'Company' opens on Westport Community Theatre stage
A landmark musical in its own time, Stephen Sondheim's hopeful and cynical show "Company" has fascinated audiences for the past 42 years with its portrait of marital discord and the search for connections in Manhattan.
For theater director and producer Mark Graham, of Stratford, who was a student when the original production opened, the boldly contemporary musical was a revelation. "(Director) Hal Prince made $2 student tickets available in the last row and I went back three or four times. The staging was fantastic, and I was very moved by Sondheim's music," Graham said last week while in the midst of rehearsals for a production of the show that opens at the Westport Community Theatre on Friday, June 8.
"Company" won the Tony Award for best Broadway musical of 1970 and launched the most productive decade of Sondheim's career, from "Follies" in 1971 to "A Little Night Music" in 1973 and then onward through "Sweeney Todd" in 1979.
Graham's relationship with the show deepened when he did a production of "Company" in graduate school at the University of Connecticut.
"That's where I met my wife. We played opposite each other," he said.
More InformationIN GOOD 'COMPANY' Westport Community Theatre will stage Steven Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical, "Company." The production debuts this weekend at Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Ave., and performances continue at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 1. There is also a special performance at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 14. Tickets are $25, and various $2 discounts are available. For information or to reserve tickets, call 203-226-1983 or visit www.westportcommunitytheatre.com
Ten years later, he directed a student production at Fairfield University and realized Sondheim had created a show that changes and deepens with each new exposure.
When Westport Community Theatre asked Graham to come up with a few plays he would like to direct for them, "Company" was his first choice. "I hadn't done a community theater show for a while and I thought `Company' would be interesting to explore again," he said.
Since the show centers on a 35-year-old bachelor named Bobby, Graham's first challenge was to find a performer who could sing and act this challenging role. Christopher Wilkes fills the bill, the director said, bringing charm and strong vocal chops to a character who can seem cool and remote if played by the wrong actor.
"Chris is a professional and he is very strong as Bobby. If that character is weak, the whole thing falls apart," the director said.
Graham is excited about presenting the show in the intimate black box theater the WCT occupies in the Westport Town Hall.
"We're doing it in the round with a lot of it taking place in a big bed in the center -- Bobby spends the show in his pajamas, in a dream state -- with the city at night represented on the walls around the audience," the director said of his environmental staging of the show.
Theatergoers will almost be a part of the action, with Bobby's married friends sitting with the audience when they are not on stage.
Graham said the show's almost surreal vignette structure lends itself to a variety of staging approaches.
"The whole show is very dreamlike," he said of the original script by George Furth. "You get a series of short plays that are put together and then pulled apart."
Going through the script and the score, Graham was pleased to see that there is very little dated material in "Company." Substituting iPhones for phones with answering machines was one of the very few changes that had to be made to set the story in 2012 rather than 1970.
"It really does hold up," the director said of the show. "And I think most of that is due to Sondheim's great songs."
IN GOOD `COMPANY'
Westport Community Theatre will stage Steven Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical, "Company."
The production debuts this weekend at Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Ave., and performances continue at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 1. There is also a special performance at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 14.
Tickets are $25, and various $2 discounts are available. For information or to reserve tickets, call 203-226-1983 or visit www.westportcommunitytheatre.com