I'd like to begin this by saying I was not involved in this production of Company (although I was involved with a couple of the actresses). I only spent so much time behind the scenes because I was to write a preview of the play in Pravda, the student-run newspaper at Schatze Jablonski University. The article was never written, but since I am writing a column that is Sondheim-related, I felt I should dust off those notebooks filled with quotes and observations and finally put them to use (not to mention put them to rest).
I don't want to give you the impression that I feel that all college theater productions are a veritable cabaret of bad acting, mediocre singing, and miscued lighting. I don't want you to turn off your computer thinking that the only reason the theater students of SJU agreed to do Company was because they wanted to include a Sondheim show on their resumes (and assumed that there was an excellent chance no Broadway big-shot would have seen it). I don't want you to believe that I have a personal vendetta against any cast member of this particular production (except for the few cast members I slept with and that bastard who constantly parked in my space at the newspaper parking lot, I carry no ill feelings).
I admit I have seen very good college productions. College of the Holy Cross put on a smashing (not to mention chilling) production of Sweeney Todd a couple of years back, and Roger Williams University has done some one-act plays that were top-notch.
I have seen worse college productions. I mean, Pippin just doesn't work without Fosse in charge. And we're not even going to discuss the all-male version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
What I'm trying to tell you is that Company, a sophisticated, urban comedy about a man who can't decide whether not he wants to settle down, should not have been done by a group of immature suburbanites whose main concern, other than who to sleep with that night (not that it mattered; the SJU theater department's unofficial slogan was, "You sleep with one of us, you sleep with all of us"), was getting this over with because Phantom was coming to town.
What didn't go wrong? The lovers' spat between Harry and Paul (I refer to each cast member by their character name, because I'm still friends with a couple of these people, and they don't take lighthearted criticism very well) because Paul had to kiss Amy at various points in the play comes immediately to mind. I wrote down this quote from Harry: "I don't kiss women when I don't want to. You just want to, don't you?"
Susan was disappointed with her role and tried to expand it by improvising lines during her scenes. "Well, couldn't I discuss my favorite Webber play at this point? Bobby likes Webber too, so we could have lots to talk about."
David was disturbed by his scene in which he smokes pot with Jenny and Bobby because he felt he was personally advocating marijuana to his "fan base" (I kid you not). He asked to switch roles with Paul, which Harry seconded enthusiastically.
The entire cast hated the set, which was a group of risers bunched together and some neon lights. The set designer (we'll call her Lola ... at least I will) was a performance art major and was trying to think like Bruce Nauman. At least that's what she told me, although I am not entirely sure she wasn't just putting me on. Anyway, it was hideous, but not as bad as what the cast wanted to change it to: a revolving set that, were it to accommodate the multitudes of set changes the cast had in mind, would not have fit in the theater building.
Joanne had never smoked before and was terribly concerned that she'd get cancer by smoking the four or five cigarettes per show (there were five total) required of her character. Of course, responsibility fell upon me to teach her how to smoke because I, at the time, was a voracious smoker, and also because she happened to be who I was sleeping with at the time.
Ever try to teach someone how to smoke with a deadline on your head? It's not easy. "You suck on the tip, take a deep breath, then blow out."
"That makes me gag."
"How do you know?"
"Every time I suck on the tip, I gag."
"You haven't even tried this on a lit cigarette yet."
"But I gag whenever I suck on the tip"
"So you said. Anyway, it's easier to do with a lit cigarette, because something happens when you suck on a lit cigarette."
"Yeah, you get cancer."
"Why do you smoke?"
"Why do you smoke? Are you trying to commit suicide very slowly?"
"No, I just don't want to grow old and bitter. Anyway, the first thing you'll feel when you breathe in is a burning sensation. This is when you're supposed to gag. Then you'll feel a little dizzy. By then you'll have blown out, and you'll understand why people smoke."
"So when does the cancer develop?"
And so it went for an entire month. (Not me teaching Joanne how to smoke. I mean the rehearsals.) Bobby tried to change the words to "Being Alive" because he thought it was too depressing. Peter was offended by the references to the Kamasutra in "Have I Got A Girl For You". Marta took offense to the tight-ass comments her character makes to Robert. Jenny quit the show three times, the last time permanently, leaving Lola to take her part. (Don't ask. Lola had a lovely voice, though.) Someone asked if I'd like to play Paul because Paul and Harry were still quarreling. (Anyone who has ever heard me sing will know why in my band I sang punk songs and not show tunes.) My editor kept asking me, "How are things going?"
Finally, on opening night, two hockey players had to be escorted from the theater for hooting and hollering when April was taking her clothes off. Harry was heard to exclaim, "I hate that goddamned song," backstage after singing "Sorrty-Grateful". Peter fell off the stage twice. Joanne smoked more cigarettes than the script demanded. And the lights were never on the right person.
I swore off actresses after college, and cigarettes as well, not to mention journalism. I can't say for sure if it was because of the Schatze Jablonski University theater department's version of Company that changed me in such a profound way, but I also can't think of anything else that possibly could have.
How did it all turn out? Well, by the end of the run, they had it down pat, and the play went off without a hitch. By then, though, the charm had faded for me, and although Bobby sang "Being Alive" perfectly and beautifully, I cried not because of his performance but for the knowledge that he was standing there in front of me thinking, "God I wish I was singing `Music of the Night' right now."
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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