Review: Jubilee’s ‘Company’ a fine departure for Fort Worth theater
By Punch Shaw
Special to the Star-Telegram
If you want to judge a show by the company it keeps, this Company has a good one.
A talented and nicely balanced cast carry the day in Jubilee Theatre’s production of this 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical, which opened at the downtown venue last weekend.
The focus of this romantic comedy, which mitigates its humor with biting insight, is Bobby (Lloyd Harvey) — a single ladies’ man with a wide circle of married friends. As he grapples with the pros and cons of matrimony, we look at the relationships of those around him through his eyes. And, because this is Sondheim instead of some lesser musical composer, we are given no easy answers. The more Bobby looks at the marriages around him, the more confused and conflicted he becomes about commitment.
Harvey has the look and feel of his character down well in this production, directed by Harry Parker, TCU theater department chair. His vocals are not dazzling, but he handles Sondheim’s tricky musical demands well enough.
But it is difficult for any one singer to stand out in a production with so many strong voices. The songs are spread out across the large cast, but we hear just enough to appreciate what a versatile singer Alison Hodgson (as the flighty flight attendant April) is, and how rich and resonant a voice Marcus M. Mauldin (Larry) has. We also hear too little of the smooth vocals delivered by Scott Sutton (Peter) and Ben Phillips (Harry).
The acting is quite good also. Harvey carries the show with no evidence of strain. Hodgson plays the dumb blonde (a stock character that looks easy to play, but is not) beautifully. And Meg Shideler (Amy) and Whitney Coulter (Marta) enlarge their parts with highly caffeinated performances.
And the music provided by an unseen trio, led by musical director Michael Plantz, is ably rendered.
So there is no question that this is a polished interpretation of this musical. But a larger issue is whether this show is right for this house.
Since its inception, Jubilee has been proud of serving the black community in particular with productions by black authors, featuring predominantly black casts. Presenting a mainstream musical such as this one, with a cast including about equal numbers of black and white performers, is a bit of a departure. It may raise the question of whether a show that is so “white,” Manhattan-centric and 1970s-ish in its origins is a good choice, given what the audience has come to expect from Jubilee.
But the reality is that this show is not as much of a shift for the theater as it may seem. Jubilee has always been exceptionally open on issues of race. Nearly all of its productions have involved artists of various ethnic backgrounds, even when we have seen an all-black cast onstage.
So there is no reason Jubilee should not be doing a show like this. I would like to think it serves the theater’s core audience and mission as well as anything else it has presented.
The regular patrons of his troupe may or may not embrace Company (probably more because it might seem dated, rather than anything to do with race). But Jubilee artistic director Tre Garrett deserves kudos for taking a chance on this type of show. It reminds us that we are all better off when we are more open-minded about the company we keep.
- In Good COMPANY (bradstephens.wordpress.com)