One of the first concept musicals to deal with adult themes and relationships will open Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s second season, as the musical comedy “Company” comes to Boalsburg.
The 1970 musical comedy, based on a book by George Furth and with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, won six Tony Awards and was nominated for a record-setting 14. “Company” runs May 10-28.
“Company” is set in New York City in 1970 and surrounds the 35th birthday of the protagonist, Bobby. He is successful and beloved by his many friends but still single. His friends constantly pressure him to find a wife while also demonstrating the numerous challenges and joys that go along with marriage.
“Company” takes a piercing look at what it means to be single older than the age of 30. “Company” dares to question societal expectations and norms of traditional marriage, and brings to light the truth of the inevitable ebbs and flows of relationships and marriage. It was one of the first dark comedies of Broadway to bring such brutally honest adult themes to the stage.
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The cast features Michael Hadary as Bobby, Laura Saxe as Joanne, Dave Saxe as Larry and Courtney Brown as Jenny. Laura and her husband, Dave, founder of Nittany Theatre at the Barn, play the older married couple, Joanne and Larry.
Bobby is stuck. He’s been dating his entire adult life but can never pull the trigger in terms of committing to a woman.
“He’s too worried he’s going to get trapped with someone, but the irony is he creates a different kind of crisis for himself because he doesn’t make a choice,” Hadary said. “Bobby is easy-going and intelligent, but he’s too worried about making the perfect decision.”
Joanne is a tough New Yorker, blunt with a sarcastic edge. She has no filter. She’s the type that actually says the things you want to say but don’t have the nerve to.
“She is a bit old for the young crowd — and a bit young for the old crowd,” Laura Saxe said. “She is at a point in her life where she doesn’t quite fit in. For all her bravado, Joanne is relatable due to her vulnerability. She is very fond of vodka stingers and Bobby. They share a pivotal scene together. I adore her.”
“I truly believe that we are all products of the company of the friends and lovers that we choose to be in our lives,” said Emmy Frank, Nittany Theatre associate producing artistic director. “The family that we choose in adulthood is just as fundamental in our personal growth and development as the family that we’re born with. Bobby can only have his major personal breakthrough in the song ‘Being Alive’ because of his experiences with his many failed relationships and what he witnesses in his friends’ marriages.”
“ ‘Company’ is a journey of a man’s life explored through the relationships of his best friends,” Saxe said. “Robert has the best friends anyone could ask for, but he comes to realize that even though he is surrounded by the company of friends, he is alone without a partner, a special someone to share his life with.”
“Company” is a non-linear concept musical, where the plot is not laid out in the typical chronological fashion of a traditional musical.
“I find that audiences often have a difficult time piecing the scenes together and understanding what is in Bobby’s mind, and what is a scene that really has happened in his life,” Frank said. “My goal in this production is to make sure audiences can follow Bobby’s journey more clearly from the beginning to the end of the show.”
Frank said she doesn’t think of “Company” as a musical comedy. Originally marketed as a musical comedy, “Company” is truly a dark comedy, dealing with very deep and real issues of dating and married life.
“ ‘Company’ has one of the most spectacular scores of the 20th century, and Nittany Theatre knew that we had a talented company to deliver this material to our audiences,” she said. “Our ¾ thrust stage also provides a beautifully intimate space in which to deliver this deeply personal musical.”
“To me, it’s a remarkable work that pushed musical theater forward as one of the first concept musicals,” Hadary said. “The score is fantastic and has recognizable tunes, but I think the issues the book confronts in regard to commitment, marriage and relationships are still incredibly present — maybe even timeless.”
“Company” features a spectacularly talented cast and onstage band led by music director Sarah Hirsch that rounds out Sondheim’s incredible score. Frank knows audiences will respond to the gorgeous music in this production.
“I hope audiences will be able to see themselves in at least one of the characters presented in ‘Company,’ ” Frank said. “At this moment in my life, I feel an enormous connection with Bobby. But I also feel that I have dated many Bobbys before, so I am very empathetic of his girlfriends. My goal is that audiences will walk away from the production with new insight on friendship and relationships.”
“I think Sondheim writes to make people think,” Hadary said. “I hope our audiences will leave moved and thoughtful about relationships and what role they have in making us human.”
“Sondheim stands at the top of the musical theater hill, so it was an ideal choice to open the Barn’s second season,” Saxe said. “ ‘Company’ is piece that entertains on so many different levels. Poignant with subtle humor, it puts our creative and artistic talents to the test. I think the audience will really relate to the story.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “Company”
- When: 2 p.m. May 15, 22 and 28; 7:30 p.m. May 10-14, 18-21 and 25-27
- Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, 300 Old Boalsburg Road, Boalsburg
- Info: nittanytheatre.org