Sweeney Director John Doyle's Instrument-Filled Company Will Star Esparza

News   Sweeney Director John Doyle's Instrument-Filled Company Will Star Esparza British director John Doyle's new American production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company — which will have the acting company playing its own musical accompaniment — will star Broadway's Raúl Esparza in 2006.
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As previously reported, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is producing the unique production March 14-April 14, 2006, at its Robert S. Marx Theatre.

Doyle earned rave reviews for his reconception of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in London and on Broadway. In that cast of 10, the actors play their own instruments — and sing and act. The score is memorized. The Nov. 3 opening at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre marked Doyle's Broadway debut.

Esparza is currently starring in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Broadway.

According to the Playhouse, "Mr. Doyle’s production of Company will feature the same concept he used in Sweeney: a reinvention of the show in which the actors also serve as its orchestra of musicians."

Esparza's other Broadway credits include roles as Philip Sallon in Taboo, for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical; Riff Raff in the recent revival of The Rocky Horror Show, for which he received a Theatre World Award; and the Emcee in Cabaret. Off-Broadway, he originated the role of Jonathan in tick, tick…BOOM!, for which he received an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination. He also portrayed Ned Weeks in the Public Theater production of The Normal Heart and appeared as Gethin Price in Off-Broadway's Comedians. In the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration, he played George in Sunday in the Park With George and Charley in Merrily We Roll Along.

The Playhouse bills the groundbreaking Company this way: "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 Broadway production opened at the Alvin Theatre in 1970 and 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 Tony), book, scenic design, director and best musical.

The rest of the Cincinnati will be announced in December.

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A prime example of the "concept musical," Company has a narrative that is broken up as series of scenes between "Bobby" and his friends and lovers. Doyle's Company engagement at the Playhouse in the Park came at the invitation of Playhouse producing artistic director Edward Stern.

The Company creative team will include David Gallo (set designer); Ann Hould-Ward (costume designer); and Thomas Hase (lighting designer).

The Playhouse opened its 2005-06 season with a Stern-directed staging of Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which has a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Bob Walton played Pseudolus.

Stern told Playbill.com that he knew of Doyle's past work at the Watermill in suburban London and flew to London to have a meeting with Doyle and see the reconceived Sweeney Todd.

The Cincinnati director was knocked out by the creativity of the production. "I was amazed by it," Stern said.

Rather than join in the frenzy of producers hoping to move Sweeney stateside (the Cincinnati Playhouse had staged it recently, anyway), Stern asked Doyle what Sondheim show he'd like to direct next. Company was the answer.

"This will be a production no one has seen before," Stern said. "They may be familiar with the piece but they won't be familiar with the style."

Stern said Sondheim gave his blessing for a new take on Company. There have been a couple of different versions of the script and score since 1970. Stern said the song "Marry Me a Little" (written for but not used in 1970, yet heard in the 1995 Roundabout Theatre revival) will be used in the Cincy run.

The 2006 Company will mark the sixth work by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park under Stern's leadership.

"It's important to celebrate the greatest living artist in American musical theatre," Stern said.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a two-stage operation, was honored with the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2004. Since 1992, the Playhouse has been under the leadership of producing artistic director Edward Stern and executive director Buzz Ward, who oversee a full-time staff of 75.

For more information, visit www.cincyplay.com.