Category Archives: Review

Theater Review: LAURA

21587069_10210475469064798_7157084652026112485_o

by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Reviewed Performance 9/16/2017

Wow. That best sums up the performance I saw this past Sunday afternoon in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Wow.

There are shows that are technical wonders and there are some that glorious affairs with actors singing and dancing often at the same time and then there are shows like this. An incredibly written script that relies heavily on the ability of the actors. A show like this, a murder mystery that will surprise you at the end, will only be effective if the actors are fully immersed in the play, the action/reaction and interplay between the characters. And let me tell you buddy, Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre has assembled an A++ ensemble for this production.

I really do not want to give away any spoilers so let me just sum up the plot this way. Set in an upper-class apartment in New York City in 1944, detective Mark McPherson has fallen in love with Laura Hunt. Problem is, Laura is dead, and he’s in charge of her murder investigation. From her portrait, her letters, her personal effects, and from his contacts with the three men who loved her, Mark has created an image of a woman tantalizingly real. As the story progresses, Mark discovers lies, infidelities, and hidden identities, all leading him into a labyrinthine search for Laura’s killer. Laura is a thrilling mystery in the film noir style played out in three acts. Now I pride myself on being able to figure out the murderer before the final scene. I do it so often that it drives my wife nuts. However, I did not figure this one out at all. Thinking back on the action leading up to the climax, I remembered things that should have pointed to the killer. Fear, utter surprise as things were revealed, statements made out of context were all used deftly by all the actors involved. Robert Banks as Waldo Lydecker, the pompous friend/benefactor of the deceased Laura was brilliant. I use that word a lot so let me expound on that. He was utterly stinking brilliant. The small details of his character, the ash flick at the back of a person he does not like, his sly delivery of sarcasm the completely believable reactions to situations on stage. Actually, one of the best performances I have seen in a while.

Laura Louise Smith as “a Girl” was completely spot-on with the nuances of her character that reveals the secrets that push the plot. Her side glances, facial expressions even the way she changed the gait of her walk on stage between situations was a clear indication of her thorough mastery of this character.

Brad Stephens convincingly portrayed the cop who knows he should become emotionally attached to his case and struggles when he realizes he is doing just that. His character was a little flat, but then, he is a detective who is not used to showing emotion so again, it was spot-on.

Sean Malloy as the love-struck teen enamored with Laura was maybe just a bit too old for the part but played as well as anybody could have. Andrew Manning as the fiancée, Shelby Carpenter, was powerful and precise as he was trying to hide certain things about Laura. Cynthia Daniels, Laura L. Jones, all the cast was just an impeccable assemblage of talent that could not have produced a better hour and a half of entertainment.

The unseen star of this production is Ryan Mathieu Smith. Ryan is the costume designer and every stitch of clothing on stage was perfectly parallel to the 1940s. I can remember seeing pictures of my mother in those dresses and coats. The men’s suits were tailored close to the forties style without being cliché ‘murder mystery’ stock. I could tell the time and research put into his efforts and the result was exceptional.

I truly, whole heartedly recommend seeing this show as it might be the best drama presented this year in the DFW Theatre scene.

LAURA plays through September 24th at the Sanders Theatre in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy ST next to the Museum of Science and History in the Cultural District
Friday and Saturday—8:PM
Saturday and Sunday—2:PM

For more information or to purchase tickets go to:
www.thetart.org or call 682-231-0082

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

Theater review: SHE LOVES ME

 – Ordinarily, going all the way to Budapest to see a good show would be too far to go.

But in the case of Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s current production of the musical She Loves Me, which is set in that East-European capital, the journey is more than worth it.

This 1963 musical by Joe Masteroff and Jerry Bock is based on one of the most frequently adopted pieces of literature in the 20th century. It began as the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklós László, and served as the basis for three films: the romantic comedies The Shop Around the Corner(1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), and the musical, In the Good Old Summertime(1949).

But this more recent stage musical has proven to be one of the most enduring adaptations, having had a strong initial outing and a couple of revivals on Broadway, with still another slated for next year. Plus, it has been a frequent visitor to regional and community theaters since its debut.

