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.

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