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Oskar Eustis out with musical

Oskar Eustis out with musical

OSKAR EUSTIS, the Public Theater’s artistic director, never saw a musical as a child. Maybe that’s to be expected when your mother is a scholar with a special interest in Puritanism.

“But then I saw ‘Hair’ when I was 14,” he said. “Wow!”

He got up on the stage to dance with the cast. And it changed his life.

Ah, the power of musicals! The memories of them onstage, and on the turntables and VCR’s of childhood! The imprinting of their lyrics and melodies on tender minds! The Nielsen ratings they got for “Glee” in its first year or two!

Mr. Eustis was presiding on Monday night at a benefit party for his theater at Joe’s Pub, its cabaret lounge. The space had been renovated months ahead of the rest of the building, which looked in striking disarray as 200 well-heeled guests arrived.

Some were torn because they would have to rush home to catch the latest episode of “Smash,” the NBC series about the making of a musical. It joins “Glee” in the unabashed worship of what to some is as much a part of life as fashion or religion.

“Musicals went back two generations in our home,” said Daisy Prince, who directed the evening of songs from shows produced by the Public and whose father is Hal Prince. “In high school, I didn’t even know if we had a football team, and it was the same way in college. I can’t even imagine that there are people who don’t know musicals.”

Indeed, they might have been scarce that evening, as 25 singers, including Alan Cumming, David Byrne, Kelli O’Hara and Benjamin Walker, performed songs from “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” “The Wild Party,” “Caroline, or Change,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and many shows in progress. To up the glamour, Stephen Sondheim arrived in an unglamorous sweater and plunked himself down in a booth near the back.

“I can’t believe he’s here,” said Rachel Shukert, an author and a theater lover who is recapping “Smash” on Vulture, New York magazine’s culture blog. “I’m hyperventilating.”

Not for long, because Mr. Sondheim, who had been sitting with Mamie Gummer (the actress and a daughter of Meryl Streep, who dove deep into musicals with “Mamma Mia!”), departed as soon as the show ended with the title song from his “Into the Woods.”

As audience members finished their light supper and were joined by cast members for drinks and dessert, Mr. Byrne stood in the lobby. He looked out of his element in the musicals world. But guess what? He’s working on an Imelda Marcos musical with Fatboy Slim.

“There’s a big difference between pop songs and songs for musicals,” said Mr. Byrne, who attended art school and became, as a Talking Head, the man who brought “Psycho Killer” to the world. “So all of this is a learning experience for me.”

Hey, if the creators of “South Park” can write a musical, why not him?

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