Event includes six full-scale productions in 15-week run

WASHINGTON — A 15-week celebration of musicals by Stephen Sondheim will highlight the 2001-02 theater season at the Kennedy Center.

The center will mount six full-scale Sondheim musicals for presentation beginning in May and import the Japanese version of Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures,” Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser announced Thursday.

The six will be offered under the artistic direction of Eric D. Schaeffer, artistic director of the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va. Schaeffer and his theater have been noted for their recent Sondheim revivals, and he recently directed the Broadway revival of the Sondheim revue “Putting It Together.” Musical director of the retrospective is Kay Cameron.

The six productions are “Sweeney Todd,” “Company,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Passion” and “A Little Night Music.” They will be presented at the center’s 1,100-seat Eisenhower Theater in a split schedule that will revolve “Sweeney,” “Company” and “George” in one stanza followed by the other three. “Overtures” may also play New York’s Lincoln Center.

Cost of the productions, which are not currently slated to play elsewhere, is estimated at $7 million to $10 million, said Kaiser.

The center will cast the shows with a combination of local and out-of-town talent, with rehearsal schedules carefully planned to allow actors to play roles in more than one show, said Schaeffer. Nationally prominent performers will be sought for many lead roles, he said.

Sets for all the shows will be designed by Derek McLane. Directorial assignments and other details will be announced later, though Schaeffer is himself is expected to direct at least two of the productions.

The idea for the retrospective was hatched by Kaiser and Schaeffer during conversations in London last year, and the plan has drawn the enthusiastic support of a flattered Sondheim.

“I’m overwhelmed that the Kennedy Center has taken on the daunting task of producing six of my musicals in repertory,” said Sondheim in a statement. “No greater gift could be bestowed on a theater composer.”

‘Copenhagen,’ ‘Blonde’ set

Other productions in the center’s upcoming theater season will include the Broadway comedy “Dirty Blonde,” “Copenhagen” and the 5-1/2 hour Australian production of Tim Wilson’s novel “Cloudstreet,” all at the Eisenhower. Musicals slated for the Opera House include Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and Disney’s “Aida.”

Also unveiled by the center were next season’s seasons for the National Symphony Orchestra, ballet, opera, chamber music, modern dance and jazz.

A lively ballet season will include appearances by the Bolshoi and Kirov-Mariinsky Ballets as well as the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the Dance Theater of Harlem, the American Ballet Theater and the Joffrey.

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