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Nine Singers Walk into a Bar ... : "Last Call: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim," at the QC Theatre Workshop through November 17 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Thom White   
Monday, 04 November 2013 06:00

Erin Churchill, Don Denton, Allison Swanson, Patrick Gimm, Angela Elliott, Jamesd Fairchild (standing), Mark Ruebling, Sara Tubbs, and Kimberly Kurtenbach Furness (seated) in Last Call: The Songs of Stephen SondheimWhat’s perhaps most beautiful about the QC Theatre Workshop’s Last Call: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim aside from it showcasing music by, arguably, our greatest Broadway composer – is the way show creators Tyson Danner and (Reader employee) Mike Schulz weave a story through their revue, offering more than just an “in concert” experience. There’s a natural progression throughout the piece, which they’ve set in a bar where individuals and couples gather to drink, socialize, long for love, or lament love lost. Rather than having a distinct plot and conflict, the production delivers a look at a typical bar evening in which the audience gets to eavesdrop on every table conversation and watch as people mingle, flirt, and attempt to repair relationships. And the flow of this slice of life as told through song is to be admired particularly because it lacks pretense and feels real.

Kimberly Kurtenbach Furness starts Last Call's evening by longing for love in her rendition of “Being Alive” from Company, during which, in one of several clever arrangements by music director Danner, James Fairchild’s bartender interjects with a lyric from Into the Woods' “No One Is Alone.” (Furness then responds to Fairchild with an adroit “I wish” from the same song.) Shortly thereafter, two couples – Angela Elliott and Patrick Gimm, and Sara Tubbs and Mark Ruebling – dream of a “Country House” before Gimm and Ruebling recognize each other as “Old Friends.” Allison Swanson and Erin Churchill soon take seats at another of the set's tables, explaining the reason for their girls’ night out with “There’s Always a Woman” before proclaiming their friendship in “I’ve Got You to Lean on.”

Don Denton, James Fairchild, and Kimberly Kurtenbach Furness in Last Call: The Songs of Stephen SondheimDon Denton is the final patron of the evening, first greeting his friend Fairchild with Dick Tracy's “Live Alone & Like It” (one of four songs employed from that film, all of which are among my favorite Sondheim compositions). With its sense of “evening at a bar” established, director Schulz then proceeds to have cast members go up to the bar to order drinks, or exit to the bathroom, or move to another table – sometimes while singing in mid-“conversation” – to be with someone else. And rather than feeling staged and specifically timed, all of these actions are executed just as naturally as they would on a real night out.

While some of the women, on Friday, struggled to hit a few of the higher notes, and some of the men fell on the side of melodic speaking rather than beautifully toned singing, the performance’s flaws did little to inhibit the enjoyment of Sondheim’s music and the ways in which it's used by Schulz and Danner. (The latter accompanies, with remarkable musicality, every song from a “bar piano” in the corner of the stage.) Their work is most notable when they change the compositions' original intent. Dick Tracy’s “More,” for instance, is no longer a show-stopping dance number, but Tubbs' chance to brag about her life of excess to Elliott – who earned quite a few opening-night laughs for her barely masked feigned interest, and her eventual, unspoken “Well, yeah” response to Tubbs’ question “Or does that sound too greedy?”

Angela Elliott, Patrick Gimm, Don Denton, Erin Churchill, Kim Furness, James Fairchild, Mark Ruebling, Allison Swanson, and Sara Tubbs in Last Call: The Songs of Stephen SondheimAnother example is Assassins’ attempted-murderer duet “Unworthy of Your Love,” which, here, Furness performs seductively to Gimm while Fairchild, singing with sadness, watches her, the object of his affection, turn her attention to another man. Schulz and Danner also make a great choice in following Fairchild's performance of Company’s “Have I Got a Girl for You” a song in which in which he describes Swanson as “dumb” – with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum's “Lovely,” which finds Swanson singing “I can neither sew nor cook nor read or write my name.”

But aside from Denton’s exquisite singing voice (best showcased in “Marry Me a Little”), Elliott’s showstopping “Could I Leave You?” (with its forceful, independent-minded ending), and Furness’ “Ladies Who Lunch” (combined with the shame she registers following this delightfully drunken musical outburst), what’s most brilliant about the QC Theatre Workshop’s Last Call: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim is Danner’s climactic combination of “Being Alive” and “No One Is Alone.” The two songs fit so well together, at least as Danner has arranged them, that even considering the production's charmingly woven tale and effective performances – to say nothing of Sondheim's music – this blended number, to me, is reason enough to catch this production before it closes.

 

Last Call: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim runs at the QC Theatre Workshop (1730 Wilkes Avenue, Davenport) through November 17, and more information and tickets are available by calling (563)650-2396 or visiting QCTheatreWorkshop.org.

