Celebrating Sondheim, Cunningham Center

Stephen Sondheim

Some 1,300 music and theatre lovers flocked to Weber Chapel Auditorium in February to hear legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim discuss his extraordinary influence on Broadway. During a career that spans nearly 60 years, Sondheim has set the standard for modern American musical theatre. He has collaborated on more than a dozen landmark shows and written countless standard songs. His works are in constant revival in New York, London and around the world. As Sondheim’s lyrics have entered the American language—from “everything’s coming up roses” to “send in the clowns”—so, too, has his music liberated Broadway from traditional songwriting conventions. Today, it is impossible to find a new musical of artistic ambition that has not been influenced by his breakthroughs.

During An Evening With Stephen Sondheim, Associate Professor of Theatre W. Douglas Powers interviewed him on stage, in a conversational style similar to that used on the Bravo cable channel’s Inside the Actors Studio. The event was sponsored by the Dr. Bruce L. Nary Theatre Guest Artist Fund, established for the purpose of bringing to campus recognized professionals in the field of theatre. The fund honors the late Bruce L. Nary, who devoted his 31-year career as a theatre professor to recognition of the arts at Susquehanna University.

Preceding Sondheim’s visit, Susquehanna featured his music in a program marking the 10th anniversary of the Cunningham Center for Music and Art. Opened in 2002, the Cunningham Center for Music and Art is the culmination of additions and extensive renovations to Heilman Hall, Susquehanna’s signature music facility for more than 40 years.

Heilman Hall was transformed by a $7.5-million grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of Susquehanna President Emeritus Joel Cunningham and Professor Emeritus of Music Cyril Stretansky, longtime director of choral activities at the university. The gift recognized their commitment to bringing the fine arts to Susquehanna students and residents of the region.

The building’s art wing features studios for drawing, photography and graphic design, as well as an art history classroom, faculty offices and display space. Its music wing boasts Heilman Rehearsal Hall for large-ensemble practices; percussion rooms, one of which houses Susquehanna’s Stadium Band; 32 practice rooms designed for quality sound frequency; and faculty studios, student lounges and music technology laboratories. A separate wing is home to Stretansky Concert Hall, a 320-seat performance venue acoustically designed to optimize the technical sound produced by the singing voice and various musical instruments.

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