The Bay City Players have stepped their game up several notches with a renovated theatre and freshly redecorated lobby to welcome patrons as they kick off their 97th season with an ambitious and meticulously crafted production of the musically challenging and rewardingly innovative Stephen Sondheim musical, Company, which will run from October 9-12 & 16-19th.
Although not one of the more recognizable creations from the Sondheim catalog, when the original production appeared on Broadway in 1970, this musical comedy based upon a book by George Furth with lyrics & music by Sondheim, was nominated for a record-setting 14 Tony Awards and won six – largely due to its innovative and non-linear topical approach towards storytelling.
The plot revolved around a character named Bobby – a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage. The remaining characters in this ensemble production consist of five married couples that are his best friends, along with Bobby’s three girlfriends. Unlike most musicals that follow a clearly delineated plot, Company is a conceptual musical composed of short vignettes presented in no particularly chronological order – yet with each linked by a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday.
Company was also among the first musicals to deal with adult themes and relationships. As Sondheim puts it: ‘Broadway theatre has been for many years supported by upper middle class people with upper middle class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, yet here we are with Company talking about how we’re going to bring it right back in their faces.”
For director Michael Wisniewski, this presented its own set of unique challenges. “Critics were divided about Company because it was one of the first concept musicals to come out and deal with marital relationships and marriage as a whole,” he reflects. “It was really a breakthrough and in my opinion there is nothing like it. I think its one of Sondheim’s best shows, although people will disagree and either love or hate it.”
Wisniewski feels passionate about the production. “It’s a great book with a great score and the music itself is not easy,” he explains. “It’s a good challenge for the cast and even though it was written in the early 1970s, it transforms cleanly into the present day, which is when I’m staging it. I’m setting it in the preset day and bringing it into this decade.”
With musical director Kunio Ouellette and choreographer Holly Haga Bills, the Bay City Players cast for Company consists of Dan Taylor playing the role of Robert, Laurene Franjione, Dale Bills, Sarah Greene, Dave Ryan, Amy Britt, Trevor Keyes, Kori Orlowski, Randall Manetta, Denyse Clayton, Steve Moelter, Danessa Hellus, Claire Clark and Shana Fancey, with six of the actors making their first appearance on the BCP stage.
“This is more of an ensemble endeavor,” continues Michael, “without any read ‘lead’ actors. The way I am doing it, everybody will be on the stage at all times and each will have their own place they go to when not involved with a scene. Different scenes will be played out front on different platforms.”
“Thematically Company deals with marriage and with the relationships each of these husbands and wives have formed with Bobby,” relates Michael. “In addition to the five couples you have Robert’s three girlfriends, which lends a nice fluidity and seamless nature to the production. For the most part one scene will flow into another and all transition is done with lighting, which drives the differences in the scenes.”
“One of the strengths of Company is the music and it’s a different concept for a musical that people are not accustomed to seeing,” states Mike. “Unfortunately, it is one of Sondheim’s more obscure musicals, as people don’t know it like they do Sweeney Todd or West Side Story.”
For Wisniewski, his biggest challenge with bringing Company to the stage is the non-linear approach that the script takes. “Most musicals start at one point and progress the story to a finish line, but with Company it takes different vignettes to show the audience the relationship between each of these couples and how they interact with Bobby. I asked the cast to tell me who of the five couples is closest to Bobby, because one of the reasons I wanted to direct this show is that I’m single and also have a lot of married friends, so it’s interesting to make that correlation. Some of my married friends I am closer to than others, and I believe that is true with everybody.”
Interestingly enough, Sondheim had not been married when he wrote Company and says that he wrote many of the lyrics after literally interviewing his own married friends about what marriage actually meant to them, coupled with the reality of what they felt was essential to make their marriages survive.
“Even though Company does not follow a chronological or traditional story line, by the end of the play Bobby comes to a realization that being alone isn’t so bad,” confesses Wisniewski. “He doesn’t necessarily see the imperfections in these marriages, even though they exist in each of the five couples. He sees them as happy couples, but not all perfect – dealing with marriage in a realistic context. In fact, many of the songs are written from the wives and couples’ various perspectives.”
“Musically and thematically, Company is quite strong,” concludes Michael. “There’s some great lyrics in this play and a great opening number, as well as songs like The Little Things You Do Together and Being Alive. It’s a very well written book and not one you often see all the time, so while this is an undertaking, it’s worth it because it makes people think a little more.”
To order tickets or for full season information, go to BayCityPlayers.com or call 989-893-5555. Bay City Players is located at 1214 Columbus Ave in Bay City.