May Day Musical


May Day Musical


Bluffton University will present “Sondheim on Sondheim” as the May Day musical on May 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. each evening in Yoder Recital Hall.

The engaging contemporary musical revue features both well-known and seldom heard songs of Stephen Sondheim from “Into the Woods,” “Company,” “Passion,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “A Little Night Music” and more.

“We’re always looking for variety,” said Friesen. “Every year we’re thinking about what would be a little different from last year that would give our students and our audiences a chance to experience different kinds of musicals.”

And, different it is. As a revue, “Sondheim on Sondheim” contains no traditional dialogue. The actors and actresses cast in the show will be singing, not speaking. It won’t come with a lack of words, though. Exclusive video footage of Sondheim himself bridges the musical sections, offering insights into the artistic process and inspiration of one of the greatest living musical theatre artists.

Dr. Crystal Sellers Battle, an associate professor of music, has an increased role as the music director in the production this year because of the heavy emphasis on vocal performance.

“We’ve done a show like this before, but this is a bit different because Sondheim music is not easy music,” said Sellers Battle. “It’s an evening where all of us are invited into the creative mind of Stephen Sondheim.”

“All of us” means everyone. The audience, the community and the students. Participation in the musical is open to all majors. Senior education major Ashley Smith, of Findlay, Ohio, has performed in musicals since sixth grade and hopes to use the knowledge gained in her future endeavors.

“I will definitely use my performing skills in the education world,” Smith said. “It promotes self-confidence when standing in front of people.”

“In education, especially middle school, students are very vocal about how they feel about you,” Smith continued. “And, musicals give me the opportunity to bare my soul in front of a large audience.”

Thirteen students were cast in this year’s performance. These 10 females and three males went through the audition and call-back process and found themselves with the unique opportunity to perform a Broadway musical on their turf. But, it didn’t come without challenges.

“I wanted to try to get students as many equal opportunities to be featured as possible,” Sellers Battle said. “But, it was challenge because this show was originally written for eight singers - four male and four female, and we made it work!”

Not only did casting challenges have to be overcome, but the directors had to think through the additional media aspect of the musical.

“Almost every song or selection is accompanied by animation, images, rehearsal footage and interviews of Stephen Sondheim,” Friesen said. “There’s at least 88 video cues that we have to work into the musical.”

A small pit orchestra will accompany the performers, but the addition of the digital media makes it much more difficult.

“Usually we are only working with an orchestra, and if we mess up, they so graciously help us find our place,” said Smith. “This media is unforgiving - it will go on without us.”

The pressure weighing on the students is lightened by the rehearsal accompanist.

“For challenging music like this, repetition is the best teacher,” said Sellers Battle. “Our rehearsal accompanist, Stephanie Titus, has been extremely helpful in providing rehearsal tracks for the students to use to help them become acquainted with how their line fits in with the production.”

Though the additional media helps bridge songs and sections, the performers rarely get to see what is on the screen. The audience, however, has a different opportunity.

“I think the audience is going to learn all sorts of interesting information about Sondheim’s creative process, which can relate to a number of creative processes” said Friesen. “Though we didn’t plan it this way, the musical fits beautifully into our Civic Engagement theme.”

This year’s Civic Engagement theme is “Creativity, the Arts and Civic Life,” which explores how creativity and the imagination infuse all disciplines.

This musical revue will challenge students to gain knowledge and understanding and culminate Bluffton’s year-long exploration of creativity.

“No musical is easy,” Smith said. “But, this one is so different - it’s taken us all for a creative ride.”

The musical will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6, in Yoder Recital Hall. Tickets are $15 for reserved seats and $5 for students and are available online at or in person at the box office at the Marbeck Center Information Desk; for assistance with tickets, call the box office at 419-358-3239.


-Claire Clay, public relations student assistant

“We’ve done a show like this before, but this is a bit different because Sondheim music is not easy music,” said Sellers Battle. “It’s an evening where all of us are invited into the creative mind of Stephen Sondheim.”