The latest production by the Salt Lake Community College theatre program is proving to be a major test for its students.
The non-linear comedic musical “Company” was originally selected for production by former theater instructor, Julie Heaton. Featuring live music written by Stephen Sondheim, “Company” is a complicated show to perform.
“It is definitely one of the most difficult musicals to do,” says Zac Curtis, director and current theater professor. “The fact that we are trying to take it on at a community college is a big leap of faith in our talent.”
Curtis admitted that he was a bit nervous about attempting the show until he discovered the caliber of performers he had to work with.
“We have an incredible amount of talent at SLCC – acting and singing. And they have stepped up to the challenge of the show, embraced their roles and are really doing a fantastic job.”
Rather than following the conventional construction of a musical with two leads and a huge ensemble with minor roles, “Company” boasts one lead supported by a strong presence of 13 other characters.
“Every role in the show is meaty,” Curtis says. “Every actor gets to really dive into character and develop.”
The story follows Robert, played by Harland Eldredge, as he celebrates his 35th birthday. A traditional bachelor, Robert must discover for himself whether it’s time to settle down like his friends or continue living as a single man.
While the SLCC version of “Company” has the traditional romantic duets, vignettes and tap dancing, it also offers unexpected surprises: portrayals of characters smoking pot, karate and a couple who is happier being together after their divorce.
Kortney King, who plays Sarah, is a fan of Sondheim and was thrilled when she learned that the college would be producing the show. Sondheim is also known for his music in Broadway productions such as “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods.”
“‘Company’ has been a dream show of mine since I discovered it in high school when I was looking at all of the shows that Steven [sic] Sondheim wrote music for,” she wrote in an email.
Sondheim is reported to have said that he writes his music “to make people laugh and cry and think.” Actor Selah McKenna, who plays Amy, believes Sondheim’s brilliant compositions created a lot of work for the cast.
“He loves to change the time signature multiple times in a song and challenges us with many wordy lyrics,” she wrote.
Music director Kevin Mathie helped the cast learn the intricate songs.
“We’re lucky we were able to hire one of the best musical directors in the city,” Curtis says. “You need someone really fantastic to teach college students this music.”
According to Curtis, Mathie directs musical productions at the Grand Theatre, Desert Star Playhouse and Salt Lake Acting Company.
Student stage director Bri Bold explains that the message of the show is more complex than just whether or not someone wants to be married, or whether or not they are in love.
“I think that ‘Company’ is really about the complexity of that human connection,” she says. “We talk about the human connection like it’s a consistently positive thing, but it’s the complexity; it’s the choices that you make, it’s the sacrifices that you make.”
A great deal of sacrifice goes into producing a show of such magnitude.
In addition to rehearsals that run approximately four hours per night, five nights a week, cast and crew put a lot of additional time and effort into perfecting their roles.
Josh Whitaker, who plays Paul, says in an email that he changed his diet and exercise routine in order to slim down for his role.
Despite all of this pressure, the energy and camaraderie amidst cast and crew members remains constant.
“Company is exciting because of the kinds of ideas that are in it and the kind of energy that our cast is bringing,” Bold says. “They’re very talented, energetic people, which are, I think, some of the top shelf human beings you can find.”
According to King, the feeling is mutual. She believes Bold is well organized with the technical aspect of the show. “She cares about the cast immensely,” King adds.
This bond extends to Curtis as the director.
“He’s very supportive,” says actor Lexie Barnett, who plays Jenny. “He lets you define your own character; helps you figure out the good and bad in them. He’s very professional.”
Curtis suggests that the language in the show might be inappropriate for “very young children”, but other than that, “anyone in Utah can come in and enjoy the show.”
“This musical is a good balance of comedy yet a heartfelt message,” McKenna wrote. “Come support us! We’ve worked really hard.”