Set in a shop dealing in perfumes and various female notions (of every type), She Loves Me tracks the halting romance between fellow employees Georg (Brad Stephens) and Amalia (Lauren Morgan). The pair fall for one another in the course of an anonymous correspondence, which was apparently one of the ways boys met girls in the story’s day. But, when they just happen to wind up working in the same perfumery, they develop a highly antagonistic relationship without knowing they are the people who so warmly call one another “dear friend” when putting pen to paper (something else people used to do).

Since the course of true love seldom runs smooth on the musical comedy stage, it takes them a few major misunderstandings and several delightful numbers to get their hearts in the right place. Their efforts in that direction receive little help from their fellow bath oil peddlers, all of whom have problems of their own.

So, given the durable track record of this story, it is no shock that the plot pulls you right along. But you may be surprised at the overall quality of all of the components of this production, which marks the debut of the highly-talented and widely-booked director Robin Armstrong with this company.

Just about everyone and everything in this show sparkles like fresh snowflakes. Stephens sings his role with gusto and a strong sense of character. Morgan, who is one of the founders of the company, lends a beautiful voice to her part that we too seldom hear in this company’s shows. Sarah Powell, as the shop girl Ilona, delivers her numbers in a manner that matches her striking and fiery red tresses.

The efforts of these leading characters are consistently equaled by the supporting players. Even the minor part of the head waiter at a restaurant where Georg and Amalia have an awkward rendezvous is delivered with great verve by Billy Betsill. Most of the other singers come through just as well. But Evan Faris, as the insecure clerk Sipos, needs to have more confidence in his voice and let it rip when his number is up.

Armstrong, who is admired for her work with madcap farces, does an excellent job in her maiden voyage with a musical. She brings a keen sense of comedy and motion to her staging that gloriously enlivens the material. And her vision of the piece is perfectly complemented by Karen Matheny’s inspired choreography. The bountiful fruits of their partnership is most apparent in the staging of A Romantic Atmosphere, one of the show’s best numbers in every regard, which also features the input of Kylie Frandsen for its tango moves.

The show’s set, by Morgan, her husband Jason Morgan and Keith Glenn, is almost a character unto itself. Its rolling parts are brilliant in their design and dazzling in their execution. The only knock is that the look is far too bare. The shop’s exterior, especially needs a sign, and the interior needs some wall decorations.

Also exceptional are the period costumes designed by Armstrong and Lauren Morgan (is there anything these women can’t do?) for this show set in 1937 before and through Christmas.

The primary shortcoming of the production is that it relies on a recorded score. But that fault is offset somewhat by the fact that we get to enjoy the show’s wonderful voices without amplification in the cozy confines of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

So, while there are just a few rough edges, there is a lot to love in this musical from a company far better-known for its works from the Bard and Jane Austen adaptations. Everything about this She Loves Me makes it easy to love it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

Many Cooks, Many Laughs

Cast of TOO MANY COOKS at Circle Theatre, running October 17 – November 16, 2013.With two weekends left in its run, Circle Theatre’s hilarious production of Too Many Cooks is enjoying sold-out performances, uproarious laughter, and standing ovations.  Strong word-of-mouth and stellar reviews are driving ticket sales.  Seats for the remaining eight performances are going fast.  The show takes its final bow Saturday, November 16, 2013.

“If you could bottle this kind of comedy, I’d take a case,” raves TheatreJones critic Jan Farrington.  Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s The Column Online, recommends the farce as “a great example of its theatrical genre and a splendid way to watch eight actors finely adept at their craft.”  Clark finds favor in every cast member .  Of Brad Stephens, she writes:

“Always pulling his uniform into place, Stephens made [Constable] Effing the forthright, upstanding, tee totaling officer he is supposed to be. In a farce such as Too Many Cooks, that kind of character only leads to hilarity and Stephens brought it in style.”

For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.circletheatre.com or call the box office at 1-817-877-3040. You may also go in person to the Circle Theatre box office at 230 W. 4th Street, between Houston and Throckmorton, in downtown Fort Worth.  Tickets range from $20 – $35 depending on the day of performance. Senior, student, military, KERA, Press Pass, S.T.A.G.E. and group discounts are available.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

Architecture and Theater Set Design

re-blogged from Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.

