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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: In Comes Platonic Heterosexual Company

Marianne Elliott's revised mounting provides a male/female dynamic you don't see every season.

So I finally got to see Company...

...which opened while I was recovering from my injuries, and while director Marianne Elliott's revised mounting of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1970 musical changes the gender of the central single character Bobby and updates the white heterosexual norm of the original production with gay and mixed-race marriage representation, what stuck out the most for me is how the view of the straight male characters changed in a new context.

(Note: While I don't want to make assumptions, after much consideration and conversation I'm referring to these characters as straight because the authors and director give no indication that their sexuality goes anywhere beyond heterosexuality.)

As played in the original, a straight male Bobby asks his married friend Harry if he's ever sorry he got married. He responds with the very intimate song probing into his feelings about his relationship with his wife, Sorry-Grateful. Eventually, married friends David and Larry sing parts of the song, suggesting that Bobby has asked this very personal question to other married male friends.

So you might think that the new production's Bobbie, being played by Katrina Lenk, would be asking that question to three women friends, but no... It remains a trio for Christopher Sieber's Harry, Christopher Fitzgerald's David and Terence Archie's Larry, suggesting that Bobbie is closer to the male halves of these three couples than to the female halves. And it's staged without a trace of sexual tension or romantic attraction between the married men and the single woman.

When I was approaching my 30s, screenwriter Nora Ephron's extremely popular romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally seemed to reinforce the notion that straight men and women could not truly be platonic friends because sexual attraction would always get in the way. Watching that scene played out at the Jacobs Theatre last week was the first time I can recall, in my 45+ years of attending theatre, seeing that level of trust and platonic intimacy between a heterosexual man and woman being presented, and I smiled under my mask in recognition of a relationship I've sometimes been fortunate to share.

But there's more...

In act two of the original, Harry's wife Sarah, as they're in their bedroom about to turn in, begins the song Poor Baby, expressing her concern that Bobby is missing out on an important part of life by not being in a committed relationship with a woman. Her husband is obliviously unconcerned.

Well, wouldn't you know it, Elliott switches things around this time and it's Harry showing concern that Bobbie doesn't have a commitment with a "fella", as expressed in the lyric change. And while Jennifer Simard's Sarah seems oblivious, Larry and David Are among those echoing Harry's sympathetic words, completing a rarely-dramatized representation of straight men being selflessly nurturing towards a woman they show no romantic or sexual interest in; a dynamic that does exist, but is rarely dramatized so in popular culture.

Then again, the woman I attended with (straight, single, around Bobbie's age) theorized that the guys saw Bobbie as "the hot friend they want to cheat on their wife with, or suggest a threesome."

Different experiences, different interpretations.

One more note on Company...

By now Broadway customers have grown accustomed to seeing ushers occasionally walking up and down the aisles during performances, checking for unmasked audience members. But in Company, the ushers seem choreographed into their tasks, mimicking the brisk movements of the actors who cross the stage during musical transitions and crowd scenes. Well done.

Warming Up at the FRIGID Festival...

It was a chilly night on St. Marks Place this past Friday, but in between slices of dollar pizza and cups of coffee house java, my home base was UNDER St Marks, the warm and cozy basement theatre space that, along with the Kraine Theater over on E. 4th Street, is hosting the 16th Annual FRIGID Festival, running now through March 6th.

The mission of FRIGID is to give emerging and established theatre artists a chance to let loose in an uncensored environment. Tickets are relatively inexpensive (most of this year's 24 offerings are priced at $15 or less) with all proceeds from sales going to the artists.

And with several productions sharing the spaces each night, you can do a marathon like I did on Friday, catching three terrific solo pieces...

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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: In Comes Platonic Heterosexual Company
George Steeves (Photo: Saul Luna)

This is what it's like to date when you have Asperger's," explains George Steeves in Love & Sex On The Spectrum. "Asperger's Syndrome is characterized by a higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive repetitive patterns of interest and activities, and that's what dating has become to me. A restrictive repetitive pattern of interest and activity. At this point, I'm not looking for a relationship, I'm just looking for experience!"

