Following the success of their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in a storefront in Gastown, Vancouver’s Raincity Theatre is on the move.
About to take up residence in another storefront, this time in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Raincity will present another Stephen Sondheim musical, Company.
“We were looking for something that was just as masterful as Sweeney in many ways, but we didn’t want to do a horror-themed show,” says director Chris Adams on the choice for their next show.
And you can’t get much further away from the horror genre than with Company. Set in Manhattan during the 1970s, it tells the story of Bobby’s life through a collection of short vignettes on his 35th birthday.
A groundbreaking show when it first appeared on Broadway almost fifty years ago, it is a big part of the reason Adams and his team are excited about performing it.
“The majority of Broadway shows that were happening at the time were these big giant musicals like Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly, and Fiddler On the Roof,” explains Adams. “Then along came this piece that started as eleven one-act plays and they were put together to create a show about New Yorkers. There is one big musical number at the top of act two, but other than that, it was not your traditional musical.”
It also turned the traditional boy-meets-girl story, found in many of the shows before it, on its head.
“In Company, Bobby’s entire journey comes through, and he’s still not quite sure what he’s going to do in the end,” says Adams. “There is no girl at the end, no big marriage scene. There’s a hopeful ending, but not a happy one.”
Written and set in the 1970s, Adams is embracing Company as the period piece it is. While Sondheim recently permitted an update to the musical with a gender swap and addition of a same-sex couple, it is not something audiences will see in this local production.
“I would have loved to have done that, especially with a same-sex lesbian couple because we have so many amazing women in this city,” he says. “But because of the recent London production, which I understand is transferring to Broadway, we had to sign an addendum stating that we would not change a single thing about the show.”
They may not be able to make changes to the script but Raincity is embracing what they do have control over, and a big part of that comes, like Sweeney Todd, from the location and immersive nature of the show.
“We are transforming the space into Bobby’s apartment in the seventies, and the audience becomes one of his friends at his birthday party,” explains choreographer and co-producer Nicol Spinola.
Small audiences of only a few dozen will take in the show at each performance, seated on couches, chairs, bar stools or floor cushions.
The company is even going as far as to invite audience members to sit down and play a couple of tunes on the piano before the show. And as they did with Sweeney Todd, they are once again partnering with a local bakery, this time to offer birthday cake at intermission instead of pie.
“There is an immersive intimacy that you don’t get on a lot of stages,” says Adams. “With audiences no more than 14 feet away, they will get to experience these actors becoming these characters. Hopefully, you won’t see any acting at all. You’ll see these people living in this space. It’s very cool.”
“It gives you such an intimate look at Bobby’s story,” adds Spinola. “I’m excited about that because often in musical theatre, we don’t always focus on the story. With this staging, the transitions don’t seem like transitions at all. It just seems like normal that people start singing.”
Company plays at “Bobby’s Apartment” (2531 Ontario St, Vancouver) from October 11-26. Visit raincitytheatre.com for tickets and information.