Moments of hilarity and tenderness: TACT opens Sondheim classic ‘Company’
WILMINGTON — It all comes down to relationships, at the heart of human nature.
Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Company” has a way of captivating audiences with its timeless foray into its title character’s celibacy.
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After debuting in 1970 – and winning six Tony Awards – the show recently got an update on Broadway, winning five more Tonys in 2022. The revival sheds new light on the show from 14 members, including some of its main actors who change gender to modernize an otherwise enduring play.
However, as the Thalian Association Community Theater lifts the curtain at Kenan Auditorium on Friday evening, “Company” – which was originally due to open in February but was postponed due to Covid – will stick to its traditional roots. This is the first time that TACT artistic director Chander Davis has led a show in Sondheim
“Legally, we had to approach it in a traditional way,” she said of securing the rights to the book, written by George Furth, and lyrics by Sondheim (the updated Broadway revival has forced Sondheim to alter the lyrics slightly before his death in 2020; he will tour the following year). “The updated version is not yet available for most theaters.”
The show forgoes a linear plot and centers on serial singleton Robert – “Bobby”, as his friends call him. It works through moments of time in Bobby’s world – a wedding, a birthday party, dinners and drinks with friends – as he wades through the New York dating world.
The scene was designed as a “sleek” Manhattan skyline by Davis, Mark Hayes and Paul Simon. Davis said there were no scenic changes as the audience watched the characters move through Bobby’s stream of consciousness.
The action begins on his 35th birthday, a time when singles often start thinking, “If I want a family, I should get serious because time is running out.” Bobby’s friends gather to celebrate.
All are married or at least on the verge of divorce. Some worry that their buddy is living life on the fringes as an observer, rather than immersing themselves in the human connection that makes life fun, messy, captivating, heartbreaking, and engaging. Others want his life.
“I think most art about the nature of human relationships is relevant at almost any time,” Davis said of the 50-year-old show. “‘Business’ truly captures the joy, security, insecurity and awkwardness of relationships.”
As Bobby, theater veteran Jason Aycock – although this is his first time stepping into the role. The show last ran in Wilmington in 2008. “I’ve seen it a few times,” Aycock admitted.
He said one aspect that remains constant, regardless of when the series premiered, is that marriage and romantic relationships remain continually complex in American life.
“Everyone knows couples like this, or the confirmed bachelor, or the different types of girlfriends,” Aycock said of the writing. “It’s a really smart characterization that really resonates whether you’ve been married or not. You recognize these people.
The show also emphasizes the importance of individualism – finding your own path to happiness, whatever that may be. Aycock said the fun of playing Bobby comes from his internal conflict.
“He’s interested in the idea of marriage, but he doesn’t really want to get married – or he wants to get married but doesn’t like everything that goes with it,” Aycock said. “It’s fun to play that perspective and see how he can look at those thumbnails of all of his friends’ relationships.”
One of Bobby’s three love interests on the show, flight attendant April, is a bit of a dork, if not caring and kind – looking for a domestic life. Susie Lunkens plays the role, which she likes due to April’s straightforward honesty.
“She takes things as they come,” Lunkens said. “She doesn’t read or ruminate and makes herself miserable. She understands what she wants, makes the decision and moves on.
Lunkens and Aycock share an intimate moment in the song “Barcelona.” This mirrors a conversation after a one-night stand indicating a longing for Bobby’s desires to be coupled, even if for all the wrong reasons.
Still, Bobby’s male friends are utterly envious of his situation, as sung in “Have I Got a Girl For You.” They live vicariously through the freedoms of their celibate friend – including Peter, played by Chad Hsu.
“People all over the world feel like they’re in a place in life where things could be different,” Hsu described. “They still feel like Peter: they wish they had someone else’s life based on what they see. Peter’s story is relatable.
Hsu last performed on “Company” as Bobby in 2013 in South Carolina. This experience was different, particularly because it leaned into Peter’s ‘lust for life’, even though it’s underpinned by a severe case of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out), Hsu added. .
Many of “Company’s” 19 songs have long been hailed as anthems – “Being Alive”, “Not Getting Married Today” and “The Ladies Who Lunch” among them.
“Ladies” is the director’s favorite, covering the hard knocks and lack of options for women in Manhattan’s dating scene.
“The music is beautiful,” Davis said.
Katie Deese is the musical director, leading an 11-piece orchestra: keyboardist Denice Hopper; wooden players Sheila Hardison, Laura York and Toree McLamb; the horn section Casey Black, Carlton Howard and Andy Stanfill; cellist Stephen Pfieffer; guitarist Justin Lacy; bassist Vince Bové; and drummer Drew Wright.
Davis added “iconic” to the description of the score, with a plot left open “that really invites the audience to ponder”.
“It also oscillates between hilarious moments and very tender moments,” she added.
The Thalian Association opens “Company” Friday at UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium. It runs until August 14, continues Friday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost between $22 and $34.
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