Ghost Sonata takes place in a mystical dream world through which mortals wander before reaching the kingdom of death in afterlife (Scenic Painter: Linda Noland)

The GHOST SONATA takes place in a mystical dream world through which mortals wander before reaching the kingdom of death in afterlife.
(Scenic Painter: Linda Noland)

As a boy, I was thrilled with an invitation to ride with my friend, Jimmy Wolf, to the Texas State Fair on Elementary School Fair Day. His father had a workshop/studio on the fairgrounds in what later became the Women’s Museum. Jimmy and I could just ride through the gates of the fair with his dad, no tickets necessary. Little did I know that when the day was over, I would be more fascinated with the studio and shop of Peter Wolf, the renowned theater set designer, than the fair itself. The old painted sets from South Pacific, Oklahoma, and others were stored in his immense workspace. His craftsmen were busy preparing sets for productions that I could only imagine.

Revelations of the characters' past lives form the action of the play and themes relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of life.

Revelations of the characters’ past lives form the action of the play and themes relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of life.

Like other Dallasites, my first introduction to theater was through the Dallas Summer Musicals. Up close, these sets looked like cartoons. It was hard for me to understand how billboard-sized illustrations could appear to be so realistic during the musicals. What magic transformed the two-dimensional flats into a South Pacific island in WWII, another place and time? This experience may not have had an influence on my career in architecture. But, I certainly see the connection today between my architectural practice and the design of theater sets.

I was reminded of this youthful amazement when I saw the sets for The Ghost Sonata, an upcoming play by August Strindberg at the Undermain Theatre. Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc. is a sponsor of the Theatre and our Marketing Director, Stephanie Chambers, is on the Board of the Undermain. We read in the newsletter that Strindberg’s Chamber Play will have phenomenal set design. I was curious to walk through the set and see what it might be like. I grabbed my camera and headed downtown to the theatre’s home under Main St. in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas.

Paintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the play.

Paintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the play.

Artistic Director Katherine Owen graciously greeted and led me on an impromptu tour of the set. The architecture of the scenery for The Ghost Sonata drew me in immediately and opened the door into Strindberg’s world, a surrealistic setting far removed from downtown Dallas. This creative theater company makes their basement locale of structural columns and low ceilings suddenly disappear in innovative tales through the immensely talented assemblage of set, lighting, costume designers, directors, and actors and top-notch construction team.

The themes in Ghost Sonata relate mainly to secrets, illusions, disappointments and tragedies of lifePaintings on the floor assist the audience in the suspension of reality, catapulting them into the dream-logic of the playI know little of the art, science or history of stage set and lighting design, but deeply feel its relationship to architecture. In many ways, the theatrical scene designer is much like a conventional architect. The designer must make real what only exists in his/her imagination and provide the vision in a graphic form for use in building the sets. Both architects and set designers use a flat page of two-dimensional construction drawings to communicate what the three-dimensional structures will be. Set design has a similar ability to elicit specific emotions and create mood with the use of perspective, space, scale, light, color, detail and proportion. It helps to define the characters and propel the ideas of the playwright. There is a language in theater scenic art that signals sophisticated clues to the viewer. Through its subtext it telegraphs context, location, relationships, time, mood and space.

The GHOST SONATA Set DetailDifferent from architecture, scenic designers must knowingly create environments that have a brief lifespan, are moveable, do not require the same rigor in construction, and are generally viewed from only one direction. Theater sets do not need to have complete integrity in the structures that they are meant to depict. Stage design and lighting create the illusion of three-dimensionality and can manipulate time and place. Audiences will not walk around and through rooms to experience the massing, proportion, mood and emotions its spaces create. The set designers develop a world for the play, which becomes a real construction project, ultimately introducing their imagined world to the audience. The skill of the lighting designers, directors, actors, and costumers complete the transformation.

