The musical Passion is based on the novel Fosca by the writer Iginio Tarchetti, which was then turned into the film Passione d’Amore. Stephen Sondheim saw the 1981 film directed by Ettore Scola and felt he had the idea for his next musical. He knew that he wanted James Lapine, his collaborator on Sunday In the Park With George and Into the Woods, to write the book and direct the piece. Sondheim said that “James was a romantic, he had a feeling for different centuries and different cultures, and he was enthusiastically attracted to weirdness.” When he approached his collaborator, Lapine was looking to adapt the memoir Muscle about a man who becomes obsessed with bodybuilding. Since both pieces dealt with outward physical appearance, definitions of beauty, and obsession, they originally started to work on an evening of 2 one act musicals adapting both stories. Eventually Sondheim decided he wasn’t the right composer for the first part of the evening, and they pursued turning Fosca into a full evening.
The musical opened on Broadway in 1994 and won the Tony Award® for Best Musical. The New York Times said of Mr. Sondheim, “With the playwright and director James Lapine, he has written an unalloyed love story, one that wants to penetrate the heart’s deepest mysteries.” Critic Ken Mandelbaum called the piece “uncompromising” and there are those who found the show troubling to watch in some aspects. You could argue that discomfort comes from the strength of the character of Fosca. She does not fit into a definition of traditional beauty and many of her attributes would be considered “masculine” in a time when definitions of gender were more regimented. She is not a typical heroine waiting and hoping for a man to love her. She knows what she wants, and when she finds a man who understands her she is not afraid to love with all that she has even if at times he is not ready for that kind of strength.
Signature has a history with the show and produced one of the first regional productions of the show in 1996 with Eric Schaeffer directing. The New York Times praised the revival calling it “lovely” and saying “It uncovers the haunted, throbbing heart beneath Mr. Sondheim’s careful aphorisms about what love is and isn’t.”
It is a musical that will always remain timeless for as Mr. Sondheim says, “Passion is about how the force of somebody’s feelings for you can crack you open and how it is the life force in a deadened world.”