BWW Review: COMPANY at Susquehanna Stage Company
This is a special "buy one, get one free review". Not only will I review the Stephen Sondheim musical, Company at Susquehanna Stage, but I will also give my opinion of their new home, Marietta Center for the Arts.
The Marietta Center for the Arts is a significant and impressive upgrade from the organization's previous home, the Marietta Community House. It is large and centrally located with ample parking. (My first visit to the old theater stumped my GPS). I am sure that I am not the first patron to crack the joke that the new location is "heavenly", since the theater obviously used to be a church.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I forgot that I was sitting in a former church once inside. You don't sit in pews, and the orchestra doesn't include an organ. Instead it is well put together and modern in appearance. Yes, there are still some stained-glass windows affixed to the exterior walls, but they really add to the ambiance. Perhaps, best of all, the audience and actors no longer need to share restrooms. This sounds like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference!
The seating and stage are intimate, although there is a balcony. I am told that the center even has an larger performing area for more ambitious productions. I look forward to coming back this summer to experience Evita in that venue. I congratulate them on acquiring a theater that will be equally respected and admired as the talent inside of it.
Speaking of talent, Company is full of great singers and actors. The cast of 14 explored the trials and tribulations, and the up and down of American marriage through the eyes of one 35 year old New York bachelor named Bobby. Bobby is played by Joshua Schwartz, and his character serves as the glue that holds the show together. Everything and everyone revolve around him and his journey, so it is imperative that he is able to carry the show. Schwartz was up to the challenge.
He plays Bobby as friendly and kind. He must be able to get along with many different types of personalities and needs to be seen as a potential mate for his three girlfriends in the play. Through song and dialogue we get to know him and learn to like him. He is an effective lead.
Susquehanna Stage backed Bobby up with a bit of inspired casting. He socializes with five different married couples throughout the show. Three of the five couples were married to each other in real life and a fourth are currently engaged. This leads to rapport, communication, and trust reflected on stage that would be much harder to achieve between strangers. The couples are Susan & Peter (Cara & Kevin Ditzler), Amy & Paul (Beth & Kent Gable), Joanne & Larry (Deb Good-Zeiner & Layne Zeiner), Sarah & Harry (Jordyn McCrady & her fiancée Asher Johnson), and Jenny & David (Chrissy Nickel & Caleb Heckman).
Jim Johnson did a great job directing this show and encouraging effective and unique characterization from his cast. Each couple has a distinct point of view, and each brings out something different when interacting with their unattached pal, Bobby. My one complaint with the large group numbers is that so many people on stage at one time can be overwhelming in such an intimate environment. It helped when actors were scattered among the different levels, but the second act opening number "Side by Side by Side", complete with group choreography, was too cluttered for the available space.
My favorite number of the show was Beth Gable's machine-gun rapid fire performance of "Getting Married Today". The precision and pace were astounding. I felt tired for her. Sondheim at his best and most intense.
My second favorite number was "Another Hundred People" sung by Ali Fleming, who played Marta one of Bobby's prospective girlfriends in the play. She, along with Kara Hartman and Mikaela Krall play very distinct but appealing love interests for our protagonist. Well done by all.
Costumes and wigs were masterfully done by Jacquee Johnson. Johnson, hands down, oversees the highest quality, most authentic costumes among community theaters in Central Pennsylvania.
Steve Hassinger masterfully conducted the orchestra for the show. A welcomed hold-over from the previous location, Susquehanna Stage puts their orchestra up high and to the side. I enjoy the immediacy of seeing musicians play rather than hiding backstage piped through a microphone.
Sets and props were modest. Although it worked for this show, it will be interesting to see if future shows are more ambitious in construction considering the confines of such a small performing space.
In conclusion Susquehanna Stage is a theatrical gift embedded within the Mareitta Center for the Arts' pretty wrapping paper. Tickets and more info can be found on their website.