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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Colonial Players Company

By • Mar 26th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Company
Colonial Players
Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, MD
Through April 16th
2:45 with intermission
$20/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed March 19th, 2011

Company is a concept musical that revolves around Robert on his 35th birthday. He is surrounded in a very surreal scene by his closest friends: five different married couples. The rest of the show is a series of vignettes, in no particular chronological order, of Robert with his married couple friends and with three different girlfriends. This is an intensely complex script and score. To really even begin to get to the heart of what is being said by this piece takes an intense conversation reminiscent of college lit classes. It is, like most Sondheim, an extremely difficult score that calls for wide ranges and intricate harmonies. The characters are also multi-layered, and it takes a lot of picking away at those layers to decide if you even like them.

While a lot of talent and promise was indeed evident amongst the cast and production team of Colonial Players of Annapolis’ attempt at this production, it ultimately proved to be more of a challenge than they were ready to meet. The harmonies were all over the place, many of the soloists were not up to the difficult songs, most of the characters came across as caricatures that played for laughs rather than complex simulations of real people, the staging was awkward at best, and the overall look and feel of the scenic and costume design simply missed the mark. It is a shame, because the decent voices and caricatures would have worked just fine and been enjoyable in a less-complex, traditional musical comedy.

Robert was played by John Halmi. Although he did have beautiful vocals and the strongest voice in the production, his performance was lackluster. He did not convey enough heart to make his performance believable or to make the audience really care about Robert and his journey. He was not the emotional center that the piece needed.

The first of his couple friends were Harry (Rick Long) and Sarah (Emily Sergo). These two were very artificial and their scene was very rushed. While they achieved some cheap laughs, they ran over the lines that contained the real “high comedy” of the script. Long also seemed to struggle with vocals throughout the show; although, Sergo had a very trained and powerful soprano.

The next couple was Peter (Tobias Young) and Susan (Susannah Hurlburt). Hurlburt was largely unmemorable in her role. Young, on the other hand, completely missed the mark with Peter. There is a scene, which should be shocking (so I won’t reveal the spoiler here); however, Young played the character in such a way that the reveal was expected and not remotely surprising.

Couple number three was Jennie (Shannon Benil) and David (James Schwallenburg). This was the most entertaining of the scenes, and Benil and Schwallenburg came, by far, the closest to creating realistic and deep characterizations.

The fourth couple was Amy (Jamie Miller) and Paul (Trent Goldsmith). Miller managed to do a decent job of maintaining very difficult vocals in “Getting Married Today.” She is obviously excellent at playing over-the-top comedy, but it would have been nice to see a little more restraint and complexity with Amy. Goldsmith, on the other hand, came across as very real and was probably the only person in the cast who never seemed like he was “acting.”

Lastly, there was Joanne (Margaret Allman) and Larry (Vince van Joolen). Although this couple looked the parts more than any of the other performers, their performances were some of the most disappointing. The couple was very artificial. The biggest issue was that Allman does not have anywhere near the vocal chops to handle this score and her attempt at the iconic “Ladies Who Lunch” was the absolute low point of the evening.

Rounding out the cast were Robert’s three girlfriends: April (Bridget Creel), Kathy (Monica Garcia), and Marta (Laurie Lawrence). None of the women made any emotional connection with Robert or the audience, and, like most of the cast, they created caricatures and lines sounded false and forced. Vocals were not much better. Creel suffered from horrible pitch issues during “Barcelona,” and Lawrence growled her way through “Another Hundred People.” At least, Creel and Garcia looked their parts. Lawrence looked like an inappropriate “cougar” in the role of Marta.

Another big problem with the production was the staging. The director seemed to lack understanding of how to effectively stage for theater in the round. The orchestra was placed in the center of the stage. There were several times when action was completely blocked by the orchestra. For instance, from where I was seated I could not see most of Harry and Sarah’s karate battle because of the orchestra. There were also other times when I could not see most of the stage, because my view was blocked by the back side of one actor or another. Also, there were times when an actor would be facing the audience on the far side of the stage and it was difficult to still hear him or her. Much of the problems were a result of the placement of the orchestra. Instead of the cast playing from the center out to the audience, they were playing from around the edges. Theatre in the round can be very effective when mastered, but, in this production, its use was largely problematic.

What was wrong with the set and costumes was the issue that was extended into many of the characterizations. Sondheim is often quoted as explaining that Company is about “upper-middle class people with upper-middle class problems.” Nothing about the set or most of the costumes felt “upper-middle class.” The ensemble of Company is essentially intended to be the same demographic as the modern-day Sex in the City. However, there was no upper-middle class New York metropolitan opulence or sophistication represented in this production. The lighting was functional but largely unremarkable. It was not really well-utilized to create an atmosphere or mood.

