriate is it that this definition of color is fitting enough to apply within humanity?

Unlike a diverse box of crayons, people come in less colors—predominantly neutral colors that are nevertheless bold enough to redirect the quality of lives. We’re not identical human beings, yet treated as such at the instant sight of colored skin.

So, have times really changed? August Wilson, a phenomenal two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright, wrote FENCES thirty-two years ago. The protagonist, Troy Maxson, is a fifty-three-year-old African American garbage collector living in the 1950’s. His unattainable dream in Major League Baseball has marked him forever. When his son, Cory, is considered for a college football scholarship, Troy suggests Cory returns to his grocery store job, as an attempt to protect him from the disappointments and scars of white dominance.

As young adults, we especially need the motivation and confidence to push through the barriers of society. Call it cliché, but we are the future. Prejudice and discrimination about certain things or ideas will always remain. People will always be stereotyped by their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Nonetheless, it is essential to not use that as a limitation for achievement, but as a challenge to move beyond.

August Wilson’s FENCES is a tribute to the scars of the past, and a light to the hopeful transformations of the future. Cory Maxson was expected to remain within his racial boundaries. However, with will and courage, he tackles through the high fence of discernment and chases after his own aspirations, regardless of the obstacles of society’s past.

This classic production bridges the past and the present, illuminating the timeless challenges of life, discrimination, and distant dreams. It’s filled with pain, love, and the heartening faith for youth of all races. Any young adult is guaranteed to relate to this heart-rending play, and perhaps feel that extra motivation to follow your dreams. FENCES is a visual memo of who we’re perceived to be, but a powerful reminder of who we can become, which is way more than a color.

August Wilson’s FENCES runs at International City Theatre August 19 – September 13. Purchase a ticket to see FENCES. Call us at (562) 436-4610 or go online at

Diary of an ICT Intern: Theatre is a Versatile Medium

July 24th, 2015

Loving Repeating

ICT’s Production of Loving Repeating in 2011

International City Theatre is excited to introduce Amy Patton, our Summer Administrative and Production Intern. She will be working with us this summer thru the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship program, and will be producing a Blog series entitled “Diary of an ICT Summer Intern.”

When people think or talk about art, it is often in reference to a focused singular medium. A Van Gogh painting, visual arts. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata: a classic piece of music. Quite often theatre goes without the acknowledgement of being a mosaic of all art forms, weaving together different artistic mediums. Below is a breakdown of the art of theatre:

  1. Acting – At the forefront, theatre is largely a performing art. The semiotics of acting, the ability to believably transform into a character, is arguably, one of the most challenging mediums to work in. Actors use their bodies to create live art. As they perform, they are simultaneously creating and being the art right in front of the audience. It is intimate and temporary in nature.
  2. Music/Singing – Artists can utilize the theatre to write and produce music. Existing in the earliest forms of theatre, the Greek use to incorporate choric odes into performances. Music can create a cohesiveness from scene to scene, create a mood, or even be spliced into the script to advance the plot, such as in International City Theatre’s 2015 season closer, autobiographical musical Sondheim on Sondheim, by Stephen Sondheim himself.
  3. Writing – Playwriting, a difficult craft to master, allows writers’ thoughts and ideas to transcend the pages to the physical world. ICT’s next play Fences, written by one of the best American playwrights, August Wilson, transports the audience back to the 1950s to follow an African-American man’s struggles of living and raising his son under the stress of racism in the United States.
  4. Set design/lighting – Those who create the sets for plays are visual artists who bring to life the script with the director’s vision on a tight budget. To master the art of stage lighting, the perfect balance of artist and engineer must be created. Stage lighting, along with set design, sets the mood, tone and very essence of world in which the characters reside.
  5. Fashion/Make-up – Creating costumes for characters in a play again makes the human body the piece of art. Costume designers and makeup artists are the key to bringing characters to life. Look what an emerald green face and tattered black shroud did for Wicked’s Elphaba.

An ancient art form, theatre has been bringing stories to life on stage for centuries. It is the only art form that incorporates all other art mediums within it. According to New York’s Theatre Communications Group, theatre attendance in the U.S. has been increasing over the past five years. With more patrons attending the theatre, perhaps it will be better appreciated as one of the most diverse and most human art forms.

