Xavier University’s Theatre Department will open COMPANY by Stephen Sondheim next Friday. The show, has a couple of Cincinnati connections. In 2007, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park won a Tony for their revival of the show. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the recently passed Ed Stern as one of the driving forces behind this production – and as a result, the Tony win.
But “Company’s” deepest Cincinnati connection is Tony nominated Pamela Myers, who originated the role of “Marta” in the initial Broadway run.
I can’t imagine why anyone would produce this show in Cincinnati and not ask Myers to at least consult or come speak to the cast. But Stephen Skiles, Director of Theatre at Xavier, did one better. Myers is directing Xavier’s production.
He gives his wife, Christa, credit for the inspired idea. “We were talking about shows in the season and she simply said ‘Pam should direct that.’ That is all it took. I reached out to Pam the next day about the idea. We are so fortunate that she agreed! It has been a wonderful collaboration. The students absolutely adore working with her, and her insights into the play are inspired.”
Myers has directed some, but not on this scale, “I directed a reading of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES for Stephen a couple of years ago and some cabaret acts and I’ve put together numerous acts for myself over the years. But directing this show is so long after doing it . . . it’s been eye-opening to say the least,” Myers said.
Myers was recently on stage in the hilarious play, “Ripcord,” at Ensemble Theatre where audiences were treated to her raucous and vivacious personality. And that character seems pretty close to the off-stage woman herself. The students at Xavier are very lucky to be directed by someone with such an effusive joyfulness.
Luckiest of all might be Peyton Wright, who is playing Marta – the role Myers originated.
“Getting to know Marta with Pam in the room has made the role really unique and fun to play on stage. I feel so incredibly lucky to share this role with Pam. She is so supportive of all of the choices we make while me make the roles our own. Hearing Pam’s stories about the first Broadway production really help the cast find their characters and connect to the original cast as well.”
Myers is very positive about Wright, too. “It was fun casting Marta . . it has been so long I feel like Marta’s grandma! Peyton is doing a great job!” When asked if she was intimidated to be performing in front of her counterpart, Wright said, “Absolutely, but in the best ways. Singing “Another Hundred People” in rehearsal for the first time was really nerve-wracking, but it was an incredibly special moment.”
Myers isn’t the only Broadway veteran with influence on this production. Wright said, “I’ve been a little bit starstruck throughout the process since we’ve had direct contact with Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, and Donna McKechnie. They’ve been very supportive and excited for this production. We even sent Stephen a video for his birthday.”
Myers added, “Donna has graciously lended her expertise and interpretation of the “Tick Tock” number. She would have come in town to coach the actress playing Kathy, Evelyn Garrett, and work with Dee Anne Bryll, the choreographer, but some conflicts arose.” She added, “I have been in touch with Hal [Prince] and Stephen [Sondheim], who are both so enthusiastic about it.”
Skiles, who is the producer of the show, assembled some heavy hitters to support Myers’s direction. “Dee Anne Bryll is our choreographer and is also assisting Pam with the direction of the show. They are a terrific team. Scott Buzza is the musical director. Joe Leonard, our Technical Director, is the set designer. Jessica Pitcairn is the costume designer. Kevin Semancik is the sound designer and Dan Winters is designing lights. It’s a wonderful team.”
On the direction of the show, Myers said, “It is a very complex show emotionally because there is so much irony written in and the maturity level is so high. Doing it as a period piece from 1970 is a riot for me.” Because of the generation gap, Myers said, “I had to explain a busy signal, an answering service, 14th Street . . . numerous things!”
Sophisticated fans of the show may be surprised that this version has some modifications. Myers said, “I have my original script which has a completely different ending and rewrite pages. The legal script now is a compilation.” Myers had some of her own ideas, too. “Sondheim gave me permission to change some things at the top of the show.”
Myers remains enthusiastic about the critically acclaimed show after almost 50 years. “Putting together the show was a once in a lifetime experience because the show was so unique. It was my first – and I was nominated for a Tony Award.” As to this new production, she said, “I am dedicating it to all the “originals” who are coaching me from beyond. . .and Elaine [Stritch] is the loudest!”
COMPANY opens at Xavier University April 12th and runs one weekend. Tickets are available here.