The GHOST SONATA SetThough written in 1907, Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata is highly unusual modern theater in many regards. The relatively swift three-scene structure is based on sonata form, rather than traditional theater construction. It creates an atmosphere by repeating various themes, rather than developing a story through conventional portrayals of character and a linear plot. The Undermain’s interpretation and production of this play will, no doubt, thrill serious Dallas theater followers. But, the sets and lighting for this production, for me, stand alone as compelling art.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

Delicious CARNAGE

Mark Fickert (Michael), Lisa Fairchild (Veronica), Leah Layman (Annette), and Brad Stephens (Alan) in GOD OF CARNAGE

God of Carnage enters the fourth weekend of its very successful run at Circle Theatre in downtown Fort Worth this evening.  Garnering standing ovations from sold-out crowds, the production runs two more weekends, closing February 23rd.  Directed by Robin Armstrong, the critical praise for this show is almost as sweet as the cupcakes inspired by it.

A playground altercation between eleven-year-old boys brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first, diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses, and the rum flows, tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving the couples with more than just their liberal principles in tatters.

Punch Shaw of DFW.com proclaims, “This production has absolutely everything going for it: fine script, great acting and outstanding direction.”  While some critics are divided on their appreciation for the Tony and Laurence Olivier award-winning script by Yasmina Reza, all have found favor with the cast.  “The play takes place in a singular, nonstop scene of constantly shifting action. And to that end, this cast acquits themselves impressively,” writes Kris Noteboom of Theater Jones.  Jimmy Fowler of Fort Worth Weekly lauds the play as “exceedingly well cast”.  And Kristy Blackmon of John Garcia’s The Column exclaims, “Armstrong and her cast do a respectable job with the material.”  Blackmon also states:

“In particular, [Brad] Stephens as Alan gives a commendable performance. It isn’t easy to make an audience both like and detest a character at the same time, but Stephens pulls it off. Though he is easily the most obnoxious character in the play, he is also the most honest. And [Leah] Layman’s sense of comedic timing is to be admired. More physical comedy is required of Annette than any other character, and she holds nothing back. Her final tantrum was perfectly over the top and had the audience roaring.”

The play was a success in its original language, French, and its Christopher Hampton English-translated productions have been equally praised in in both London and New York. The London production was widely acclaimed, receiving the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Play of the year. The Broadway production closed on June 6, 2010 playing 24 previews and 452 regular performances. It is the third-longest running play of the 2000s and won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play.

GOD OF CARNAGE CupcakesLocated in historic Sundance Square, Circle Theatre’s production has inspired a gourmet creation by neighboring business The Original Cupcakery.  The bakery’s God of Carnage cupcakes feature vanilla pound cake topped with spiced apple & pear compote with a ring of ginger buttercream.  The delicious concoction has been selling very well and will continue to be offered throughout the rest of the production’s run.

God of Carnage runs through February 23rd, 2013. Circle Theatre produces contemporary plays rarely seen in the DFW community and is committed to presenting professional, innovative theatre in an intimate setting.  For reservations and tickets, call the box office at 817-877-3040 or visit the Circle Theatre website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

COMPANY Review – Examiner.com

Jubilee Theatre stages poignant, vibrant, exquisite Company

by Christopher Soden

Jubilee Theatre’s production of Company (directed by Harry Parker) has a large, vibrant, supple cast, quite adept at the coy, impetuous shifts in the material. They handle Jennifer Engler’s urbane choreography with grace and panache, as well as the mercurial dialogue and song. It’s rare to experience such depth, resonance, spontaneity, vibrance and unabashed pleasure in a musical comedy. To hear passages from a performance long after I’ve left the theater. Treat yourself to an evening of exquisite entertainment, catch Jubilee’s Company before they close August 12th.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

COMPANY Review – Theater Jones

Little Things, Done Together

Jubilee Theatre scores a win with its production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. We’ll drink to that.

by

It seems like every week there’s a new article proclaiming that today’s younger generation is waiting longer to start their life, given the general lack of jobs and money. But that delay only lasts so long, and as we enter the fourth decade of our lives, eventually most people get going with it, get married, have kids, settle down. Which leaves a precious few that hold out for whatever reason.

Bobby (Lloyd Harvey) is one of the precious few who, on his 35th birthday, is still single in a world of married people. This is the set up for Stephen Sondheim’s and George Furth’s Company, getting a new treatment at Jubilee Theatre.

