Junction City troupe presents ‘Company’

By Gary Clift

The little spring tour of area arts facilities that members of the Mercury’s review staff have been on ended with my trip to Junction City’s attractive Hoover Opera House.

There the city’s long-effective Little Theater produced a version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” as a sort of follow-on to a dandy “Into the Woods” they gave us in May of 2013.

The “Company” was as admirably-staged as had been the other show, and many of the collaborators for the one also worked on the other. Director Jennifer Brown and her husband Michael returned, as did Amy Rosine, though she only performed this year—last time she was a player/coach. Lighting designer Kaye Fisher did both shows.

Not only did Rachel Hunt, Amy Kleespies, Rick Munson, and high schoolers Taylor Collette and Joshua Childs appear in both productions, but several of the other “Company” cast members were familiar to Manhattanites who attend local productions. For example, Drew Horton was Nathan Detroit in a recent K-State “Guys and Dolls.” Heck, Linda Uthoff played one of the married women in the show.

Visually, “Company” was subtle and suggested sophistication. Costumes, furniture, and backdrops were all black and gray-ish purple. The stand-by space for extra cast members ran along behind and to both sides of Michael Brown’s piano—he replaced the substantial pit orchestra we enjoyed at last year’s “Into the Woods.” Just downstage from the central musical instrument was the array of black sofas that served as the primary set.

The play’s story is about Bobby (Horton) and his struggle to understand why he is the only single man in a group of married couples. The story is set in New York City, and this is important at least because three girls Bobby dates refer to the city when explaining their characters. Perhaps script author George Furth or Bobby—there is some questions about whose reality we are getting here—believes the lives of married women are differently organized in New York than elsewhere. This idea is explored in one of the show’s dozen songs, the melodramatic “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Three times the show returns to Bobby’s apartment for parts of one or two “surprise” birthday parties the couples have for him. In the rest of the show we peek in on his evenings spent socializing with individual couples and on his dates.

The wonderful thing about this production of this self-conscious show was that the performers were all able to sing the relatively difficult songs and that most them had the comic touch the scenes need for leavening. Collette handled the memorable “Another Hundred People,” and if Horton over-powered “Marry Me a Little,” this is what the set-ending number requires.

Everybody got a chance at bat, and every batter got a hit. Kleespies’s bride with cold feet was amusing. The trio sung by Lynette Richards, Susie Haddix, and Collette was delightful, and included some dance moves. This is a show that doesn’t lend itself to choreography, and one missed the dance just as one missed the pit band and the narrative adventures of last year’s Sondheim show.

“Company” really is a play for actresses. The men in the cast seem to get fewer songs and one has the feeling that Furth believed marriage and romance are the concerns of women. So to the extent that “Company” is about those subjects, the female characters seem more important to the on-going conversation of the play. Still, the male cast members made the most of their commentary opportunities.

I had a little trouble understanding Hunt and Kleespies, apparently because of less satisfactory mic-ing, but Steve Seitz’s sound was pop free. Ellen Westerhaus’s costumes seconded the suggestion that this was a dress-up New York City world. And the Browns had the show organized so that it moved effectively.

So once again I found myself leaving an area theater where I’d just seen an entertaining production of a decent musical. Compared to the recent Wamego Columbian “Singin’ in the Rain” and Abilene Great Plains Theater “Big River,” the Junction Opera House Company was closed in, musically angular and without a strong central narrative. But buddy, turn, turn, turn. There’s a time for all sorts of musical stage entertainments under heaven.

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