Photo by Katie L. Bolt for Port Tobacco Players
 

La Plata, MD – The Port Tobacco Players, Inc. proudly presents COMPANY, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, opening March 10 and running through April 2. Director is Brooke L. Howells and Producer is Ann Marie Watson Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 pm; Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at $18 each ($15 for students, seniors, and military). You may contact the Box Office at (301)932-6819 for additional ticket information. Special seating for this production offers audiences the opportunity to see COMPANY right from the stage! Tickets in the onstage seating area are priced the same as regular tickets and include a “flex ticket” good for any future performance at PTP. You may call the Box Office for these tickets or you may purchase them online at www.ptplayers.com. (Only eight onstage tickets are available per show, so be sure to reserve early!) These performances are made possible by special arrangement with Music Theatre International and with grants from the Charles County Arts Alliance, the Maryland State Arts Council, Artworks, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

COMPANY was originally written as a collection of one-act plays titled “Threes” (not to be confused with the TV comedy “Three’s Company” which starred John Ritter and Suzanne Sommers), and had a libretto by George Furth. These vignettes eventually evolved to become the musical COMPANY due to director Harold Prince’s influence. (Prince was the original Broadway producer and director.)The re-worked libretto focused on the pluses and minuses of being married; Stephen Sondheim supplied the music. The character Robert was added – he is a bachelor about to celebrate his 35th birthday; the party introduces the full cast at the opening.

The plot revolves around Robert (a role originated on Broadway by Dean Jones), his three girlfriends, and the five married couples who are all his friends (actually, one couple is about to get married and another is about to get divorced; the remaining three coupes are married) as they encourage Robert to get married himself. He believes that “Someone is Waiting” just for him but until that particular girl appears, he is content to continue playing the field. Robert observes the troubled, complicated lives of his friends through fights, affairs, hobbies, and divorces. By the show’s conclusion, he has decided that “Being Alive” is best when shared.

PTP’s COMPANY boasts 21 musicians in the pit, under the expert direction of James T. Watson. Mr. Watson has worked on almost ninety shows throughout Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania as composer, arranger, orchestrator, music director, accompanist, and sound designer. He is the recipient of numerous WATCH Award nominations.

When performing Sondheim, the words and music are intricately linked; the importance of the lyrics cannot be overstated as they are essential to the plot’s development. With this cast, the diction – both spoken and sung – is extraordinary with close to 100% of the words being understood. Most actors can be seen wearing walking mikes. All of the voices project well over the full orchestra sound (kudos to Mr. Watson for not permitting the orchestra to overpower the singers) and can be heard clearly throughout the hall.
There are fifteen main characters–every role is a leading role. Director-set-hair-makeup designer and choreographer Brooke L. Howells, herself a dancer and ensemble actress, have succeeded in matching each unique actor/actress to a specific role, and allow each to shine. In her Director’s program notes, she says that she was able to “focus more on character development and creating close relationships between these characters” and that, as a team, she, along with the cast and Mr. Watson  “were able to talk and collaborate and find funny and touching moments and create this show from top to bottom together.” She describes the large ensemble as a cast of “triple threats”. All this is evident in the finished product. Brooke has choreographed over 30 shows, including the WATCH-nominated The Producers, Guys and Dolls, Lady Be Good, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The cast members act as the chorus, along with the four women who comprise the Vocal Minority (these singers act as a kind of Greek chorus as they dress the stage). The cast members become waiters, stage hands – whatever the scene requires. The entire ensemble moves comfortably about the basic multi-tiered set, designed by Ms. Howells and John Merritt. (Costumes were not as yet completed on the preview night I attended).

