A Closing Interview with Director Kathy Mulay

May 18, 2024

Did you know that this is Sondheim on Sondheim director Kathy Mulay's eighth Sondheim show? To celebrate the final weekend of this production, we sat down with Kathy to learn more about her history with the father of the modern musical and what she finds most rewarding about his work. Read on to step inside the mind of a renowned local artist with the final blog for Sondheim on Sondheim.

West Side Story (Loy Norrix HS, 2015)

When did you first encounter Sondheim? What was your reaction?

My initial encounter with Sondheim was through his work as the lyricist for West Side Story at Loy Norrix High School in the 1980s. I vividly recall the audience's stunned silence at the show's conclusion, unsure whether to applaud or not, as it was uncommon for a musical to end with lifeless bodies on stage. Sondheim's creative principle, that content dictates form, is evident in many of his productions, where he risks leaving audiences uncomfortable and narratively unsatisfied to reflect the complexity of the world he portrays. Influenced by Oscar Hammerstein II, Sondheim's lyrics provide profound introspective motivation for both singers and directors within the overarching narrative of the musical.

Gypsy (Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, 1988/Farmers Alley Theatre, 2017)

What more can you tell us about your experience with Sondheim?

Having directed West Side Story, Gypsy, and Into the Woods twice each, and my favorite Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, once, I've delved deep into the genius of his work. Sondheim challenges both directors and performers with his intricate compositions, where the underlying accompaniment represents the character's emotional core, overlaid with meticulously crafted lyrics that often surprise and delight. His lyrics, abundant and ever-present, continually reveal new layers of meaning, inviting interpretation and exploration. I find the depth and complexity of Sondheim’s work exhilarating, and really challenging — and I mean that in the best possible way. I grow with his works.

Into the Woods (Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, 1992)

Finally, how did you approach Sondheim's work for this production?

Approaching Sondheim's work is akin to solving a puzzle, with each piece carefully fitting together to create a cohesive whole. Every song is a miniature play, offering countless opportunities for exploration and discovery. The meticulous attention to detail evident in every aspect of a Sondheim production, whether musical or lyrical, parallels the nuanced interpretation required for staging Shakespeare. This depth and complexity ensure that Sondheim's work remains relevant and compelling across various interpretations and performances, solidifying his enduring legacy in musical theatre.

See Kathy's vision come to life in the final performances of Sondheim on Sondheim through May 19. Get tickets here.

A huge thank you to Mike Artis and the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre for sourcing and scanning photos from their productions.