By Erin Cooper
A party’s not a party without social media. How else would you send out the invites and show everyone the pictures afterward? This weekend, the College’s Lyric Theatre didn’t shy away from throwing a very special multimedia birthday party with sparkling song and dance for the 35th birthday of Bobby, the principal character in “Company.” Yes, Facebook was involved.
The great musical comedy is based on the book by George Furth, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
On Friday, Feb. 26, and Saturday, Feb. 27, Kendall Hall’s Main Stage was stacked with platforms in the shapes of giant iPhones, with three screens suspended above. This was a minimal but thoroughly modern set, complete with movable blocks painted with app icons and emoticons.
“Company” is the story of a single man named Bobby who scrutinizes his choices and his relationships as his large group of friends, all married, celebrate his birthday. In a series of connected vignettes, Bobby learns his friends’ secrets, deals with their dramatics and considers his own commitments, both current and possible. The characters’ interactions range from hilarious to cynical to touching. The talented ensemble cast worked and sang together smoothly to pull off a series of quick, seamless transitions.
Alan Kelly, a student from Westminster Choir College, who guest starred in the production, played Bobby. The lead role necessitated his near-constant presence on stage, but he never flagged, his voice ringing consistent and clear to the end. His acting had a wry charm that made it plausible that his company was in such high demand.
The show’s funniest number was “Getting Married Today,” in which senior vocal education major Kaitlin Dunn, in the role of Amy, agonized over the day of her wedding, earning laughs from the audience as she sparkled in her bright wedding dress.
Junior vocal education major Lauren Critelli brought her beautiful soprano voice to “Another Hundred People” in the quirky role of Marta. The backdrop of the poignant song was footage of the streets of New York City played on the screens behind her.
Following the intermission, “Side By Side By Side” was a rousing number featuring Bobby in action with all the husbands and wives. As the most well-choreographed number of the evening, it featured ballet twirls from Bobby and the couples in a dance line — stopping to snap selfies every so often.
A powerful presence on stage was junior vocal education major Nicole Myers, who played Joanne. Myers didn’t shy away from the big role, impressively belting out her lines in “The Ladies Who Lunch,” calling out for another vodka stinger and reminding the audience that “everybody dies.” At the climax, vodka sloshed from her glass and splashed the stage.
One of the challenges of staging “Company,” a play about dating and relationships from 1970, is making it relevant to audiences in 2016. Director Jennifer Little, an adjunct professor responsible for Lyric Theatre and staged musical productions, had the idea for facing that challenge by incorporating social media, with the screens hanging above the minimal set displaying texts and Facebook pictures. It was an effective device. The inclusion of technology highlights the themes of disconnection and missed connections. Whenever the couples’ recurring musical motif repeated, the screen became crowded with insistent texts from them.
The cast was initially dubious about the idea of changing the play. The renowned Sondheim is not someone to alter lightly.
“I think all of his arrangements have been just amazing. It never gets old,” Myers said of the composer. “At first we were like, ‘How dare you ruin Sondheim?’”
Soon enough, though, Myers and the rest of the actors warmed to the idea.
“I love the inclusion of social media in our production of ‘Company’,” said junior music education major Amanda Mason, who played the role of Susan. “It brings to light that fact that as social media continues to evolve, relationships are becoming even more complicated than they were in 1970, when ‘Company’ was written.”
Little contacted Sondheim to consult him about her additions and found him generous and supportive.
“It was a really wonderful experience to talk with him (kind of like a big Christmas present), as I have been one of his admirers for years,” Little said.
The play was modern in other ways as well — the diverse cast included interracial couples.
“It doesn’t matter what race you are because it’s 2016,” Myers said.
The production initially included lesbian characters, but the publisher, Music Theatre International, which holds the rights to the play, refused to allow the change, according to both Myers and Little. The production continued with a shift in casting.
The technology in our lives may distance us from each other, but it didn’t cloud the music or dim the passion of the performers this weekend.
“I would most like people to know that a lot of hard work went into this production and it is truly a labor of love,” Mason said.