Bobby, or Robert, or Bob, or Robby and other nicknames he’s called, is the “single friend” to a colorful cast of married friends, all of who have a strong opinion on the state, or lack thereof, of his settling down with someone. For his part, Bobby waffles back and forth on the issue before finally reaching a cathartic conclusion.

The show is non-linear, taking place in a series of vignettes, not necessarily connected chronologically, and bracketed by the surprise birthday party thrown for Bobby by his friends, comprised of five married, or otherwise attached, couples. It’s one of Sondheim’s greatest musical accomplishments featuring well-known songs like “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the title song, and the climactic “Being Alive.” It’s worth a viewing regardless of where it is.

Jubilee’s group, led by director Harry Parker, performs admirably, with the bulk of the memorable performances coming from the supporting cast.

Harvey is fine as Bobby. His characterization is right on and his relative unease with the women in his life elicits that sadly familiar awkward feeling everyone can relate to. Where he struggles at times is with the singing. It’s not exactly the easiest part to belt, most notably accomplished by Raul Esparza in the 2006 revival in which even he resorts to yelling a few of his higher parts. And for the most part, Harvey is on top of it, but the occasional glitch in his singing stings the ears and breaks down the illusion a little. A nitpick, maybe, but noticeable enough to note.

The supporting cast is tremendous, led by Michele Rene who plays the acerbic matronly role of Joanne, originated by the indomitable Elaine Stritch on Broadway. Rene nails the cynical, thrice-married socialite attitude, her confidence oozing off the stage. And yet, when the time comes for her character-defining moment, and a major turn, she lands it with great emotional precision.

Tracy Nachelle Davis and Ben Phillips as married couple Sarah and Harry, and the real introduction to the character vignettes, use their fun, if not slightly aggravating, back-and-forth to set the stage for the parallel to Robert’s problems. Namely, none of the couples ever appear to be outwardly happy. Harry and Sarah show this through a haphazardly hilarious karate match. Comedy and chemistry aside though, both are talented singers and when the time comes to give their piece, both impress.

Alison Hodgson plays April, one of Bobby’s girlfriends. She gets the most stage time of the three and doesn’t waste the opportunity. What could easily be a more minor role she imbues with heart and agency. Hodgson makes the audience care more about April than Bobby does.

While this article could wax poetic about the strong cast, it’s probably best to point out a couple of specific numbers that stood out. “Sorry-Grateful” is a heart-wrenching song sung by the men that highlights the two-headed monster that is love. Harvey and Phillips are joined by William Massey (David), Marcus M. Mauldin (Larry), Brad Stephens (Paul) and Scott Sutton (Peter) in the sweetly comic number, and it’s pleasing.

Also, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” sung by the girlfriends, Hodgson, Whitney LaTrice Coulter (Marta) and Katreeva Phillips (Kathy). It’s one of the more lively and fun numbers, with an undercurrent of frustration that combines to create a funny piece of theater.

Parker and the team at Jubilee have succeeded in what is no small undertaking. They’ve taken a challenging, non-linear show, filled it with a non-traditional cast – it’s usually presented as a bunch of upper middle class white New Yorkers – and come out the other end with something that feels personal and driven by passion.

And finding that passion is really what it’s all about. For all of Robert’s struggles and ups and downs and twists and turns, what he’s essentially looking for is something to get passionate about, something that makes him want to embrace an ideal, one way or the other.

And that’s exactly what Jubilee does. The cast and crews passion for this show permeates every note and every word until Bobby isn’t the only one finding inspiration in Company.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

COMPANY Review – D Magazine

Company At Jubilee Theatre

Infinite Things Authentically Cast

by Liz Johnstone

Stephen Sondheim’s concept musical Company is 40 years old. It is still perfectly delightful, perfectly surprising, and still perfectly Sondheim, with its lyrical tricks and songs that require performers to go without oxygen for an almost inhuman amount of time. There’s a reason someone thinks to revive it once every so often, and it’s not simply because brilliant writing can put a Band-Aid over all manner of a given production’s sins. It’s because, of course, that Sondheim wrote this comedy about infinite things—love and relationships, the challenges of one or both, the state of our human lives. To see his work performed is both effortless and profoundly challenging. He changed American musical theater forever, to the point where he has become synonymous with the idea that beneath all the happiness and light, the cheery music and dance steps, lurks a deeper truth and a potentially devastating dark.

