A star is (re)born

In MPT's latest production, music director...
A star is (re)born

Regular patrons of the Middleton Players Theatre are used to seeing Thomas J. Kasdorf–or rather, not seeing him–in the company’s productions. In his typical role as MPT’s music director, he’s usually the one in the pit or behind the curtain, directing the orchestra, or parked over a piano keyboard, directly contributing to a show’s sound.

That changes this weekend, when MPT opens its second show of the 2016 season, Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning Sunday in the Park with George. Kasdorf will be front and center, playing the dual roles of the legendary pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his great-grandson, George, both of whom struggle with personal connections and the drive to realize their artistic visions a century apart.

Kasdorf calls it “tremendously exciting and simultaneously terrifying” to step back onto the stage. (His last onstage role came in Madison Theatre Guild‘s 2008 production of The Laramie Project). “I’ve missed the role preparation more than anything, the long thought process that goes into creating a performance,” he says.

This particular role has several additional connections for Kasdorf–as an undergrad at UW-Madison pursuing a degree in piano performance, he struggled with the same sense of alienation that Seurat did in doggedly pursuing his art.

“So many hours of detached work in a tiny room, isolated, just you and a piano and a score can make you feel very solitary and cut off from a world beyond,” he explains. “I began to realize that it was negatively affecting how I perceived people outside, including audiences for performances of the art that I was secluding myself to create, and knew that I needed to share my time with other musicians and artists on projects.”

But while Seurat, who died at 31, sacrificed his personal life to achieve new, history-making methods of self-expression, Kasdorf altered his path. He switched his focus to collaborative piano–working with others from the keyboard–a choice he says has made him “much happier and more fulfilled in my art.”

Kasdorf has wanted to tackle this particular musical for several years now, but now that he’s in the middle of it, he admits he’s been a little daunted by the task of memorizing and delivering Sondheim’s extensive, complex and often rapid-fire lyrics. And we’re not just talking about “Putting It Together,” the show’s signature number.

“All of my love and eternal respect to Stephen Sondheim, but he didn’t make it easy,” says Kasdorf. “The material in the score and lyrics and book lights a fire under you to be the best possible performer you can at every moment, because the material deserves every possible amount of energy and focus you can give it.”

Middleton Players’ production of Sunday in the Park with George opens Friday, June 24 and runs through July 3. For tickets, click here.