Duke’s Hoof ‘n’ Horn will present Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy “Company,” opening Thursday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. at Sheafer Lab Theater in the Bryan Center.
This winter production is a revival of famed composer Sondheim’s 1970 concept musical revolving around a central character Bobby. With the help of five pairs of married friends, he sets out on a quest to understand the pros and cons of marriage and his own continued bachelorhood. Set in New York City on Bobby’s 35th birthday, Bobby contemplates the meaning of love, loneliness and commitment in a series of vignettes where he visits his friends and his three girlfriends.
“Company” was written by George Furth with music and lyrics contributed by Sondheim. With a career spanning six decades, the now-87-year-old composer has been hugely influential in the world of musical theater. Sondheim’s resume includes an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards and eight Grammy Awards among other accolades. Characterized as the “greatest and perhaps best-known artist in American musical theater” by The New York Times, Sondheim gave Lin-Manuel Miranda feedback when he was writing the now celebrated musical “Hamilton.”
The upcoming show is not the first time Duke and Durham audiences have heard Sondheim’s music. In the fall of 2016, Hoof ‘n’ Horn presented “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” a musical about a vengeful barber on a murdering spree in Victorian England.
Funded almost exclusively on ticket sales and donations, Hoof ‘n’ Horn was established in 1936 and is the oldest student-run musical theater group in the South. The production council for each show is chosen by the producer and includes the director, musical director, choreographer and numerous other positions, all of which ensure the success of a show.
For this production of “Company,” senior and director Alex Felix wanted to make the musical as relevant as possible to Duke students.
“I really wanted to make the show modern,” Felix said. “It highlights the effect of technology and is not flashy or in your face. It’s very modern and sleek.” She hoped viewers will leave the show with “an appreciation for the different kinds of love and relationships.”
Trained as an actor, Felix’s directorial style takes into consideration each actor’s individual voice and allows them ample creative freedom to explore their characters. During casting, Felix did not look for specific qualities or actors who fit a certain preconceived mold but rather sought out people who could make their own decisions and bring something unique.
Jenna Clayborn, a sophomore who plays Joanne in the play, said Felix encouraged her to engage with the emotions behind her solo number.
“The hardest thing was getting away from being a perfect, technically trained singer to actually portraying a very prominent action through a song, rather than just having it sound amazing,” Clayborn said.
For the cast and crew of “Company,” the final show that is presented to the audience comes at the end of nearly eight weeks of rehearsals. Although the entire cast is not called to rehearse every night from 7 to 11 p.m., it was crucial to producer Sonali Mehta that the entire group works well together and cultivates a positive atmosphere.
Mehta not only wanted people to “buy into the show” but “buy into each other” and ensure that “they have the freedom and creativity to do the best work possible.”
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The audience can expect a “contemporary” and “accessible” sound from the show, said sophomore and musical director Adam Beskind. He has worked closely with Felix to bring her vision to life. While the show is older, Felix saw many parallels to the lives of Duke students and to how they approach relationships.
“People are very big on not engaging people in a way that is meaningful because we're always all going somewhere and doing something,” Clayborn said. “We all have this very surface level interaction with each other and that's kind of the central problem of ‘Company.’”
Felix’s “Company” aims to force the audience to confront loneliness in the age of social media and commitment at a place like Duke, where academic pursuits and professional ambitions often take precedence.
“I hope people come away thinking about how it can apply to their own lives and situations,” Beskind said.
“Company” will run in the Bryan Center’s Sheafer Theater for two weekends, starting Thursday, Jan. 25 and ending the first weekend of February. Showtimes will be at 8 p.m. every night from Thursday to Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.