There were also a few mind-boggling little issues with the production. The cake and the candles are a huge part of the symbolism of the show, and the blowing out of the candles is referenced and simulated several times. Not having candles on the cake was a hugely distracting misstep. Another weird problem was right at the beginning of the show and, in many ways, set the tone for the lack of consistent attention to detail. In the original, Robert is listening to messages on an old-fashioned answering machine. Therefore, between the messages are the tell-tale beeps. In this production, although Robert now listened to the messages on a cell phone, the beeps were still utilized. He should have either used an answering machine, albeit slightly archaic, or the beeps should have been replaced with a simulation of modern cell phone messages (“To delete this message, press 7”).

There is little doubt that there were a lot of talented people involved in this production; unfortunately, most Sondheim, Company in particular, requires a higher-level of talent than your average community theater can really pull together. This appeared to be a good community theater in general, but good community theater is not good enough for Company.

Cast

  • Joanne: Margaret Allman
  • Jennie: Shannon Benil
  • April: Bridget Creel
  • Kathy: Monica Garcia
  • Paul: Trent Goldsmith
  • Robert: John Halmi
  • Susan: Susannah Hurlburt
  • Harry: Rick Long
  • Amy: Jamie Miller
  • Marta: Laurie (Nettles) Lawrence
  • David: James Schwallenburg
  • Sarah: Emily Sergo
  • Larry: Vince van Joolen
  • Tobias Young: Peter

Production Staff

  • Director: Joe Thompson
  • Musical Director: Ryan Shookman
  • Producer: Tom Stuckey
  • Stage Manager: Susie Collins
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Mark Schaefer
  • Stage Crew: Charlie Carwile
  • Choreography: Natasha Joyce
  • Fight Choreography: Richard Koster
  • Set Design: Edd Miller
  • Lead Carpenter: Dick Whaley
  • Carpenters: Lee Craft, Norm James, Jim Robinson, Ted Yablonski
  • Set Painting: Edd Miller, Tom Stuckey
  • Lighting Design: Harvey Hack
  • Assistant Lighting Design: Jennifer Parris
  • Lighting Assistants: Terry Averil, Lyndon Bray, Charlie Carwile, Joe Feibel, Mary Koster, Richard Koster, Jay Nispel, Heather Quinn, Danny Robinson, Tom Stuckey, Beverly Hill van Joolen
  • Sound Design: Martin Thompson
  • Lighting/Sound Technicians: Debbie Hall, Joan Hamilton, Tom Stuckey
  • Costume Design: Kaelynn Miller
  • Properties Design: Cornelia Watson
  • Properties Assistant: Ken Watson
  • Technical Director: Wed Bedsworth
  • Technical Consultant: Bob Foery
  • Pianist: Ryan Shookman
  • Cellist: Katie Chambers
  • Dance Captains: Monica Garcia, Emily Sergio
  • Production Consultant: Richard Koster
  • Play Consultant: Darice Clewell
  • Playbill/Poster Design: Jim Gallagher
  • Photography: Colburn Images
  • Program Editor: Tom Stuckey
  • Lobby Display: Jason Vaughan

Disclaimer: Colonial Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6337.

has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musical for use in church.

4 Responses »

  1. Please note that a comment about Ms. Gusso’s article was posted here earlier this weekend. But that commenter failed to mention his role in the production, so the comment was removed. Please disclose any biases or conflicts you have when leaving your comments about a production. Thank you, Mike, Editor, ShowBizRadio.net

  2. I have to say that your review of Company seemed rather harsh. I understand that it is your duty to be honest and true to your readers, but when reviewing community theater I feel some restraint should be used. This is not professional Theater, all actors and crew are doing it out of love and joy. If they do not reach a standard of acceptability in your eyes I believe it is wrong for you to assassinate their talent. If I ever read something about one of my performances, similar to what you wrote about some of these, I don’t think I would want to go back on stage. Now I know that opens me up for all kinds of criticism. For instance I don’t belong on the stage if I am so delicate,a much tougher hide is required to be an actor. You would be right if it was my profession and you may be right if it is just a hobby. It is simply my opinion that when you review a volunteer production you should be able to do it in a way that wouldn’t stop someone from getting joy out of the experience. I have not seen this production and I am not part of this production.
    DAVID JAMES

  3. I was the Technical Director for this Company, and as such, I felt compelled to respond to a few of Ms. Gusso’s observations both from a personal perspective and a technical perspective.