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written by Betty, November 04, 2013
Since when are you legally allowed to dramatize songs with an ASCAP license? And the royalty that is paid doesn't allow you to write your own arrangement and "mash-up" the songs. The only authorized revues of Sondheim's works are licensed through Music Theater International.
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written by Tyson Danner, November 04, 2013
Betty,

In response to your question, I thought I would offer a clarification. At the Workshop, we take artists' rights very seriously, and we do believe that composers, lyricists, and other artists deserve all the rights they are afforded under copyright law, just as we would if we were to create an original work.

For "Last Call", we secured an ASCAP license in order to properly follow the law in the presentation of the songs performed in the show. (Just as we have secured performance rights from the relevant companies for all of our other productions.) For ASCAP's licensing purposes, "Last Call" is considered a concert. The combinations of songs are a result of choosing from works in ASCAP's database. An ASCAP license does not require licensees to perform works in any specific order or combination. However, it does forbid "any special orchestral arrangements or transcriptions", which we have not made. (Our accompaniment is the piano accompaniment selected from Sondheim's published works. Of which, thankfully for lovers of musical theatre, there are many!)

While many audience members have appreciated the characters and the stories they see, those are a natural byproduct of having talented, trained actors singing. They do, of course, act out their songs and, through acting them out, make them make sense in a larger context. However, as you'll note if you get the chance to attend the show, we have written no dialogue or created scenes that would cause a breach of our ASCAP license, the actors are not playing "characters" (they perform as - and are credited as - themselves), and, as per the ASCAP license: the songs are "unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken." You might see similar performances, similarly created, in many concerts, cabarets, revues, and preshow performances across the country. The person we worked with at ASCAP was very helpful in choosing the correct license for us.

Since the Workshop opened, we have been very careful to stay within the bounds of the law, and to make sure that all credits and royalties go to the writers of the works that we are performing. If we were to discover that we made an error, we would certainly correct it. However, we did our research and worked with ASCAP to make sure that our production of "Last Call" falls within copyright law and our ASCAP license.

Thanks for your interest. And thanks to the Reader for being a great support for local arts!

Tyson Danner
Artistic Director,
QC Theatre Workshop
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written by Betty, November 04, 2013
Mr. Danner,

It appears then that there is confusion from what you mentioned above and what is in this review.

"With its sense of “evening at a bar” established, director Schulz then proceeds to have cast members go up to the bar to order a drinks, or exit to the bathroom, or move to another table – sometimes while singing in mid-“conversation” – to be with someone else. And rather than feeling staged and specifically timed, all of these actions are executed just as naturally as they would on a real night out."

This seems to contradict your statement that "as per the ASCAP license: the songs are "unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken." Since you are doing "stage actions" it would seem as if you are skirting the edges of that license, and more correctly, it sounds like you are violating it. You call this a concert, however, it is a staged concert, which would place the performances not under the ASCAP domain, but through Music Theater International's Concert rights for Mr. Sondheim's works. This is where you pay to stage a number, rather than stand and sing, as if in a true concert, caberet, or preshow performances. More information on obtaining the correct rights for these songs can be found at http://mtishows.com/concerts.asp
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written by Tyson Danner, November 04, 2013
Betty,

The key phrase would be "of the work from which the music is taken." According to the ASCAP reps, "Last Call" does fall under their concert license. If you'd like further information, I'd be happy to converse one on one through e-mail, as I don't know if a public conversation is helpful simply to attain the correct information. (You can contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

Thanks again for the clarification. Artists' rights are an important topic and hopefully this conversation highlights that importance.


Tyson Danner
Artistic Director,
QC Theatre Workshop
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written by Joe Ames, November 04, 2013
Sorry if I am asking questions that everyone already knows the answer to, but I checked out the review because I love Sondheim, and then got caught up in this conversation.

I thought Last Call was a show, not a concert. I mean, you have people playing characters on stage. Whether they are named or un-named characters, aren’t they still characters? One of them is a bartender right, serving drinks to patrons? Isn’t that a character, because I am assuming the actor isn’t a bartender in real life. And there are patrons singing to eachother about their relationships as if they were a couple, they can’t all be in relationships with one another. So aren’t those characters they are portraying in a show?

I guess I get the idea of not having elements “of the work from which the music is taken,” because like, if you used them you would be putting on the same show. Like if someone showed up in a yellow overcoat while singing a Dick Tracy song, that would be using a “visual representation of the work from which the music is taken.” So I got that, but doesn’t it seem like those specific rules are made up to protect a theatre show, while still allowing people at a concert to say stuff other than singing? Like introducing the music, or saying what it means to them, not playing characters in a show. I’m just not sure what a concert is supposed to be like then if you have characters and storyline in it. Is there a price difference between buying the rights for a theatre show from MTI, or rights for a concert from ASCAP?

And I was just wondering about Company, in which Joanne sings “ladies who lunch” to Bobby around patrons in a bar, isn’t that what Furness is doing in Last Call? Wouldn’t that be using a “visual representation?”

Again, I’m sorry if I just wasted everyones time, but I don’t really know anything about this kind of thing, just curious about all things Sondheim. Anyway, I can’t wait to see the show (or concert I guess) it sounds great!

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