'Company' by Stephen Sondheim to wrap Corn Stock summer season

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Of the challenges that faced Nate Downs, who directed the musical "Company" at Corn Stock Theatre, the Stephen Sondheim music was not among them.

"The music is wonderful; it's pure Sondheim. These aren't the best known songs is musical theater, but they are songs you can sing while you walk around clean your house. Audiences will appreciate it," said Downs, who added he wants to eventually direct every musical Sondheim wrote. He previously directed "Sweeney Todd" at Corn Stock's Winter Playhouse. "He isn't considered commercially appealing but he is a theater lover's composer and lyricist."

The music and lyrics won Tony Awards for Sondheim in 1971.

"Company" opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Aug. 31 at the Corn Stock tent in Upper Bradley Park. It is the final show of the 2013 summer season.

Tickets are on sale at the Corn Stock box office for $18 for adults and $12 for students. They can be reserved by calling 676- 2196 or by visiting www.cosntocktheatre.com.

The challenges to directing "Company" lie in the way it is written. "It was one of the first 'concept musicals,' which means that there isn't a strong story line. Rather, there is a strong theme and the story is told in vignettes that follow the theme. The theme in this case is whether 35-year-old Bobby should follow the example of his married friends and have a committed relationship. We view the relationships of five different couples as seen through Bobby's eyes," Downs said.

The cast of 19 includes newcomers to the tent as well as some well-known community theatre veterans.

Todd Michael Cook, a native of Peoria who has been doing professional theatre off-Broadway in New York, is portraying Bobby. Other tent newcomers include Joel Shoemaker and Carolyn Briggs-Gaul, who portray one of the five couples, and George and Lori Maxedon, who portray another couple.

Corn Stock veterans in the cast include Dave Schick, Lisa Warner Jeans, Liz Jockisch and Chris Adams Wenger.

Also, Jerry Johnson, at one time a top leading man in local musicals after a stint on Broadway in his younger years, is back on stage with his first role in a decade. Another community theatre favorite, Cheri Beever, portrays his wife.

"I adore those two. It has been such fun working with them and their chemistry is great," Downs said.

Portraying Bobby's girlfriends are Kate Erin Kennedy, Mariah Thornton and Lindsey Cheney. The pit singers are Andrew Schoepke, Fred Schoen, Mindy Watkins, Samantha Zobrist and Kyle King.

Another challenge has been developing personalities in the characters. Downs said little is known about the couples themselves, leaving him and the actors to develop them through the dialogue. The same is true with Bobby, he said.

"One of the criticisms of this show has always been that Bobby is not easily likable or sympathetic. So we have worked on making him a person with charm, charisma and humor to get the audience to want to go on this journey with him. The couples all have flawed relationships but they love each other, but we don't know at the end whether Bobby decides to stay single because of them or get into a committed relationship because of them. It's an open question," Downs said.

The questions about the characteristics of the characters made casting a challenge, as well. "I just look at each person's nature and their personality traits and decided based on a how I believed they would work for each character and with their partners. Part of the fun of directing is getting to use your own interpretation. It has been fun exploring each character with this cast," he said.

He added there is enough diversity in the five couples and three girlfriends that everybody in the audience should be able to relate to somebody. "Mostly, I want the audience to come away from the show being thankful for whatever relationship they have or, if they are single, they will be hopeful there is someone out there for them," he said.

Leading the 10-piece orchestra is music director Adam Windish. "He is amazing with this music and bringing it alive," Downs said.

Among the songs is the title song "Company," "Someone is Waiting," "Side by Side by Side", and "Being Alive."

The set is the skyline of Manhattan and is otherwise minimalistic. The costumes are period, the 1970s, and hipster. "They complement each other well.

Downs said the show is being dedicated to the memory of Sean Howell, who died July 11 after a brief illness shortly after being cast in the show. He was 40.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).