The story is told through a series of vignettes connected by perpetual bachelor Bobby’s surprise birthday party. He’s turning 35, and he has three different girlfriends and zero interest in settling down much to the chagrin of his many coupled off friends. There’s Harry and Sarah, an alcoholic and a chronic dieter, respectively. Then there’s Susan, a Southern lady prone to fainting spells, who’s married to Peter, who might be gay. Then there’s uptight Jenny and controlling David, neurotic Catholic Amy and Jewish Paul, acerbic Joanne and affable Larry (he’s her third husband). Each couple faces different issues, but as Bobby learns, it’s better that they face those problems together.

Considering Sondheim’s broad strokes (as far as theme is concerned, anyway), it is then interesting to consider the fact that traditionally, the entire casts of various Company productions—from Bobby, the lead, right down to the smallest supporting roles—have almost always been lily-white. Raúl Esparza, who is Cuban and played Bobby in the 2006 Broadway revival, is of course a notable exception. But in the beginning, this made sense enough. Written and first performed in the seventies, the series of connected vignettes centers around upper middle class friends living in New York City. They have dinner parties. They have apartments with terraces. And what’s more, Broadway has a history, as many things that require money do, as being an activity for rich white people.

But now, a lack of non-white faces just might be the one thing that might date an otherwise timeless piece of theater, especially since there’s no reason why all the characters have to look like they descended from the Vikings. This particularly diverse production, which is directed by Harry Parker and opened at the Jubilee Theatre in Fort Worth over the weekend, makes for a refreshing change of pace. According to artistic director Tre Garrett, Sondheim is a bit of a departure (and a risk) for the theater. After all, Jubilee’s mission is to produce theater that reflects the African-American experience. But rather than an exercise in forced racial equality, this version of Company feels authentically cast to produce an important, authentic human experience. Most of the company, if you will, did well enough, with a couple stand outs in the ensemble.

The major problem, though, is that Lloyd Harvey can’t hack the leading role. Robert, or Bobby or Bubi or Robby darling, as the other characters call him, is crucial. The vocal trouble was apparent from his first solo in the title number, the goosebump-inducing, choral-esque “Company,” when longer notes went painfully flat (I actually wrote “ouch” on my notepad) and he wasn’t quite glib enough to keep up with Sondheim’s lyrical circles (that’s the no-breathing thing I was talking about earlier), let alone dominate them. Things did not improve as we cut back and forth between Robert interacting with the various couples and then later, his lady friends. Harvey mumbled through libretto, he was off key on more than one occasion, and couldn’t quite infuse his snarky, smirky, surface Bobby (employing Jim Halpert-esque facial reactions) with enough of a believable emotional arc to keep the guy solidly in the “lovable cad” zone. Lovable being the operative word. As a result, “Being Alive,” the usually powerful finale, is unfortunately undercut and under-sung. But in between somewhat shaky bookends, there are a lot of nice moments. The songs that didn’t involve Robert on a major level, such “The Little Things We Do Together,” the duet between Harry (Ben Phillips, a wonderful voice) and Sarah (Sarah Nachelle Davis), were by far the most successful.

And then there are flashes of brilliance. Meg Shideler as Amy, who gets cold feet on her wedding day, steals the show with her perfectly paced (not crazy-Chipmunk fast, but just the right clip) rendition of “Getting Married Today.” Shideler is magnetic, hilarious and charming, with the necessary vocal chops to pull it off and flawless enunciation. Her meltdown was the most viscerally delightful thing I’ve seen on a stage in, well, some time. Sondheim is tough; there is honor, laughter, and happiness here in the attempt. As the characters of Company so often point out, it’s not how a thing ends or begins, it’s just that it happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

COMPANY Review – The Column Online

Reviewed by Chad Bearden
Associate Theater Critic
John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Stephen Sondheim has contributed a glut of challenging and memorable material to American musical theater. His collaborations and topic choices are varied, yielding a rich catalog of music ranging from the vengeful and cannibalistic Sweeny Todd to the exploration of a pointillist painting in Sunday in the Park with George. The technical complexity of the actual music is enough to keep even seasoned performers on their toes. Sondheim’s collaboration with playwright George Furth resulted in one of his most challenging works, both technically and conceptually. The 1970 musical Company was something new in the world of musical theater.