So armed with a dating app and a late bloomer's excitement for catching up for lost time, Steeves dives head first into the world of casual dating, sorry to find a lot of guys along the way who are too into commitment. To protect their identities he only refers to them with boy band aliases.

A self-described child of the 90s, Steeves' text is loaded quotes and references out of teen rom-coms that I'm only familiar with through the Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals based on them, and he's likely to punch up his narratives by bursting into a Sade or Mariah Carey tune at any moment. I may not have gotten it all, but, as directed by Megan Ford Miller, he's a charismatic comedian with a fun show.

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"As a show that is about a Lutheran, it wouldn't be complete if it didn't start with an apology," notes Matt Storrs at the commencement of Portly Lutheran Know-It-All. "I am no longer portly. For those of you expecting a chubby kid to talk to you tonight, I'm very sorry."

When he was that chubby kid -- one with dyslexia -- Storrs learned quickly that if the other kids laughed at the mistakes he made, he could claim he did them intentionally and get credit for being funny. Going for the funny seems to have been an important part of his adolescent years in religious middle school.

With gentle humor and no disrespect intended, he guides us through a series of remembrances such as the day he defended Judas in mock trial, his science project to determine what type of wood Noah used to build his ark, his selection of characters from TV commercials as modern day equivalents of the Holy Trinity and, of course, the kissing games he and his classmates used to rebel against their abstinence training.

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"I was really lucky I had my breakdown when I was 25 and still on my parent's health insurance. If I didn't have insurance, I would probably be dead right now, or worse... in debt for the rest of my life."

Ellie Brelis fully admits to having a somewhat dark sense of humor, and every so often in her admirably open and compelling Driver's Seat, there's a line like the one above that may jar you a bit with its mixture of humor and acerbic commentary. The play opens with her cataloguing ways she might commit suicide, leading to a bit of her history as a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition that was triggered in 2020 by a very bad breakup and the COVID-related death of a loved one, resulting in her checking into a mental health facility.

As directed by Skye Murie, Brelis carries a rather chipper presence as she describes her treatments and the significant life events that followed without ever undercutting the seriousness of her situation. As she learns to take more control, Driver's Seat becomes less about her condition and more about expressing gratitude to those who have shown her support.

"We had a great final dress rehearsal on March 11, 2020."

So explained J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company's artistic director Robert W. Schneider in a pre-show speech before their wonderful production of A Class Act.

Lonny Price and Linda Kline's bio-musical about the career of Ed Kleban, best known for writing the lyrics for the Tony and Pulitzer-winning A Chorus Line, was supposed to be the final entry of the company's first season, right after their very enjoyable mountings of Seesaw and No Strings.

But the theatres were shut down on March 12, 2020, so instead, A Class Act commences the second season for this fledgling company to watch for, as they perform small productions of infrequently-seen musicals. If you're quick you might nab a ticket for this afternoon's closing matinee, which will soon be followed by A Day In Hollywood/A Night In The Ukraine (Feb. 24 - Mar. 6) and The Baker's Wife (Mar. 10-20).

Andy Tighe's lovably quirky portrayal heads director Schneider's snazzy production. Kleban's story is a classic tale of a neurotic New Yorker who wants to write music and lyrics for Broadway musicals, frustrated that professionals only want him for his lyrics. The title refers to his education in the craft of musical theatre writing at Lehman Engel's weekly BMI Workshop.

Opening in March of 2001, A Class Act was overshadowed a bit in the season of The Producers and The Full Monty, a situation the company cleverly spoofed when they performed in that year's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition.

The north side of 7th Street, just east of First Avenue...

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: In Comes Platonic Heterosexual Company

Curtain Line...

The way Warren Carlyle and his dancers are stopping the show with 76 Trombones in The Music Man, you'd think Harold Hill would be better off forming a River City corps de ballet.



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From This Author - Michael Dale