Sondheim: Breaking Down the Fourth Wall | Way Off Broadway Presents Broadway Stars November 6-16, 2008

Broadway diva Jenn Colella stars in the Way Off Broadway production of Peter Pan, November 6-16, 2008. She most recently performed in Beautiful Girls, a musical tribute to honor Stephen Sondheim and shot an episode of the TV show The Cashmere Mafia.

“Musicals are, by nature, theatrical, meaning poetic, meaning having to move the audience’s imagination and create a suspension of disbelief, by which I mean there’s no fourth wall.” —Stephen Sondheim

This quote is incredibly rich with information, so shall we roll our sleeves up and not waste another word?

Stephen Sondheim’s musicals are notably hard to pin down in terms of a particular style, as each work explores a different expression of theater. What he is noted for is breaking down the “fourth wall” (the imaginary wall between the stage and the audience—that many theater styles uphold) or in simple “non-theater speak,” he is all about integrating the audience into every scene, song, and dance of the performance. This style of removing the “fourth wall” and integrating the audience is a concept that started with the dynamic duo Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In ’30s and ’40s musical theater—Show Boat being a prime example—was a different form from musicals today. The actors communicated the plot, then stopped and performed a musical number. When the song was over, the actors would advance the story through their dialog. Rodgers and Hammerstein began to integrate more music into the production as a means to directly advance the plot, and Stephen Sondheim took this a step further, completely including the audience into the production, therby fostering a new interactive “in the now” relationship among the actors, the art, and the audience.

The fourth wall will come down for yet another Way Off Broadway Musical Theatre production: Peter Pan, November 6-16, for two long glorious Neverland weekends. Please join WOB artistic director Randal K. West and a stunning cast starring Broadway diva Jenn Colella as Peter Pan and Stephen DeRosa (who returns from WOB’s January production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) as Captain Hook. As with all WOB productions, the best and brightest talent from around the nation and region will all assemble on stage at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts for this high-tech, high-flying, not-to-be-missed production. Another unique feature of this production is the all-star 15-piece orchestra, from hither and yon and led by musical director Justin Hill. Justin will be reworking the score to offer up a classical style mixed with a dash of Broadway pizzazz. Join us to celebrate this interactive form of live musical theater. We shall see you at the theaer!

For ticket information, please call the Sondheim Center Box Office at 641-472-2787 or  For more WOB information please visit

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