Nowhere to be found were the meet cute romances, fanciful settings, flashy costumes, or jovial bombast common to the standard Broadway musical. Audiences were offered a show that wasn’t the usual escapist fare they were expecting when they decided to spend a night at the theater. Instead, they were essentially shown a mirror of their own lives. Company is everyday life: the story of middle aged New Yorkers dealing with the convoluted comforts and anxieties born from relationships and marriage. And akin to real life, Company has no plot to speak of.

There are incidents and anecdotes and encounters that blend from one to the other with no specific purpose beyond examining the threads of these people’s personalities and lives, weaving them together into a mosaic depicting how wonderful and/or awful it is to be single and/or married. For 40+ years, audiences have been challenged by this complicated show, and it is a testament to the adventurous spirit of Jubilee Theatre that they not only trust their audience to give a production like this a chance but also that they’ve done the materiel justice with a production that lives up to the high standard a Sondheim musical demands.

Company begins with the married and engaged friends of 35 year old Manhattanite, Robert, as they have a go at throwing him a surprise birthday party. The opening number, conveniently called “Company”, is an intricately composed one and is the first of many challenging pieces which the Jubilee cast attacks with great gusto. It sets a strong tone and offers a quick-sketch of the characters that will be fleshed out as the musical rolls on. It also establishes the dreamy, episodic nature of the world Sondheim constructs.

The sparse, vaguely cosmopolitan set designed by Brian Clinnin is a raised hardwood floor, a window glamorously overlooking the New York skyline, some simple knee level cabinetry housing the scotch and mixed drink sets. It is sleek and versatile, becoming whatever the scene calls for. It is Robert’s apartment, a secret trail in Central Park, a dance club, a high rise terrace. Something new from one moment to the next, much like the show’s central character, Robert.

Robert, performed by Lloyd Harvey, is a cipher, being all things to all people. As the second act opens and his companions sing “Side by Side by Side / What Would We Do Without You?”, Lloyd is lauded by his friends as much as he is pitied by the audience for his freedom to be whatever he wants to be at any moment. Harvey plays Robert in two modes: smug joviality when his defenses are up, and resigned confusion in the few moments they are down. In either mode, Robert is equal parts likeable and loathsome, able to charm/deceive with shallow good nature.

He is a difficult man to pin down so Harvey avoids that dilemma by being direct and broad in his choices, always playing a distinct black or white, selecting only the occasional moment, here or there, to let us see the subtler shades of gray behind his eyes. Though it mostly works for the character of Robert, it is a performance that could benefit from a lighter touch in places, something more natural, less annunciated.

It would be interesting to watch Harvey relax into the role over the course of the run because he is certainly an attractive performer who fits comfortably in the shoes of this enigma of a character.

As the opening number comes to an end and Robert’s friends smile politely when he fails to extinguish the candles on his birthday cake, the play turns its first of many a neat trick wherein the spotlight is focused on the supporting characters. Where Robert is slick and ungraspable, the happily and antagonistically married Harry and Sarah offer the first detour in Sondheim and Furth’s exploration of so-called wedded bliss.

As played by Ben Phillips and Tracy Nachelle Davis, Harry and Sarah are madly in love and a source of constant annoyance to one another. Phillips is just enough of a schlub that you can’t take anything he says seriously, until he performs one of Sondheim’s underrated gems, “Sorry-Grateful”, and you realize the depths of his wisdom. The flip side of the matrimonial coin is Sarah, played by Davis as the yin to Harry’s yang. Davis’ Sarah is more prim and exacting, but like her husband, able to confound expectations by way of a karate demonstration that is staged to unexpected and comedic perfection. Davis and Phillips play off one another beautifully and are a highlight of the show.

