Company to premiere at Iowa City Community Theater

Stephen Sondheim’s classic Company will be coming to the Iowa City Community Theater this March. Sondheim’s classic challenged the ICCT creative team into making it contemporary.


Ryan Adams

The ensemble performs a piece during a dress rehearsal for the musical Company at the Iowa City Community Theater on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Company premieres Friday, March 6.

Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

“Someone to make you come through. Who will always be there, as frightened as you of being alive.” Lyrics first heard by theater-goers in 1970 at the Alvin Theatre are coming to the Iowa City Community Theatre stage. Stephen Sondheim’s classic Company will play Friday through March 15.

Company’s plot follows the events surrounding bachelor Robert “Bobby” and his 35th birthday surprise party, and his contemplations of love and singledom while celebrating with his friends — all of whom are either married or engaged.

Director Rachel Howell, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Department of Theatre who previously directed The Diary of Anne Frank for the theater in 2017, said that while she did not start out as a musical fan for lack of the human condition presented in that type of work, she found the classic Sondheim musical to fulfill this necessity.

“When I started to learn more about this musical, I realized this is like the perfect marriage for me,” Howell said. “Because there’s so much to connect to from an audience perspective. The things that are going on onstage are the things that we experience quite often in our own lives in the relationships we have with people.”

Playing the lead role of Robert “Bobby” is Rich LeMay. LeMay described himself as a devoted Sondheim fan who has wanted to star in this show since he became an admirer of Sondheim’s work.

Ryan Adams
Actors Richard M. Lemay, Greg Tucker, and Anthony J. Hendricks perform in a dress rehearsal for the musical Company at the Iowa City Community Theater on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Company premieres Friday, March 6.

“Once I discovered this play I just fell in love with it, immediately,” he said. “It’s been one of my bucket list of shows and I’m thrilled to make that dream come true.”

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Previous Broadway revivals of the show — including this year’s upcoming show opening at the Jacobs Theatre in March — have casted a female Bobby. Howell sought to cast all roles without a specific gender in mind, and two characters in the play will be portrayed by the opposite gender. Music director Ben Schmidt helped transpose the music to fit the male and female voices for the final cast.

“When I presented the show to ICCT, I wanted to do gender-blind casting. I wanted to present it to the people,” Howell said. “We did what we said we wanted to do; approach auditions looking for the right people — not the right genders.”

While Music Theatre International required the theater to not alter the gender of the characters in the show themselves, the show did succeed in gender-blind casting, according to Howell. In the final production, Anthony Hendricks will portray Joanne and Hannah Green will play David.

Anne Ohrt, a UI music education graduate, is playing the role of Sarah. Company*will be Ohrt’s first time working with the theater, but she has previously done Sondheim shows including Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. Ohrt described Sondheim as her favorite composer because he creates challenging roles.

“This is my third Sondheim show in the past six years,” she said. “He’s probably my favorite musical composer and that’s because he challenges me. As a music educator, Sondheim is prolific; his music challenges us. That’s why I love his shows so much.”

Howell believes that, with Company, theater-goers will be given a show that is purely humanistic. She said she believes the musical genre to be a different form of expression, which cannot be executed through normal dialogue, and sees Company as a prime example.

“The reason that I think musicals are really great now, not in all musicals but the ones I gravitate more towards, is that they sing because saying it is not enough,” Howell said. “You can’t convey the exact message without adding something else to it. It’s hard to communicate sometimes and this is a really cool and unique way to communicate. It’s extra art on top of art.”