Q&A: Prof. Matt Hawkins directs Sondheim musical that addresses gender, social stereotypes

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter


“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a Stephen Sondheim musical that originally premiered on Broadway in 1962, will open Friday at Northwestern’s Ethel M. Barber Theatre. Traditional gender and social stereotypes will be reimagined in NU’s production of the musical, which includes a mix of romance and comedy.

The Daily spoke with Communication professor Matt Hawkins, the director of the production, about the musical.

The Daily: What is special or unique about your modern take on a traditional musical?

Hawkins: It was originally done in 1962 and we are obviously doing it in 2016, so we are taking on a little bit more of a modern, sensible look at the old play. We’re reimagining something that is old into something that is new and applicable to our time of day. We really hit the stereotypes head on as far as gender and sexuality go.

The Daily: How are you challenging these stereotypes?

Hawkins: We’re not changing the plot, but we have women playing men characters and we have men playing female characters. There is a song called “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.” It’s sung by all men originally, and it’s very misogynistic. And it’s really exciting because there’s a moment, the way it’s cast, where there are five women on stage singing the song. It’s really fun and inviting.

The Daily: What are you hoping to accomplish by taking a more modern approach to a traditional musical?

Hawkins: The hope is that we have taken a stereotypical, traditional musical and we have made it relevant with social issues and gender issues and sexuality issues that are very, very present in our world right now. Stereotypes exist for a reason. We’re always trying to break them, but we sometimes can’t get away from them. I’m excited for the social conversations that will happen.

The Daily: What are you most excited for with this show?

Hawkins: I’m excited for the educational experience, and especially for some of the young actors on stage. If we look at our student population, there are tons of young women in our department. What happens a lot of times is we try to produce plays that students don’t relate to, and there are tons of roles for men and not enough for women. We took that and we flipped it on its head so we could make opportunities for all of these talented women to have great parts and great stage time and learn what it’s like to play the opposite sex for a change. It also gives an opportunity for these men to literally walk in the shoes of women. The young women really get to show their talent, even though the original script would not have given them access to do that.

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