By Diana SaengerCygnet Theatre Artistic Director Sean Murray directs the 11th season opener and treats Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s “Company” like a great detective novel where there are clues in the music about what’s happening in the story.
Sondheim songs in the 1970 groundbreaking hit (nominated for 14 Tony Awards) include “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “I’m Not Getting Married,” “Another 100 People” and “Being Alive.”
George Furth wrote the book for the comedy, and the music and lyrics are Sondheim classics.
Murray vocalized his admiration for the composer when Cygnet recently staged Sondheim’s “Assassins.” Murray said he continues to seek award-winning shows to produce.
“‘Company’ was a breakout for Sondheim, who had done ‘Forum,’ and was doing a lot of collaborations. ‘Company’ is at first a conceptual musical, which means it’s more than just a plot; it’s an exploration of a theme.”
Through short vignettes, ‘Company’ centers on the character of Bobby. He’s about to turn 35 and is puzzled over why he can’t commit to one of his girlfriends and be happy like his married friends.
“This musical questions relationships,” Murray said. “Is it a failure to commit or allow yourself to be vulnerable? One of the themes that comes up often is compromise.
“There are a lot of benefits in being in a committed relationship, but there are freedoms a single person has that married people sometime sacrifice. You have to ‘give in’ in order to ‘get,’ and that’s a problem for Bobby. He’s looking at the other side of the fence and longing for that, but unwilling to give up what he already has.”
In an era when the idea of marriage is being explored — who can be married and who cannot — “Company” is of renewed interest.
“It was different in 1970 than today,” Murray said. “Back then, there was more pressure for people to get married at a certain point in life, and if they didn’t, society didn’t find that acceptable. Bobby has to find out for himself what is important without society pushing it on him.”
This production has a cast of 14 actors and an additional six musicians. Musical direction is by Patrick Marion and choreography by David Brannen.
Murray is credited with staging incredible productions on the intimate stage at Cygnet.
“Every project we begin is like creating a new universe for that project to live in,” Murray said. “We figure out the theme of the show and as we get closer to what the world of that show is, we begin to work with designers. A lot of them are the same designers we’ve been blessed to work with before. This allows us a short hand.
“For example, I know how Chris Rynne lights a show, and that helps us create a clear and focused world so the audience knows what we’re trying to say. More than telling those creating the show what to do, I try to paint a picture of what we’re trying to create, and work with what they bring to it, so it becomes a collaborative production.”