More than three make for great ‘company’9/6/2017
Noce Sondheim’s pivotal musical returns for Des Moines audiences
Two’s company, as the saying goes. The first show out of the chute for the new creative merger, Iowa Stage Theatre Company, pairs it with “Company,” a bold musical that epitomizes the mission of this new local producer: “Iowa Stage Theatre Company transforms Iowa, its citizens, and arts community by producing truthful, relevant, and intimate theatre that inspires, enlightens, and entertains.” Bold positioning, bold choice.
In keeping with the two’s company theme, never before — or, perhaps, since — has such a company been formed as when celebrated composer/lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, joined forces for the first time with theatrical producer and director, Hal Prince, to create “Company” (book by George Furth). This union produced a smashing success, the 1970 musical comedy which yielded a record-setting 14 Tony Awards nominations, winning six. As the Iowa Stage production’s director, Brad Dell, quips, “Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim were like two roving geniuses looking for their artistic soulmate.”
Defying traditional musical theatre story lines, “Company” is a concept musical that strings together a series of vignettes. It also is one of the first musicals to deal with adult themes and relationships. Its music is catchy, its lyrics witty and rapier-sharp. At the core of this show is Bobby, a single man with relationship issues, whether a steady romance or (gulp) marriage.
“Broadway theater has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems,” explained Sondheim when asked about “Company” versus traditional musical theatre. “These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, and then here we are with ‘Company’ talking about how we’re going to bring it right back in their faces.”
Veteran director, Brad Dell, has a firm grasp of the reins on this show.
“Though wildly entertaining and full of humor, ‘Company’ is far from an escapist retreat,” Dell states. “Instead it holds up a mirror to the audience and asks them to see themselves in the lives, decisions and moments that the characters are experiencing onstage. And it doesn’t always provide easy answers. There are no heroes or villains in this story, but instead characters in the midst of honest and truthful human engagement. And ultimately this is what the main character Bobby is looking for — what it really means to ‘be alive.’ In our contemporary world of Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook, this story featuring face-to-face, human connection really resonates.”
Dell continues by addressing a script almost 50 years old, and how it stands the test of cultural time.
” ‘Company’ speaks to our modern-day world as loudly, resoundingly and relevantly as it did when it premiered in 1970…in fact, our production will be set in present day 2017. As our cast and our production team have discussed, this story and these characters feel profoundly contemporary — in ways that we can all relate to right now in our own lives. The struggles and joys of marriage and relationships are universal, and Bobby’s search for fulfillment and contentment is something that many people face in this age and in any age. The modern cellphone Twitter-verse has only made more present and relevant the disconnection, disengagement and search for “something more.”
The company of “Company” is filled with many of the region’s finest performers, sure to deliver a stellar show. Those attending this musical comedy will, indeed, find themselves in good company.
Overheard in the lobby
Noce will present “Souvenir,” a musical play starring Gina Gedler as Florence Foster Jenkins and Max Wellman as Cosme McMoon, her faithful accompanist. Max Schaeffer directs, with musical direction from Ben Hagen. Florence Foster Jenkins was recently played by Meryl Streep in the film by the same name. Sept. 8-10, 15-17. ♦
John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.