Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Phone Rings, Door Chimes, in Comes Cornstock's COMPANY

Stephen Sondheim's Company was most recently seen in Bloomington-Normal when the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged version of this seminal musical was filmed and released to screens all over the country for our hometown viewing enjoyment. That one was something of an all-star event, with Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby, the bachelor at the center of a circle of married friends who love him dearly but want him to pair up and join their ranks. Bobby ponders that problem over the course of the play, with his 35th birthday looming and everyone he knows pretty much matched up. What does he want?

For that concert version of the show, Bobby's friends were played by familiar people like Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, Jon Cryer and Patti Lupone, and he got Christina Hendricks, Joan from TV's Mad Men, as one of his love interests.

This week Peoria's Cornstock Theatre opens its own Company, complete with phones ringing and doors chiming, as well as "all those good and crazy people," the married (or soon-to-be married) friends who surround Bobby. Nate Downs will direct for Cornstock, with a cast that includes Todd Michael Cook as Bobby and Kate Erin Kennedy, Mariah Thornton and Lindsey Cheney as the three women he considers as partners. His "good and crazy" friends, the ones who demonstrate the difficulties as well as the joys in living the married life, will be played by Lori and George Maxedon as Sarah and Harry, the couple who enjoys fighting together; Lisa Jeans Warner and Dave Schick as seemingly perfect pair Susan and Peter, who may be splitting up; Carolyn Briggs-Gaul and Joel Shoemaker as hip and happening Jenny and David; Liz Jockisch and Chris Adams-Wenger as Amy and Paul, who are supposed to be headed for the altar; and Cheri Beever and Jerry Johnson as older and more cynical Joanne and Larry. Joanne is the one who blasts out "The Ladies Who Lunch," that caustic anthem to women of a certain age and situation, while Amy has "Not Getting Married,"a hilarious and adorable patter song about a bride with very chilly feet.

Other notable songs in Sondheim's score include "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," a bouncy little ditty sung by the three women Bobby has dated, the very New Yorkish "Another Hundred People," and "Being Alive," an epic, pin-you-in-your-seat piece about whether it's better to be alone or in a relationship. As the song tells us, the other person you share your life with may be "Someone to need you too much, someone to know you too well, someone to pull you up short, and put you through hell." Or perhaps all the emotional upheaval associated with having a partner may be just what you need to feel truly alive. That's Bobby's journey during Company, and it's the depth and complexity of the question that makes Company such a strong piece of musical theatre.

Cornstock Theatre's Company runs from August 23 to 31 with performances at 7:30 pm. You can see ticket information here or here or call the box office directly at 309-676-2196.


  1. How can I leave COMPANY uncommented? Truly, it was a turning point -- for me, and I think for the genre of musicals. Through the 1960s, I felt it was running out of steam and probably hadn't long to go (this seems silly in retrospect, when that decade brought us FIDDLER and CABARET as well as a near-perfect achievement like SHE LOVES ME... I guess I was reacting to the fact that musicals had stopped being the source of new popular songs).

    Anyway, after the reports I'd read, I made a trip to NYC to see COMPANY. And it knocked me out. I had never dreamed of such a theatrical experience. And I thought "Well, now musicals are going survive at least a few more decades."

  2. I came to it so much later on my musicals experience timeline that it didn't seem that groundbreaking to me. But I can see now, in retrospect, what it must've been like bursting on the scene in 1970. For me, it's such a male-focused show that it's hard to pick it as my favorite. That issue may also relate to its time period and how women were viewed then, but in some ways, they aren't very deeply drawn. Neither are the men, I suppose, except Bobby. I mean, Larry? Not exactly 3-D. Amy is probably the least shallow or least stereotypical character among the women, which may be why "Not Getting Married" is so awesome. Or maybe I'm overstating the point. Marta and Sarah and Jenny aren't cliches, either, when it comes right down to it. And we're seeing everyone through Bobby's point of view, so... Maybe he just doesn't look at them that deeply.

  3. No disagreement with any of that. (And it's not my top favorite either, though it would certainly be on my list somewhere.) The scenes are largely sitcom level c. 1970 and none of the characterizations go very deep. (In fact a good way to film it in that period would have been with TV actors of the time, on video in sitcom sets.) Nor has it any penetrating insights to offer, in my view. But it doesn't need to.

    I was really reacting to the format rather than the content. You can have a musical without a conventional plot? The actors can be both characters and anonymous chorus? Songs can be comments and interludes, rather than Growing Out of the Story in approved R&H manner? A scene can take place in many locations at once, or nowhere? The music and lyrics can be this intricate? All new ideas to me, as they were to others at the time. It was just thrilling to experience.