Guide to ‘Here We Are,’ Stephen Sondheim’s last musical

Combining elements of play and musical, comedy and drama, satire and surrealism, this Off-Broadway show is a unique event — here's what to know before going.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Here We Are is the final musical by the late Stephen Sondheim, the legendary composer and lyricist of such wondrous works as Sweeney Todd, Company, and Into the Woods.

The new show’s Off-Broadway premiere makes Sondheim's lyric “Give us more to see” from Sunday in the Park with George resonate more than ever, now that there’s no more to see from him. That simple yet enormous fact automatically makes Here We Are a landmark.

But what is the musical all about? Like every Sondheim show, it's wholly original, even when it's rooted in existing material. For Here We Are, Sondheim and book writer David Ives mashed up the plots of two 20th-century films to create a story about brunch plans gone eerily, puzzlingly, and entertainingly wrong.

Find out more about Here We Are's plot, source material, star-studded cast, and creators below, and get tickets to see the musical for yourself.

What is Here We Are about?

The musical by Sondheim and Ives (Venus In Fur) combines two surrealistic movies by Spanish Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel into a two-act show. In the first half, which unfolds like a traditional musical, friends’ plans to dine out together keep getting thwarted.

In the second half, the group finally savors a delicious meal but discovers they can’t leave, sending them into desperation and chaos. This half is more like a play, being largely absent of songs because Sondheim died before writing them.

Like their source material, the show satirizes the lifestyles and priorities of wealthy, privileged people. Messed-up brunch plans and being stuck in a lavish room are, for them, the end of the world — nevermind that, according to one character, the actual end of the world is on the way.

What films is Here We Are based on?

Two surrealistic movies by Spanish Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel inspired the new musical. The first act is loosely based on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which was released in 1972 and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The story follows a group of privileged, self-satisfied people who grow increasingly frustrated as increasingly weird circumstances disrupt their efforts to share a meal together. It’s not a linear, straightforward story. Revolutionaries and terrorists weave their way into the plot via dream sequences.

The Exterminating Angel, which came out a decade earlier, is the basis for the second act and has similar themes to Bourgeoisie. In this absurdist movie (featuring the inexplicable appearance of a bear), dinner party guests discover they can't leave their room after finishing a fancy feast. Things quickly go downhill for the trapped elites – until they solve the riddle of how to exit their prison. Yes, there are echoes of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. And yes, the bear appears in Here We Are, too.

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Is Here We Are a comedy or a drama?

Here We Are is both comedic and dramatic, just as the show has elements of a musical and a play. It’s easy to laugh when pampered elites squirm because they can’t get everything, or anything, they want – at a restaurant called Everything Cafe, no less. So it goes for the characters in Here We Are.

The show is also streaked with darkness, as the world seems to explode around the characters and talks of the "revolution" and "the end of the world" loom large. It turns out finding a way out of the room in Act 2 isn’t the end of the group's problems. One thing always leads to another – that’s life.

When did Sondheim write Here We Are?

Sondheim and Ives began working on their Buñuel-based collaboration, then unnamed, in 2012. A reading and workshop followed in 2016, but only the first act was complete.

In September 2021, Sondheim appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and discussed the show, which was called Square One at the time. (The phrase pops up a number of times in Here We Are.) “We had a reading of it last week and we were encouraged,” he told Colbert. “So we’re going to go ahead with it. And with any luck, we’ll get it on next season.”

Sondheim died at age 91 on November 26, 2021. Ives and director Joe Mantello pushed on, presenting the show largely as-is, despite the lack of Act 2 music. Then again, a musical that bucks convention is fitting for a surrealist show — and Sondheim's forte.

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Who is in the Here We Are cast?

Tony Award winners Rachel Bay Jones, David Hyde Pierce, and Denis O’Hare are part of the cast that’s top-to-bottom terrific. They respectively play a well-off wife with a sunny attitude, a troubled bishop, and a servant who's more than meets the eye.

The eclectic ensemble also includes a womanizing ambassador (Steven Pasquale), a chic media executive (Amber Gray), a young sort-of revolutionary (Micaela Diamond), and more. Learn more about the complete Here We Are cast and their past projects.

How to get Here We Are tickets

Here We Are tickets are available on New York Theatre Guide. Our four-star Here We Are review reads that the show "adds a zap of electricity to the theatre season, thanks to inspired work by a dream cast and ace designers who serve up a slim slice of surrealism under Joe Mantello's (Wicked) direction."

In short: It’s an event. And it only runs until January 21 at The Shed.

Photo credit: Here We Are off Broadway. (Photos by Emilio Madrid)

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