Clive Cholerton has been very successful with his musical theater concerts, first at the Caldwell Theatre and now at Palm Beach Dramaworks, in part because he has the good taste to opt often for the shows of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Now playing at Dramaworks in its Musical Theatre Masters series is 1970's "Company," the first of many collaborations between Sondheim and director Hal Prince, whose work together dominated the decade on Broadway. The nearly plotless "Company," said to be the first "concept musical," is an ambivalent view of marriage as seen by a 35-year-old commitment-phobic bachelor named Bobby and his many married friends.
The series, which recently featured a popular concert version of "Man of La Mancha," puts the emphasis on the score and text, with minimal sets and costumes. The format is ideal for Dramaworks, which has rarely done full-scale book musicals. "They normally wouldn't be able to do large cast shows like 'Company' or 'La Mancha,' " says Nick Duckart, who plays left-at-the-altar Paul, "but this is a way to expose their audience to these great musicals."
Most of the cast members are Dramaworks veterans, but Cholerton found his Bobby in New York -- Quinn VanAntwerp, a recent alumnus of "Jersey Boys" on Broadway.
"I've been wanting to play Bobby for a very long time," says VanAntwerp, single but mulling marriage himself. "I just think it's such a great sing, first of all. Second of all, it's a part of life that I feel is happening for me at the moment, so I feel very close to the part in that way."
Because of Actors Equity rules, concert rehearsals are limited to one week. "Especially for people like myself who have never done the show, the time crunch is the big challenge," says Duckart. "Having to tackle Sondheim's music, as hard as it is, if we only had an extra week, we could go above and beyond. It's still going to be great, as it is, but time is the enemy."
Of Sondheim in general and "Company" in particular, cast member Laura Hodos says, "I love that the songs are so clever. They're smart. Nothing is an accident with him. There is a reason for everything." Hodos, who plays acerbic Joanne, singing the show- stopping "The Ladies Who Lunch," has already been in four productions of "Company," most recently at Florida Atlantic University in 2009.
"With Sondheim, the music is so complex," notes Duckart. "It's all about the intricacies, and getting the sharps and the flats right and the harmonies. You could hear the album as much as you can, but you never realize the harmonies are this difficult."
"Company" may be a difficult musical for the cast to master, but an easy one for theatergoers to identify with. "They're going to see some version of their relationship onstage for sure," says VanAntwerp. "And they're going to hear some really awesome music, done very well, I think."
'Hamlet,' the student prince ...
Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is such a demanding role that it is rarely cast with an actor who seems to be college age. Perhaps to overcompensate for the frequent miscasting, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is producing the Elizabethan tragedy with a student cast, ranging in age from 11 to 19. It is the result of a free summer mentorship program where the students receive one-on-one training from industry professionals, leading to a one-night-only performance with a student cast, director, designers and producer.
The show's director, Kiel Peterson, a 16-year-old junior at Dreyfoos School of the Arts, is staging "Hamlet" in the round at the Lighthouse Art Center in Tequesta, since the Maltz is still undergoing renovation construction. As Peterson puts it, "Audiences can expect a fair share of surprises in an unforgettable performance space."
Among the cast members are Matthew Paszkiet (Hamlet), 15, of Jupiter; Olivia Perrin, 16 (Polonius), of Jupiter; Roberto Marin (Claudius), 18, of Jupiter; Charly Hamann (Gertrude), 16, of Jupiter and Lauren O'Keefe (Ophelia), 16, of Jupiter. Alas -- spoiler alert! -- none of their characters make it out alive.
The performance will be Aug. 24, beginning at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, $20 for adults and $15 for children/students, visit jupitertheatre.org or call 561-575-2223.
Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Through Aug. 18. Tickets are $35
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