Photo by Tom Sandelands
It's no wonder that Stephen Sondheim loves puzzles, as the composer's shows often need to be solved as much as staged.
For Theatre Latte Da's Peter Rothstein, staging Sondheim's Company offered more than just the usual issues that come from staging a musical that, in the words of the composer, is essentially plotless.
"I read it every few years. I would get halfway through, and think it had its place in history, but it didn't speak to me. Then about a year ago, I started looking at stuff with marriage in contemporary society at its center, because we have this amendment on the ballot. I looked at it again and read it with Marriage, with a capital M. It felt bigger," Rothstein says.
That reading made the musical feel more of a time, as did a breakthrough in the staging. "The play is really rooted in the sexual revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. Perhaps it felt dated because of that," Rothstein says. "They did a rewrite in '95 that starts with answering machines. I was thinking about why they made that choice. What technology is the center of our production?"
So for Latte Da's production, Bobby and his various friends will -- like the citizens of the 21st century -- be tied to their cell phones, iPads, and other electronic devices. "Seventy-five percent of the numbers are on cell phones. Bobby meets his girlfriends on match.com," Rothstein says.
Not only has this bridged the gap between the 1970s and today, but it has offered unique choices for the performers. "It has allowed the actors to make their direct addresses really clear," Rothstein says. "Sondheim is constantly shifting the voicing in his lyrics. These devices are really a tangible way to mine that."
For the cast, there are more challenges than just juggling cell phones and singing. One of the keys to the work is to keep each character distinct throughout, even when they are involved in bigger numbers.
It also requires a lot of vocal work. "The score is one of the most difficult we've done in a really long time," Rothstein says. "I wanted actors first, with voices."
Leading the cast is Dieter Bierbrauer as Bobby. The actor has been featured in numerous productions in the last few years, and is coming off a starring role in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' Xanadu.
"He's onstage the whole time and Dieter can sing the hell out of it," Rothstein says.
While the marriage amendment was the spark for choosing Company, Rothstein doesn't want it to center on the politics, but on the ever-shifting definition of marriage.
"The center of the amendment is about freedom of choice. At the center of Company is choice about an institution that was rapidly changing. When the Right talks about this institution of marriage, it is as if it is the same thing since Adam and Eve. In truth, it has been constantly shifting. It is always in a state of flux," Rothstein says. "Marriage is a choice every single day. We question every day whether or not we are committed to the commitment. I think that is the beauty and the strength in that institution. Maybe when people come and see the show, they'll vote differently."
IF YOU GO:
Through November 18
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
345 Washington St., St. Paul
For tickets and information, call 651.224.4222 or visit online