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Theater

Pittsburgh Public Theater's production 'Company' looks at N.Y. marriages

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Pittsburgh native Jim Stanek (center) and the cast of the Stephen Sondheim musical 'Company' being staged by Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O'Reilly Theater.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh native Jim Stanek (center) and the cast of the Stephen Sondheim musical 'Company' being staged by Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O'Reilly Theater.

When Stephen Sondheim's “Company” debuted on Broadway in 1970, it was revolutionary, Ted Pappas says.

It was the first plotless musical, and its story was circular, not chronological.

“It dared in its subject matter, tone and structure, and it succeeded,” says Pappas, who is directing and choreographing the Pittsburgh Public Theater production that begins performances Jan. 23 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

Based on George Furth's 11 playlets about New York marriages, “Company” follows Robert — a young, single man living in Manhattan — as he visits and interacts with five married couples who are his friends and the three women he is dating.

“He is examining the question of marriage through his friends and sees the variations of a theme,” Pappas says. “The fun of the play is Robert going from couple to couple witnessing marriage as a third party.”

As he visits these couples, Robert is looking for answers as to whether or why he should get married. But the musical ends without letting the audience know what decision he makes — or even if he does.

That's because Sondheim decided not to tell the audience what it should be thinking, Pappas says.

“It was a surprising and entertaining and illuminating book,” Pappas says. “We recognize ourselves and others in the story, and everyone leaves with their own understanding and (conclusion) on how it ends. It treats us like adults. We make our own decisions. It feels like it has the patina of a Broadway show, and, yet, it feels like real life. … It's also one of the funniest musicals because we are recognizing ourselves, our partners, our parents. We are all in there.”

The score of “Company” also was revolutionary, Pappas says.

He points to now-classic songs such as “Sorry — Grateful,” “The Little Things You Do Together,” “Being Alive,” “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” that are not natural outcomes of the story but serve as commentary on the reality of long-term marriage that can be easily recognized by those in the audience.”

When Pappas included “Company” in the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Public Theater season, he decided to move it from its original 1970s setting and into the 21st century.

That's not because it had become stale and dated, but because it was still completely relevant, Pappas says.

“You couldn't find anything that doesn't apply. The show is about marriage, relationships, commitment, moving into adulthood, and those things still apply,” he says. “Rather than present it in another time, it proves its value as a work of art that nothing changes but feels like it takes place today.”

To move it forward in time, Pappas collaborated with scenic designer James Noone and projection designer Larry Shea to create a fast-moving backdrop of urban imagery to enhance the musical.

The show's Manhattan setting is essential and almost an additional character in the show.

“Every moment in the show is about marriage or New York,” Pappas says. “It's set in New York because it has the widest possible variables on marriage and because it's a mega city. … There's always something to keep you entertained. You could be alone in New York and never stay home one night.”

The projections' moving images communicate the pace and possibilities that surround Robert and his friends.

“The setting moves from place to place and has the velocity of New York,” Pappas says. “We are using projections to give that sense of movement. The city is whirling around Robert.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

Big shows, big casts

Since his 1994 directing debut at Pittsburgh Public Theater, Ted Pappas has staged more than 40 productions there. Many of them are book musicals and operettas with big casts, including the current production, “Company.” Among them are:

• “1776,” 2013

• “Camelot,” 2011

• “Cabaret,” 2007

• “The Mikado,” 2003

• “Man of La Mancha,” 2003

• “H.M.S. Pinafore,” 2002

• “The Pirates of Penzance,” 2000

• “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1998

• “Sweeney Todd,” 1996

• “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1995

• “Fifty Million Frenchmen Music,” 1994

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