Diary of an ICT Intern: As the stage adapts

July 9th, 2015

Les Miserables

(l) The novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
(r) A Broadway production of Les Miserables the musical

International City Theatre is excited to introduce Amy Patton, our Summer Administrative and Production Intern. She will be working with us this summer thru the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship program, and will be producing a Blog series entitled “Diary of an ICT Summer Intern.”

In biology, adaptation is defined traits in the history of an organism that survives evolution and natural selection. In the history of the great living organism of Theatre, adaptations serve as a way for older, dustier theatrical or literary works to survive the natural selection of an audience.

Adaptations can be cross-platform, such as novel-to-stage or stage-to-screen. Changing the work’s medium allows the piece to target a new or different audience, while still holding hands with its past patrons.

Some famous adaptations, such as Les Misérables, transcends all platforms. This French masterpiece started as a novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862, was first adapted for the stage by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in 1985. Critics initially hated it. However, it picked up speed with audiences’ positive responses and has been the second longest running musical in the world since 1985. The 2012 film version of Les Mis grossed $433 million worldwide, won three Oscars and about 100 other awards. Safe to say, adapting mediums can be very successful and appeal to a wide audience.

Adapting a play can also update and modernize it so that its essence passes the natural selection of theatre patrons of today. Rent, written by Johnathan Larson in the mid-1990s, draws from the 1896 Italian opera La bohème. The original counterpart centered on the lives of bohemians/outcasts in the Latin Quarter of Paris at the time. Nearly a century later, Rent was placed in the epicenter of the AIDS/HIV outbreak in the 90s: New York City, following misfits in the East Village trying to survive life.

The Heir Apparent

Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Wallace Angus Bruce & Paige Lindsey White in The Heir Apparent

Fast-forward to today, International City Theatre is producing the west coast premiere of David Ives’ 2011 The Heir Apparent, a transladaptation – Ives’ coined term for the crossbreeding of an adaptation and a translation. This rhyming verse comedy is an adaptation of a classic French comedy from 1708, Le Legataire Universal by Jean-Francois Regnard, the protégé of western literature comedy master Molière. Regnard’s comedic poetry inspired generations of French poets to follow, including Boileau. Aside from the general plot, Regnard’s poetic meter and cadence also survived the natural selection of the play’s adaptation. The rhyming verse transferred into Ives’ adaptation not only heightens the humor but keeps the play at a snappy and quick pace, echoing much to Regnard’s style.

Also adhering to the slapstick humor and intelligently sassy remarks of the original, The Heir Apparent adapts to its audience to serve yet another generation. The Heir Apparent runs through July 12. For more information, please visit us at or call (562) 436-4610.

ICT Summer Youth Conservatory Introduces Children to Theatre

July 2nd, 2015

Outreach Photos006Summer is officially here! For those who have children this means school is out and children need something to do. If you are looking for a way to channel your child’s energy into something constructive and fun, International City Theatre’s Summer Youth Conservatory is the solution.

The Summer Youth Conservatory is a five-week-long program for children ages 7 to 15. The program is focused on teaching children about theatre, including acting, dance, music, and movement. Classes are taught by industry professionals so children receive the best teaching available for only $395 for the entire program. Through the Summer Youth Conservatory, participants can join other children, make new friends and learn transferrable skills that will benefit them no matter what path they pursue in the future. Classes are divided into three age groups and class sizes are small and personal. Through instruction and encouragement students learn to express themselves, become more confident in front of others, think creatively and outside of the box, and work together.

Every parent wSummer Youth Conservatory 2014 rehearsalants to see their child succeed, and the skills they are learning are important. At the end of the program, parents get to watch their children shine onstage at International City Theatre’s venue, the Long Beach Performing Arts Center in a free final performance for the public where the children show off new talents they have gained over the five weeks. This is a show they have created with their instructors. Who can put a price on that?

The program is Monday-Thursday, 9am-1pm from July 6st to August 6st   at the Marketplace. For more information, please contact Amanda at (562) 495-4595, extension 10 or email her at Some scholarships are still available. you may also visit for more information.

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