Stephen Sondheim, our greatest living theatrical songwriter, turns 90 on March 22, giving us the perfect excuse to celebrate his genius.
At Boston Court, “Passion” is already aflame. East West Players has “Assassins” in its crosshairs. A Noise Within is gearing up for the demonic thrills of “Sweeney Todd.” And at Walt Disney Concert Hall in April, Gustavo Dudamel conducts a Los Angeles Philharmonic production of the breathtakingly picturesque “Sunday in the Park With George.”
Our Sondheim cup runneth over. If the spring theater season does indeed move forward as planned — an urgent question at this point as the world confronts an incipient pandemic — these productions will be a fitting tribute to an artist who transformed the American musical from a vehicle of sentimentality to an instrument of truth.
For those with a taste for the elusive and the elliptical, Annie Baker’s “The Antipodes” is the play to catch. Holland Taylor’s crackling solo performance in “Ann” as Ann Richards, the Lone Star State’s embattled voice of political sanity, is not to be missed. And for anyone still suffering from “Game of Thrones” withdrawal, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (a.k.a. Jaime Lannister) is tackling one of the most fiendish characters in all Shakespeare, the Scottish tyrant Macbeth.
“Passion,” Boston Court Pasadena. The prospect of seeing in an intimate venue Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1994 musical about an unusual romantic obsession already has my heart racing. Michael Michetti directs this show from which the song “Loving You” bursts like a confessional rain. March 5-April 19. $20-$45. 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. (626) 683-6801, bostoncourtpasadena.org
“Assassins,” David Henry Hwang Theater. Snehal Desai directs this East West Players production of the Sondheim-John Weidman musical about those who have attempted, successfully or not, the assassination of an American president. A singing rogues’ gallery, the show is perhaps Sondheim’s darkest, making this one of the braver revivals this season. March 12-April 5. $50-$70 (some exceptions). 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org
“The Antipodes,” Mark Taper Forum. Annie Baker, perhaps the most slyly inventive playwright of her generation, tackles the covert dynamics of a high-powered writers’ room in this surreal, subtly satiric and ultimately uncategorizable drama from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Flick.” March 25-April 26. $25-$110. 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org
“Seeds,” Freud Playhouse. This offering from the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA is a Canadian import from the Montreal company Porte Parole. The production mixes journalism and social satire in a documentary piece about a Saskatchewan farmer’s legal battle against biotech giant Monsanto — a real-life David and Goliath tale. April 3-4. $44-$59. Ralph Freud Playhouse, MacGowan Hall, UCLA. (310) 825-2101, cap.ucla.edu
“Bernhardt/Hamlet,” Geffen Playhouse. Theresa Rebeck (“Seminar,” NBC’s “Smash”) resurrects the French actress Sarah Bernhardt as she tackles her most formidable role, Shakespeare’s melancholy prince, in this playful dramatization about the Divine Sarah’s gender-bending coup de théâtre. April 7-May 10. $30-$120. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.org
“Once on This Island,” Ahmanson Theatre. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical didn’t make a huge splash when it first washed ashore on Broadway in 1990, but Michael Arden’s Tony-winning revival brought out the multi-hued vibrancy of a show that put the divine and the earthly into tropical harmony. April 7–May 10. $35-$145. 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org
“A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,” Odyssey Theatre. Robin Larsen directs Peter Nichols’ portrait of a husband and wife grappling with the daily stresses of caring for their severely disabled daughter. This groundbreaking work mixing vaudeville with searing pathos is part of the Odyssey’s Circa ’69 season celebrating plays that emerged when the theater was founded. May 2-June 28. $32-$37. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2, odysseytheatre.com
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” A Noise Within. Whether you consider “Sweeney Todd” or “Sunday in the Park With George” Sondheim’s ultimate masterpiece, there’s no doubt that this 1979 show (featuring a book by Hugh Wheeler based on Christopher Bond’s play) about a vengeful barber and a blowzy baker who hatch a gruesomely unsavory plot is the greatest musical thriller ever written. May 10-June 7. $25-$120. 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 356-3100,
“Ann,” Pasadena Playhouse. Holland Taylor reprises her crackling, Tony-nominated performance as straight-talking Texas Gov. Ann Richards in this biographical play that brings back the astringent wisdom of a political figure whose life was a defiant act of survival. May 27-June 28. $29-$101. 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. (626) 356-7529, pasadenaplayhouse.org
“Macbeth,” Geffen Playhouse. “Game of Thrones” has steeled Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for the bloodiness of the Scottish Play, as actors (hoping to avoid the theatrical curse associated with Shakespeare’s tragedy) refer to the work when inside a theater. Whether Geffen artistic director Matt Shakman can avoid the bad luck in this revival remains to be seen, but on paper this is the spring season’s spine-tingler. June 16-July 26. $30-$195. 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.org