Three more married couples call on Robert, the first being the insensibly upbeat Peter and Susan, played by Scott Sutton and Kenneisha Thompson. Where Robert’s smug smile is a mask, Peter and Susan’s are those of an unassuming Buddha. Sutton and Thompson invest their couple with charm far more sincere than Robert’s, and are so perfectly happy with one another that not even a subsequent divorce can spoil their bliss. More stable (and consequently less blissful) are David and Jenny who of all the couples seem the youngest and most innocent. William Massey and Octavia Thomas play them like the two smart kids in high school who ended up married. They are calm and level-headed and honest about the compromises they’ve made for their relationship.

Robert also finds time to visit with the oldest of his circle of friends, Joanne, who is half-heartedly trying to make sense of her third marriage to the affable Larry. Michele Rene’s Joanne boils over with burnt-out cynicism and really gets to unleash with a satisfying rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch”, a defiant and ultimately mournful reflection on the self. Marcus Mauldin is patient in introducing his character Larry who seems nothing more than another trophy on the Joanne’s wall through most of the first act. When his moment arrives, he makes the most of it and before our eyes redefines not just their relationship but Joanne as a character. It’s a brief but strong moment for Mauldin.

Paul and Amy aren’t married but soon will be, and are yet another iteration of the perfect couple. This time, an eternally patient being is matched up with a neurotically self-loathing one. Brad Stephens’ Paul is the epitome of another trend in Company: the grinning idiot. Stephens’ spotlight scene sees him become a sounding board for his far more overt fiancée Amy, played with manic befuddlement by Meg Shideler.

Rather than match her physically, Stephens grins idiotically, tinting his patient smile with an impressive range of reactions to the sometimes hurtful bombardment of unfiltered thoughts from his bride. And passive acceptance is about all one can expect to muster against the force of nature that is Shideler’s Amy once she gets going. Kudos to Ms. Shideler for a bravado performance of “Getting Married Today”, one of the more difficult comedic songs in the American Theater Songbook. She performs the number with an impressive blend of speed, diction, and personality and brings the house down with her big finish.

And lest one thinks Robert spends all his time hanging out with married couples, we are also introduced to three of his current significant others. Marta, Kathy, and April are a Greek Chorus of sorts, harmonizing beautifully and already exuding strong individual personalities as they bemoan the nebulous intentions of Robert in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”. The three interact again with the lovely “Another Hundred People” as they take turns giving us slice-of-life moments that allude to their histories with Robert. Whitney Coulter’s Marta is a free spirit, probably a bit too contemplative and in love with the world around her for the far more buckled down Robert.

Katreeva Phillips is Kathy, whose connection to Robert is probably the strongest but whose honestly with herself trumps any deeper relationship he’d like to make. And Alison Hodgson’s flight attendant April is a much deeper and textured character than the dizzy flight attendant realizes. Another theme in Company is one person or institution being in its truest form when it manages to occupy two opposite states. Hodgson somehow manages to find both the sublime truth and monumental density in April and almost steals the show in her brief moments.

As mentioned above, the set by Brian Clinnin offers an effective canvas on which to paint Company’s various scenes, as do the costumes by Barbara O’Donoghue which provide the actors with some great visual characterization. From Harry’s frumpy short-sleeve button-up to Larry’s dapper and flashy suit; from the earthy head-scarfed Marta to the simple sophistication of Jenny; the diversity of the cast is highlighted by Ms. O’Donoghue, who finds a wardrobe distinct to each of the myriad personalities on stage. This collaboration between costumer and actor brings to life an entire stage full of vivid and believable people. And special mention to Musical Director Michael Plantz and his three-piece orchestra who are so expertly hidden and perfectly synched up with the goings-on on the stage, I didn’t even realize until intermission that I’d been listening to live music.

And finally, praise must be given to the two masterminds behind the show, the first being Jubilee’s Artistic Director, Tre Garrett, for thinking outside the box and bringing a show like Company to Jubilee Theatre. And the second being Director Harry Parker for capturing a complicated blend of dreamy non-linear story-telling and grounded recognizable characters. That all the disparate parts feel like a cohesive whole when all is said and done is the sign of a hard-earned success.

Dallas-Fort Worth theater-goers should treat and challenge themselves and make plans to see Jubilee Theatre’s Company.

1 Comment

Filed under Review, Theatre

COMPANY Review – Star-Telegram

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Theatre