Musical company

It’s time for ‘Company’ – Addison Independent

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENT Madison Middleton raises a cocktail during a rehearsal for Stephen Sondheim’s upcoming production of ‘Company’, which opens at the Town Hall Theater on January 27.
Independent Photo/Steve James

A production of a Stephen Sondheim musical is always an event, but the master composer’s death last November gives Middlebury’s upcoming production of “Company” new intensity.

“We scheduled this production of ‘Company’ last summer,” said Town Hall Theater Artistic Director Douglas Anderson. “So it’s a bittersweet moment to find ourselves presenting the work so soon after his death. I have to say, it gives everyone connected to it a new sense of purpose. We want to show the world how profoundly Sondheim changed American musical theatre.

The production will run from January 27-30 and is the 16th co-production of the Town Hall Theater and Middlebury College’s music department. Anderson and musical director Carol Christensen have made the program a highly anticipated annual event, playing to sold-out houses and critical acclaim.

With the selection made and the casting set, Christensen began voice rehearsals in October for all 14 actors.

“We met twice a week for a total of about 60 hours of rehearsal during the fall semester,” Christensen explained. “Sondheim sets are notoriously difficult to learn – they often resemble putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle or chain, where if you’re missing a piece or link and there’s a hole in the texture, things can go more than a little whack.”

Sondheim’s lyrics are generally considered to be among the best ever written – witty, complex and brilliantly constructed. There’s a lot of humor in a Sondheim musical, but also a lot of heartbreaking truths.

“We always need a bit of time to catch up with Sondheim,” Anderson said. “Many of his musicals weren’t immediately successful… You fall in love a little late. After spending time with his work, we listen, learn and come to terms with how iconoclastic the music truly is.

As one reviewer put it, “‘Company’ dares to say things that haven’t been said before or since in an American musical.”

“Company” debuted in 1970, featuring both music and lyrics by Sondheim. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical, but many viewers weren’t sure what to make of it.

“Musicals have always been extremely idealistic,” Anderson said. “They say marriage is the best thing that can happen to you, and happily ever after is real. That’s fine, says Sondheim, but life isn’t like that.

So, while a beloved musical like “Guys and Dolls” (also by Sondheim) ends in two happy marriages, in “Company” Sondheim presented, for the first time, complicated and difficult marriages.

“He gave the musical the dramatic weight of a good play,” added Anderson, who last year taught a course on American musical comedy history at Middlebury. “Most classic musicals are presented to a 14-year-old mind. Sondheim was determined to treat us like the adults we are.

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS Ryan Opiela-Young (left) and Zack Maluccio (right) share a moment during rehearsal earlier this week.
Independent Photo/Steve James

The production star is Zachary Maluccio ’23. He plays Robert (aka Bobby), the single man whose friends are all married but conflicted over the choices they’ve made in their lives. As he looks at his dysfunctional circle of friends, he wonders if marriage is something he should avoid. By the end of the play, however, he realizes he needs human contact, he needs to embrace commitment, and he sings the famous 11 o’clock number “Being Alive”.

“There’s a general rule that you can’t look at how other people do certain things, otherwise you’ll imitate them, and you won’t,” Maluccio replied when asked about his interpretation of that infamous number. “It’s so interesting to have a character so loved by everyone and so affable; so charismatic and hollow. The character is almost just a huge cover for what he’s going to do – the void.

“The amazing thing about ‘Being Alive’ is that it’s the culmination of it all; if you let yourself feel that void and protect it… walls around more walls… Then once you start singing ‘Being Alive’ you can organically let those walls down and be done with yourself .

Sondheim is known to have four principles that underpin his work: “Content dictates form, less is more, God is in the detailsall at the service of Clarity.

For Maluccio, “Less is more” is what resonates when he plays Bobby. “Bobby of all people is the calm, recognizable rock who doesn’t stray, will never go overboard with anything,” Maluccio said. ” It’s a little difficult. It’s something that I remember a lot: Bobby is a person who observes all these couples, seeing how they interact with each other. It’s a show about them through his eyes; so he can’t really be the focus.

Maluccio was an intern at the Town Hall Theater last summer and fall, and remembers when Anderson chose “Company” for J-term’s performance.

“I showed my enthusiasm from that point on,” said the economics and drama double major, who also took Anderson’s American Musical Comedy History course last January. “I think at that point I wouldn’t let the idea cross my mind – that I could become Bobby… Oh my god, that would be amazing. Now I see it as the opportunity of a lifetime. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have these opportunities. And when I look back, I mean, wow, I did that the best I could.

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS rehearse a dance number in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company’, opening at City Hall
Theater on January 27.

In just two and a half weeks, Maluccio and the rest of the cast, along with a 15-member student orchestra conducted by Ronnie Romano ’20, will produce this Sondheim masterpiece.

“We rehearse all elements of the production six hours a day, five days a week,” Christensen added. “Both in the fall and throughout January, with the pandemic rules in place, we are rehearsing fully masked – there are students whose full faces I have never seen! It’s hard to get a good sustaining low breath and hard to sing high, full-volume sections with a mask right against your face, especially when you’re also performing high-energy choreography. I’m so impressed with how the students have adapted to singing in what is the “new normal” for us. »

On Friday, the instrumentalists and vocalists will come together for the first time “in a rehearsal known as Sitzprobe in which we rehearse the music only without blocking, lines, costumes or sets,” Christensen explained. “Next week, the orchestra will accompany all our rehearsals until opening night. ”

In addition to the incredible cast and instrumentalists, Elisa Van Duyne (choreography), Emma Cowper ‘20.5 (costumes), Courtney Smith (lighting) and Abbey Plankey-Smith (technical director).

“We are all thrilled to be making music together again and thrilled to bring this show to the community of Middlebury,” exclaimed Christiansen.

“There was so much rave press following Sondheim’s death,” Anderson added. “Here’s a chance to see what it’s all about.”

Tickets for “Company” are $20; Middlebury College ID card holders $15; Middlebury College students $6, and can be purchased at townhalltheater.org, by calling 802-382-9222 or by visiting the THT box office (Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m.)

The Town Hall Theater observes strict COVID protocols, requiring proof of vaccination and booster, if eligible, or proof of negative PCR test, as well as photo ID. Masks must always be worn inside the theater.