Tag Archives: Jubilee 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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COMPANY Review – Edge Dallas

by Doug  Dodasovich
EDGE Contributor

If you’re seeking relief/entertainment from the Texas 111- degree summer and you’ve exhausted the bats and spiders or require a more adult, sophisticated form of entertainment you couldn’t ask for better company than attending a shining, hot production of Fort Worth’s Jubilee Theatre’s final production of its 31st season: Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.”

Beyond the ubiquitous “Into The Woods” or the occasional “Sweeney Todd,” a DFW Sondheim production is rare. Nearly any Sondheim production demands singing and acting chops of the highest degree from every member of the company. This challenge makes it difficult for most companies to fill not only the lead roles, but also every role with top-tier talent. All of which makes Jubilee’s bold and ambitious “Company” all the more impressive; they make it look easy.

“Company” revolves around 35-year old bachelor Bobby (Robert, Bob, Bubby, etc.), his five married/coupled friends and three of his girlfriends. The action begins and ends at a wealthy, Upper-Manhattan apartment where the five couples have gathered for Bobby’s surprise birthday party.

The remainder of the show is presented in no particular chronological order as a series of vignettes each featuring Bobby and one of the couples or one of the girlfriends all of whom are worried/eager for Bobby to settle down and get married. While each vignette is played out, another character comments or sings in a Greek-chorus style, about the individual vignette on display.

Jubilee’s “Company” is brilliant, engaging, thought-provoking entertainment. Harry Parker directs fluidly and seamlessly and along with Artistic Director Tre Garrett, has assembled a marvelous cast. Set Designer Brian Clinnin keeps things simple yet elegant. Above the ground-level performing space, Clinnin has built a low-rising tri-tiered set glimmering with polished solid-wood floors set against a large, semi-circular window highlighting the skyline of Manhattan (and implying the wealth necessary to afford such a view). Musical Director Michael Plantz keeps the score minimal which seems appropriate for Jubilee’s small space. Although it makes you yearn to hear the score performed by a full orchestra in a larger venue.

Lloyd Harvey as Bobby is a delight. Harvey is handsome and charming with a strong stage presence (he’s in every scene) and voice. 2012 is becoming a breakout year for Harvey as Bobby is his second major lead role this year (the other being Uptown Player’s “Take Me Out.”)

As an ensemble, all 14 (!) principals are tight and sharp as shown in the second act opener “Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You.” Meg Shideler nearly stops the show as Amy, a lovable, neurotic mess who develops not merely cold, but frozen feet on her wedding day. Shideler’s “Getting Married Today” is terrific. Alison Hodgson is mesmerizing as April. April is one of Bobby’s three girlfriends, a self-described dumb flight attendant. Hodgson is anything but, displaying mature, comedic nuances and a voice that nearly surpasses her looks. Jubilee vet Marcus M. Mauldin (married Larry) is given few lines but inhabits his character like a fine-fitted Italian suit.

With few exceptions, the rest of the cast provides solid performances. Slightly disappointing were Ben Phillips and Tracy Nachalle Davis (as Harry and Sarah) who play an alcoholic/binge-eater couple who delight in pointing out each other’s faults. They are given clever, passive-aggressive lines that need to be attacked with more bite and venom. Michelle Rene (JoAnne) nails “The Little Things You Do Together” singing counterpoint to Harry and Sarah’s frolics.

JoAnne is one of “Company’s” more complex characters — oft-married, sassy and saucy — and she gets to sing arguably the best and well-known song in the show: “The Ladies Who Lunch.” In the song, JoAnne is mocking the purposeless, self-absorbed wealthy Manhattan wives she sees everyday. But during the song’s climactic finale, JoAnne realizes that she herself is one of those wives.

Rene’s “Ladies” lacks the passionate poignant pathos that the song demands. Instead, Rene powers and belts her way through the song. “Ladies” is a song that doesn’t require perfect pitch. However it does demand tension and emotion as the song slowly builds with multiple key changes, pauses and nuances up to the final bars of the repeating lyric “Rise” which if sung correctly can literally move an audience to their feet.

There are many reasons to celebrate Jubilee’s “Company.” First, it’s just damn great. Second, Jubilee Theatre is North Texas’ premiere African-American theatre, thriving for 31 years in less than tolerant Fort Worth, Texas (which has less than a 20 percent African-American population).

Staging a Sondheim show about wealthy, Upper Manhattan Caucasians is a ballsy move for Jubilee. It’s refreshing to see a show (anywhere in the DFW metroplex) so well produced that no one bats an eye that the lead character is African-American, that half the characters in this African-American theater are cast with Caucasians and that the show features an inter-racial couple.

All of this works because the theme of “Company” is color-blind and universal: marriage is hard work. Marriage is filled with love, companionship and bliss, but it also has its valleys where selfishness, pettiness, unhappiness and more reside. Well done, Jubilee.

“Company” was revolutionary in many ways when it debuted on Broadway in 1970. Sondheim (after writing the lyrics for such traditional shows as “West Side Story” and “Gypsy”), literally evolved the American musical by presenting a show with no linear plot, no chronological order and with an open-ended finale (what does happen to Bobby?).

Company” scored a record 14 Tony nominations, winning six including Best Musical, Best Director, Best Book (George Furth), Best Music, Best Lyrics and Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson.)

“Company” was ahead of its time by featuring a 35-year-old unmarried man as a lead. While it is now more commonplace to wait until your 30s to get married, the opposite was true in 1970. Predating the Women’s Liberation Movement by a few years, it also featured three single, employed women in the Big Apple. One male character even asks Bobby if he has ever had a homosexual experience and both men admit that they had.

A documentary of the recording of the original cast recording of “Company” was made shortly after the show opened. It most notably features original JoAnne, Elaine Stritch, struggling to record the essential “Ladies Who Lunch.” There was a 1995 and a 2006 revival of “Company.” The 2006 revival won the Tony for Best Revival and was filmed live; the DVD and Blu-ray of the 2006 revival is widely available.

It was just announced this week that a 2011 New York Philharmonic concert staging of “Company” at Lincoln Center will be released on DVD and Blu-ray this fall. The staged concert version stars Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby and Patti LuPone as JoAnne.

Theatre is life. Cinema is art. Television is furniture. Get a life.

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In Good COMPANY

Brad Stephens has accepted the role of Paul in the upcoming Jubilee Theatre production of Company, directed by Dr. Harry Parker.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Company is a musical comedy about five married, once married, or soon to be married couples and their good friend, Robert, a young bachelor who has avoided long-term relationships. Eventually, Bobby learns that while relationships aren’t perfect, they can be a beautiful and necessary part of “Being Alive.”

Preview performances begin July 13th.  Show opens July 20th and runs through August 12, 2012.  Jubilee Theatre is located at 506 Main Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102.  For reservations and tickets, call the box office at 817-338-4411 or visit www.jubileetheatre.org.

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