A Birthday Wish for Sondheim? Producers Flock to Ohio Company Seeking Broadway Gold

News   A Birthday Wish for Sondheim? Producers Flock to Ohio Company Seeking Broadway Gold Broadway producers will be in attendance at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's white-hot production of Company on March 22, which happens to be composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim's birthday.

Raul Esparza in Company.
Raul Esparza in Company. Photo by Sandy Underwood

Playhouse producing artistic director Edward Stern confirmed that major commercial producers are flocking to the Tony Award-honored resident Ohio theatre to take in director-choreographer John Doyle's revolutionary revival of Sondheim and George Furth's marriage-minded musical comedy.

"We have three [producers] tonight," Stern said. "They are coming."

Although Stern wouldn't say which New York producers were in town, published reports indicate Barry and Fran Weissler, Richard Frankel and others are circling the production to see if it might be plucked from the banks of the muddy Ohio River and dropped near the Hudson River — on Broadway.

Broadway, of course, is where Doyle's lauded staging of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is currently playing, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Both Doyle shows have the unique conceit of cast members doubling as the on-stage orchestra.

Local and national reviews for Company were positive. The production lured The New York Times there for the first time in the 15-year tenure of artistic director Ed Stern, he said, adding that the last time the Playhouse got this much national attention was in 2004, when it received the Tony Award for Regional Theatre. A source linked to Broadway's Sweeney Todd told Playbill.com even if a Broadway house suddenly became available and contracts could be fast-tracked, no smart commercial producer would attempt to bring Doyle's Company to New York before the 2006 Tony Award cut-off in May to compete with Sweeney in the category of Best Revival of a Musical.

The Company at the 626-seat Robert S. Marx Theatre at Cincinnati Playhouse must end April 14 owing to the subscription season there. There will be no extension, Stern said, adding that he expects the Ohio run to be sold out by March 26.

As of March 22, he said, the best availability was on weeknights. Weekends are mostly sold out for the run.

The theatre has 20,000 subscribers who got first crack at the tickets. Solid local and national reviews have lured fans, media and commercial producers from around the country.

"What happens [with the production in the future] is certainly to some degree out of our control," Stern said. "It's not like we have the ability to write out a multi-million dollar check to transfer the show to New York. One of the producers said to me this show could transfer tomorrow to a Broadway house and be absolutely Broadway quality, which I think all of us inherently believe."

How Cincinnati Playhouse would participate in the production's future success is unclear. "We were given the rights to do it here in Cincinnati and that was a way for Mr. Sondheim to make sure the quality was up to his standards," Stern said. "If someone wants to move it in a few months' time and reignite it, presumably we would be involved but exactly how that works would have to be worked out."

No commercial producer was attached to the not-for-profit Playhouse production. "This was our production," Stern said.

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Those "good and crazy people" who are the friends of bachelor Bobby in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company were crazier than ever starting March 14 at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park.

In director John Doyle's new staging, the acting company doubles as the orchestra, playing their instruments on stage and during scenes in the same style as Doyle's acclaimed current Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd.

Tony Award nominee Barbara Walsh, of Broadway's Big, Blood Brothers and Falsettos, plays boozy Joanne, and Raúl Esparza (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Taboo) is Bobby. Director Doyle said the action is set in 2006, and the characters are all dressed in very upscale, very urban black costumes.

Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the respected Manhattan music director and arranger, serves as the production's music supervisor and orchestrator.

The cast of Company includes Keith Buterbaugh as Harry; Matt Castle as Peter; Robert Cunningham as Paul; Angel Desai as Marta; Kelly Jeanne Grant as Kathy; Kristin Huffman as Sarah; Amy Justman as Susan; Heather Laws as Amy; Leenya Rideout as Jenny; Fred Rose as David; Bruce Sabath as Larry; Elizabeth Stanley as April.

In addition to Doyle and Campbell, the creative team includes David Gallo (set designer), Ann Hould-Ward (costume designer) and Thomas C. Hase (lighting designer). The first stage manager is Suann Pollock and second stage manager is Bruce E. Coyle.

Here's how Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park bills the show: "Company is a revolutionary, unconventional look at love and commitment in a complex modern world. The show is a remarkably honest, clever and sophisticated portrayal of five married couples as seen through the eyes of their mutual friend Bobby, a bachelor weighing the pros and cons of wedded life."

The original 1970 Broadway production was honored with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical as well as six Tony Awards, including those for music and lyrics (Stephen Sondheim's first), book, scenic design, director and best musical.

The score includes "Being Alive," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Another Hundred People," "The Little Things You Do Together," "Someone Is Waiting," "Sorry-Grateful," "Side by Side by Side," "Barcelona," "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," "Getting Married Today," "Poor Baby," "Have I Got a Girl for You," "Company." The production employs "Marry Me a Little," which was cut from the original staging but later interpolated into some revivals. In Ohio, Bobby's 35th birthday is central to the action (in the past, he's been on the verge of 30 or 40, depending on the script and director). "Tick Tock," a dance sequence, has been cut. Sondheim has been consulted and participated in the musical choices.

For more information, visit wwwcincyplay.com.

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The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is in its 46th season.

The cast in a scene from <i>Company</i>..
The cast in a scene from Company.. Photo by Sandy Underwood
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