The setting of COMPANY is New York City; we observe the somewhat emotionally-detached Robert as he is feted with a birthday cake; he blows out the candles (with a little help from his friends). After the party, Robert enjoys an evening with Sarah (Brenna Prestige) and Harry (Michael J. Margelos). Sarah is learning karate; she has issues with food and dieting. Harry is friendly, and has issues with drinking. The couple discusses their issues with Robert and delights him with a karate demonstration with singing commentary (“The Little Things You Do Together”) provided by Joanne (Carmen Ferrer). Harry sings “Sorry-Grateful” to Robert and Mr. Margelos reveals a mellow singing voice with an exquisite sustained final high note. (Michael is the Artistic Director for the Hard Bargain Players and has appeared in many roles with PTP including that of Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Brenna marks her seventh PTP appearance here and has been seen recently as Rhoda in White Christmas. She studied theatre and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin and her talents are showcased in the role of Sarah. The next couple we meet is the team of Susan (Loni Berbaum) and Peter (Matt Jones). Susan is a gracious Southern Belle, prone to fainting spells. Peter is former Ivy League. They are getting divorced. Loni, who is a local elementary school speech-language pathologist, makes an auspicious NTP debut. Matt has appeared with PTP in Hairspray, 1776, and Spamalot, and pairs well here with Loni. David (Patrick Pruitt) and Jenn (Jenete St. Clair) invite Robert to their apartment for an evening of getting high (something Jenete says she’s never experienced). Jenn becomes charmingly stoned; David has a rather controlling personality. (David is seen here in his 16th PTP show; he was seen recently as Corny Collins in Hairspray.) David and Jenn are convincing as they make Robert feel comfortable at home with old friends. Robert’s three girlfriends (AnnaBelle Lowe as April, Emily Izzo as Marta, and Miranda Austin Tharp as Kathy) give a bubbly rendition of the wildly difficult-to-sing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” with clever choreography. Listen for AnnaBelle’s effortless high notes throughout this trio. The Husbands and Robert perform “Have I got a Girl for You”, segueing on to Robert and the Vocal Minority singing “Someone is Waiting”, allowing Robert (Christopher Overly) to display his smooth baritone and legato vocal line. Marta’s big solo, “Another Hundred People”, receives a strong delivery by Emily Izzo as she captures this character’s sassiness (which Robert admires) and her love for NYC.  Emily is from Pittsburgh and teaches kindergarten locally; she is remembered for her recent role as Lou Ann in NPT’s Hairspray. Jenete St. Clair has the opportunity to display her glorious soprano as the “officiant” when we meet Paul (Brian Merritt) and Amy (Tara Waters). Amy emphatically states that she is NOT “Getting Married Today.”  Tara shows off her comedic flair in this patter song performed at impossibly-top-speed (with every word clearly understood) as the neurotic, hyper, Catholic bride-to-be with cold feet.

Of the three girlfriends, naive flight attendant April (AnnaBelle Lowe) is the only one who manages to get Robert into bed (at least onstage). April is, well – a bit ditsy and boring (even in her own words) but Miss Lowe conveys such a sweet interpretation of this character in her lovely duet with Robert (“Barcelona”) that the audience may well hope that she will turn out to be “the one” for him (even though Robert’s panic

The Vocal Minority, with a beautiful vocal blend resulting in the group sounding as one, is integral to the plot of COMPANY and is comprised of Amber King (a recent graduate of Marshall University holding a B.S. degree in Secondary Education making her PTP debut); Amy Wathen Cooksey (marking her 20th year with PTP; she currently serves on the PTP Board of Directors); Jessica Cooperstock (a graduate of the University of Maryland with a B.A. degree in theatre; she has sung in a production of La Traviata with the Lyric Academy of Viterbo, Italy), and Regan McClure (who is new to PTP; she is a student of English at CSM).

The instrumentalists are: Rachel Lane and Sarah Koon (violins), Karen Young and Aaron Abshire (cellos), Ashley Brumberg, Susan Sweeney, Tara Derr, Kristen Boyer and Michelle Bast (reeds), Bill Brumberg, Alex Grisos and David C. Monk (trumpets), Diana Morse and Dan Romagno (horns), David Twyman, Melissa Bayliss, Porter Lyon and Paul Hilliard (trombones), Cheryl Reckeweg (piano).

Upcoming shows for PTP will be William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (May 5 – 21) and Sister Act the Musical (July 7 – 30). The Port Tobacco Theatre is located at 508 Charles Street in La Plata, MD. It is anticipated that the run of COMPANY is likely to be sold out, so be sure to reserve your tickets in advance.