- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

"This will be known as an historic moment in American theater," said an enraptured Freddie Gershon, who was among the cheering throngs at Saturday's party celebrating the Kennedy Center's debut of "Sweeney Todd," the first of six original productions of the works of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and the first effort to do so in a tightly scheduled repertory fashion.
"This is about the most challenging show. Its subject matter is so difficult; it's the closest thing to 'Porgy and Bess,'" said Mr. Gershon, who, as licensee of the musical rights to all of Mr. Sondheim's works, was more or less the godfather he called himself the "rabbi" on the scene. It's an apt comparison from so experienced a New Yorker, because Mr. Sondheim, who was present, tieless and beaming, considers the Gershwin groundbreaker one of his favorite shows.
Such comparisons didn't really matter, of course.
Surrounded by fans, Mr. Sondheim professed his "love" for the cast and its stars, Christine Baranski and Brian Stokes Mitchell. (Cast members from upcoming Sondheim shows had to buy their own tickets because the house was sold out, according to center officials.) The buzz of the night was how the home team had scored: Washington proved itself and even improved upon New York.
"It puts us back on the map," said an ecstatic Max Woodward, the celebration's producer, commenting how it would not have happened without the help of the hard-boiled Actors' Equity Association union.
"I got more than I gave," said Marty Granoff, an equally enchanted New Yorker, whose investment of "well into six figures" helped make the project possible.
Leave it to Washingtonians to put a local spin on the "Sweeney" plot about the talented barber in Victorian-era London exacting revenge and justice on his own terms, and to his own bad end.
"Living in Washington is a blood sport," former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein said with a laugh.
Ann Geracimos

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