    Regarding the staging and the orchestra in the center:
    1) Our theatre has three options for musicians in a show, those being: center stage, E4 (the large corner of the theatre), and offstage. I believe that having the musicians on stage in this production allows them to act as a part of the audience during the acting scenes. The facial expressions and reactions of the musicians to the cast, in my opinion and personal observation, allow the audience to relate and see the reactions that may be in their mind acted out on stage.

    2) I also believe that having the musicians on stage allows them to be part of the show and allows the audience to see the live talent of both our actors/actresses as well as our musicians. Placing our musicians offstage makes it questionable whether live music is worth the trouble because canned music could almost be utilized at that point without anyone being the wiser. Unfortunately E4 was not a viable option for this show.

    3) I have observed the show in rehearsal and several times from several locations. On opening night I sat in the front row (the lowest row) of A section directly across from the karate scene. While it was partially obscured, I did not feel as if I missed any of the action. I can state from working with this show that it is not necessary to see every little karate kick to get the idea of what’s going on. Having seen the karate from several views, I knew on opening night that I was in fact not missing anything critical to the plot. In general, the cast moves around the musician platform allowing the entire theatre to get a reasonably good view of what’s going on throughout the various scenes. In theatre-in-the-round, no matter how you stand, your back will be toward someone and you have the potential to block someone’s view. It’s unfortunate that Ms. Gusso implies that people stood in the same place and did not move around for a large portion of the production. This is simply not the case.

    4) It is sometimes problematic in our space to be effectively heard at all times in all locations from all locations without speaking or singing unnaturally loud. It seems to be the nature of the space. There were two vocal numbers in particular that posed particular concern for us, so we utilized wireless microphones for those numbers to enhance the ability of the audience to hear the person singing and even out the sound in the space. Unfortunately we do not own 12 wireless mics, so it is not feasible to mic everyone. We had to work with what was available to us.

    Regarding the comment about the lighting: It is unfortunate that Ms. Gusso did not take note of the dramatic lighting changes that actually do take place throughout some of the scenes. All of the lighting was carefully thought out, planned, and subsequently programmed. I was present to witness portions of the endless hours of work by our lighting team that went into lighting this production.

    Regarding not having candles on the cake: The Diviners, our January production, used a lot of imaginary yet effective props such as food and drink that are acted out. It is very unlikely that not having actual candles on the cake broke this show. As a theatre-goer, I found that I could use my imagination to understand the concept without the candles actually on the cake, just as with Diviners I understood that a character was eating a donut despite having nothing in his hand. This leads into my next point.

    Regarding the voicemail beeps: I believe that Ms. Gusso is right, an old style answering machine would not really have fit with the show. We opted to use a cell phone with voicemail. That said, the show is 2 1/2 hours long including intermission. We didn’t think it was necessary to add another few minutes to the show with several “To delete this message, press 7, to save it, press 9, to keep it as new, press 3.” announcements between each message. We use symbolism in productions and the beeps symbolize voicemail messages being played back.

    I hope that others who join us for our production of Company enjoy themselves, get lost in the music that I can’t seem to get out of my head, and leave our theatre with a smile on their face.

  4. The reason that I did not list my work on Company is that I did not do any work on that show. I am surprised that your critic did not note the absence of a lobby display. (Editor’s note: Mr. Vaughan is listed in the program as having done a lobby display for the production.)

    While I have worked with Colonial in the past, I had no interaction with the directors or performers for Company. After my work with Colonial’s last show, I decided to take a long break from the theater company.

    (Editor’s note: here is Mr. Vaughan’s earlier submission)
    I had the opportunity to see Colonial’s production of Company early in its run, and while the reviewer brings up some valid points, the overall vitriolic tone is simply unnecessary and unprofessional.

    I did not walk into Colonial’s intimate theater expecting Tony-worthy performances; this is a community theater production. No one is being paid (except for Mr. Sondheim, who I am sure has already cashed the royalty check). Everyone volunteered countless hours, devoting time and energy for an artistic pursuit.

    I applaud Colonial Players for taking up the challenge to put on a very complicated and very rewarding show. It may not be perfect, but given the applause from the audience on the night I attended, it certainly was not the trainwreck described above.

    It is because of scorched-earth reviews such as this one that I am reluctant to return to the stage as an actor in community theatre productions. When one thinks of the countless hours rehearsing, learning lines and blocking, suffering endless technical weeks, and then finally committing to a lengthy run—all for no compensation except for an audience’s applause—and then be ruthlessly torn to bits by a lackluster critic, it really isn’t worth it.

    I wonder how the writer would feel if such a review was written of one of her productions? How many aspiring young actors and actresses would throw in the towel, knowing that no matter how hard you worked, and no matter how good the show, some writer exercising demons cannot resist a petty attack.