In the parking lot of the Hanifl Performing Arts Center on a perfectly quintessential beautiful Minnesota summer evening, I had the pleasure of seeing Lakeshore Player’s Production of Company by Stephen Sondheim. This is one of my all-time favorite shows and one I’ve never seen a live production of before. How apt that the first live theatre (well adult theatre, I did go see my kid in her school play) in 17 months be one that is focused on spending time with people. Set in New York, the main character, Bobby spends the show essentially being crowded with love from his friends as their perpetually single friend. They attempt to show him what’s missing by not being married. Instead, what we see is a cast of lonely characters doing their best to pretend they’re anything but.
Overall, I was delighted with the entire cast. They really seemed to encompass the idea of an ensemble. Lydia Wagner was unable to perform, and the role of Sarah was played by Katie Rowles-Perich. This was announced before the show began, but Katie did such an amazing job I didn’t realize until halfway through her first act that the paper in her hands was the script because she didn’t know the lines. I had simply accepted it as a choice that the character was distracted by her lists and magazines and only half-listening to her husband. This scene also provided the most frustration for me. Leading into the song “Little Things’, there is a karate fight between the married couple. I don’t know how it’s written into the script, but to me, it was over-styled stage combat that just didn’t fit. I was also fairly distracted by the costume choice for Sarah’s husband Harry, played by James Lane. Unlike any of the other characters, he was in cargo shorts, a t-shirt and flannel compared to the cocktail attire most characters were wearing. I spent far too much time wondering if the actor forgot his costume.
Audrey Johnson as Amy and Wendy Short-Hays as Joanne were fantastic. Amy’s song, “Getting Married Today,” is the most ‘Sondheim’ song of the show. A frantic tongue-twister that was a total delight to watch. “Ladies Who Lunch” is a classic that did not disappoint. Additionally, these two actors brought to life the total fear of letting someone see all your crazy and the confusion that follows when they don’t bolt. How many missed connections happen when we push someone just one step too far? When someone loves you, crazy and all, is there such a thing as one step too far? One of the notes I made to myself said ‘are any of these couples happy?’ and yet it’s exactly these two characters who seem to be in the most functional of the various relationships.
The show is performed outside in a parking lot. There is a simple but effective stage constructed high enough to easily view with two enclosed tents on the sides to function as backstage. You do need to bring your own chair, but otherwise, it felt like an active choice to take advantage of the outdoors rather than something slapped together in a panic. I admit I haven’t seen a lot of outdoor theatre so I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. It didn’t occur to me to check the weather so we really lucked out there. Because the performance is in their parking lot, factor in a little more time to walk from street parking to the show.
All things considered, the technical aspects of the show were just fine. Nothing amazing, but again you can have a ton of stuff go wrong any day of the week. That’s the magic of live theater. There was a car alarm going off at one point that was distracting. Marta’s microphone went out but she pushed through without a beat and I could still hear her where I was sitting at the back. I will always applaud someone who doesn’t falter in situations like that.
For a show that’s not known for being big and splashy, the choreography was a subtle gem. The vocals and choreography in “Drive a Person Crazy” had my kid and me dancing in our chairs. Full disclosure, I’ve known the music director, Bradley Beahen, since high school and he was my main motivation for bringing my eldest child to the show. As a budding vocalist, I wanted her to hear voices between what she hears on soundtracks and the just beginning to mature voices of her classmates. I already know how talented Brad is because I’ve known him since he was her age, voice cracks and all.
As it should be, her favorite was William ‘Billy’ Krager as Robert. She kept repeating “His crescendo and decrescendo is amazing.”
That being said, I had forgotten the adult themes of drugs and sex in the show until I realized my almost 14-year-old was the only child in the audience. It was totally fine for me, but something to be aware of. I wouldn’t have brought my 10-year-old for instance.
My favorite song in this show is “Being Alive.” Maybe it’s about finding the right partner in life, but this song encompasses live theatre for me. It leaves me confused some days, and totally confident others. It has knocked me down and let me soar. It always makes me feel alive. Company runs through July 25th out in White Bear Lake and I highly suggest you make the shlep.