Whether on Broadway or Mago Hunt, ‘Company’ is an ambitious play. It features 16 distinct musical numbers performed live by the orchestra and an 18 person ensemble. For four UP seniors, this play will be the final performances of their college career, before graduating in May and moving on to other ventures and, possibly, other stages.
“It feels like a culmination of four years of learning,” said Madelyn Southard, the set designer and a graduating senior. “And it's kind of been an opportunity to show that I've learned a lot and grown a lot as an artist from when I was a baby freshman to now. And it's been different too, as a senior because I've gotten to be able to do the big show.”
Southard designed a stage that allows for the size and scope of a play as big as this one. She took inspiration from public parks in New York City as an expression of community space. In service of this, when characters are not directly involved in a scene, they sit at the back of the stage, framing the action.
“A lot of the show is about relationships and connection, and I wanted the actors to have enough space on stage to explore that,” Southard said. “I wanted to build tiers and levels and all that so that there's enough space for people to just be present.”
The show’s plot centers on Bobby, a perennially unmarried man in his mid-thirties, whose friends are all married. The events unfold in a series of vignettes featuring Bobby and one pair of his friends as they demonstrate the essential complexities of their marriages.
One vignette ends with the couple practicing karate on each other in a way that gets more violent as it goes. In another, Bobby finds out that one couple, Susan and Peter, are divorced but still living together years later, finding it has solved their relationship problems.
As the cast and crew members are mostly unmarried college students, the directors decided to focus the show more on relationships and the connections between friends to make it more relatable.
“From a college [student’s] perspective, we've really tackled it from a community and identity standpoint,” said Hannah Harrison, another senior, who plays Jenny. “Where our identities shape the communities that we are part of and our communities that we are part of shape our identity, and just really asking ourselves who do we want to be surrounded by? Why are we in the relationships that we're in and not just in a romantic way, but in a platonic way? How are we being supported by the people around us?”
That theme resonates particularly well through the songs which feature complicated vocal arrangements and are performed by an orchestra conducted by Dr. David De Lyzer. Singing with so many people on stage at once was a challenge, according to senior Madeline Botsford, who plays Susan.
“Sondheim really went crazy with this one,” Botsford said. “Some of the music just doesn't make sense when you look at the different parts and how they overlap together. The rehearsal process was hard because you have to go through each piece and make sure you know your part perfectly because these songs are really dependent on the singer coming in at exactly the right beat. Even if you feel like you're gonna sing the wrong note, you just got to sing or else it will throw everybody off.”
The complexity of the music is rendered with practiced precision on the parts of the actors and the pit orchestra, with a stand out performance by Shae McCarty as Amy. Her hyperspeed singing on “Getting Married Today” is as anxiety-inducing as it is impressive to see live.
The theater department only does one musical every other year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last musical performed in Mago Hunt was “Pippin” in the spring of 2019. For Botsford, the timing couldn’t be better.
“This show really feels like a blessing to me,” Botsford said. “Because even though I'm a senior, this will actually be the first fully realized stage show that I've been in. I joined theater right when COVID started, so it's just perfect timing. I learned most of what I know online and I did a show online and then I also did a staged reading. I was super excited to be in [Company] because I just hadn't gotten that opportunity yet at UP.”
This being the final performance for these seniors has raised the stakes for the production, as none of them know what role theater will play in their future careers.
“It's a big production and it feels very high stakes,” Harrison said. “We tend to have larger audiences for musicals. So it definitely feels like the stakes are higher there too. Then on a personal note, I don't know what’s in store for me in the future, if I will do more theater. So it's a little emotional to say, this is my last time on this specific stage with this specific group of people, and then maybe indefinitely.”
Despite the future uncertainty, they know the big role that theater has played in their college careers.
“It's really brought me closer to everybody and it really helps me appreciate all the hard work that people put into these shows,” Botsford said. “I feel grateful to be in this last show. And that it gets to be musical too, because musicals are super fun.”
Will Mulligan is a reporter for the Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.