In good ‘Company’ with PEMCo.’s fall show
Jordan Gamble | Thursday, October 8, 2009
After the huge success of “The Producers” last spring – every performance sold out – Pasquerilla East Music Company (PEMCo) is scaling down for their fall production with Steven Sondheim’s “Company” this weekend at Washington Hall.
The music is less showy, the stage is simpler and there are only 14 people in the cast (“The Producers” gleefully exaggerated all of these). It’s also not exactly a happy-go-lucky romp.
“I would definitely say it’s different than any show PEMCo’s ever done before. If you look at all the shows we’ve done before, it’s not a particularly happy musical. It’s dramatic, I think one of the most acting-intensive shows we’ve ever done,” said senior Kelly Rice, one of the show’s producers.
Sophomore Nick Brandt plays Robert, a middle-aged, middle-class man trying to make sense of the relationships in his life. “Company” is not a typical musical with a linear storyline – it is instead a series of vignettes tied together by Robert’s 35th birthday party. The scenes are actually memories, presented out of order, with the people and events likely skewed by the main character’s memory. That means Brandt must play a “real-time,” reflective Robert as well as the Robert within the memory – sometimes both in the same scene.
“It’s a very difficult character to play. I have to play Bobby as he’s acting in the scene and Bobby as he’s reflecting on the scene as it’s happening,” Brandt explained. “There’s moments where Bobby is being the life of the party and saying something funny, but then there’s a moment later where he’s saying something clearly reflective, a piece of dialogue that may not even be directed to anyone. It’s kind of this blur between what actually happened and what he’s thinking about while reflecting on it.”
The disjointed story is what set “Company” apart from the traditional musical when it debuted in the 1970s.
“It’s not a typical concept of a musical. No basic plot that gets resolved at the end. It’s much more vague … It’s much more of a dramatic presentation that happens to involve musical numbers,” Brandt explains.
Mastering that music was a challenge, explained the show’s music director, junior Mark Wurzelbacher. Steven Sondheim, who also created “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods,” is known for bending the conventions of musical theater.
“With any Sondheim musical, the music can seem at times a little counterintuitive, almost,” Wurzelbacher said in an e-mail to The Observer. “It’s really something that I have to grapple with before I can even begin to teach it to the cast … It’s exciting, though, because it always keeps you on your toes.”
Director Brian Davenport, a junior, said that the challenging material and tight schedule (only five weeks) made this a more focused production than most. He and Wurzelbacher had worked together in Farley Hall Players’ spring 2009 production of “Assassins,” another Sondheim musical. Before any parts were cast for “Company,” the two laid out a plan for rehearsals that would make the best use of their cramped schedule.
“Because we had such a limited amount of time, we tried to be as efficient as possible. I would do scene work, and I would send other people who I didn’t need over to do the music. And then it’s really kind of fun, because when we do come together in the later weeks it’s kind of a show-and-tell thing,” he said.
Short on money, sleep and sometimes even rehearsal space, the cast and crew still managed to pull together a difficult show in about five weeks (much shorter than the three month stretch for PEMCo winter show. But Davenport stresses that with a student-run production, it’s important to find a balance between putting together a good show and having fun.
“People do this in college usually because it’s something they did it in high school and they loved it and it’s something they want to keep doing as, you know, a break from the stressful class schedule. For this show, we had to be so tight in terms of scheduling … Every rehearsal has been so packed … but it’s really coming together. The cast has really come together in a good way, they’ve all bonded and have inside jokes,” said Davenport.
That spirit of camaraderie has kept the student-run PEMCo growing and evolving for 13 years.
Performances are Oct. 8, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Washington Hall. Tickets are $6 for students, $8 for nonstudents, available at LaFortune Box Office.