One evening in good 'Company'

November 10, 2012.By Rick Nelson and Claude Peck, Star Tribune.

Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

CP: So we're standing around before seeing "Company," me for the first time, you for the ninth, and I was made to feel about 1 inch tall.

RN: It's a relief to know that you are at least aware of this landmark 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical.

CP: The mortification arose when you and a couple of friends at the Ordway exclaimed in unison, "You have NEVER seen this show?!"

RN: Well, it did make me wonder if you are, in fact, heterosexual.

CP: After which you guys wandered off to argue the fine points of the original 1970 production vs. the Broadway revivals of 1995 and 2006.

RN: I was reminded of my deep affection of LaChanze's propulsive tear through "Another Hundred People" from the 1995 cast recording, although I hesitate to fly my Sondheim Freak Flag in your presence. What did you think of the show?

CP: It was terrific. Sharp, tuneful, sarcastic, neurotic, funny, nuanced. "Cute, original, odd." Shall I go on?

RN: Yes, please. I'm delighted to learn that you've been watching YouTube videos of original cast member Elaine Stritch knocking her theme song, "The Ladies Who Lunch," to the back of the balcony.

CP: That video of Stritch and Sondheim, both smoking, in the recording studio is a dark-comedy classic. I knew of that song, but it wasn't till I heard Jody Briskey sing it in Theater Latté Da's production that I realized it was as much a putdown as a tribute to that class of wealthy matrons who are "too busy to know that they're fools." Ouch.

RN: Sondheim gets off some arch rhymes, including "Brilliant zinger" with "vodka stinger," although my favorite is the droll activities list for bored Upper East Side socialites: "Another long, exhausting day, another thousand dollars. A matinee, a Pinter play, perhaps a piece of Mahler's." Briskey, costumed to kill in purple, nailed it.

CP: His rhymes are sublime. I love Bobby, the single guy at the center of the show, surrounded by all those New York City couples in various states of marital bliss or discord. He embodies both the pros and cons of the single life.

RN: Dieter Bierbrauer's appealing characterization made it evident why Bobby was so attractive to the married people in his life. I thought director Peter Rothstein did a bang-up job of making a 1970s time capsule feel sort of contemporary.

CP: He and choreographer Matthew Michael Ferrell kept that tip-top cast of singer/actors in perpetual motion. One oddly dated aspect is how Bobby's dates are referred to by him and other cast members.

RN: Yes, book writer George Furth -- that's playwright in musical-speak -- was unfamiliar with feminism. Speaking of Rothstein, I'd love to see what he would do with Sondheim's monumental "Follies."

CP: Another one I've never seen. Don't say a word.

'Company' commands the stage

October 31 2012.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

Dieter Bierbrauer leads another strong Theater Latte Da production. Dieter Bierbrauer has been a talented presence and voice in Twin Cities musical theater for several years, providing strong turns in numerous shows, from Power Balladz (which he also performed Off Broadway) to Xanadu to several productions with Theatre Latte Da. In Latte Da's Company, Bierbrauer goes to a new level: In his performance as Bobby, he has become a bona fide star.

That moment of realization came near the end of the first act, as Bobby, the perennial fifth wheel to his various married friends, sings "Marry Me a Little," a particularly gorgeous song in a show packed to the gills with classic Stephen Sondheim compositions. Bierbrauer was alone on the Ordway McKnight Theatre stage. He may have been dwarfed by the set, but he commanded every inch of it, not just with his voice but also with a stage presence that says, "This place is mine."

That uncovers an interesting dynamic in Company, the musical that cemented Sondheim's reputation when it premiered in 1970. On one level it is an ensemble piece, with up to 14 actors sharing not just the stage but the melodies. On the other, it is Bobby's show. He's the lens through which we watch all of the relationships play out, with his inability to commit being the closest thing to an overarching plot the show — built on a series of one-act plays written by George Furth — has to hang its hat on.

So that's about it, plot-wise. In a few moments at his birthday, Bobby reflects back on the relationships of the five couples present and his own with a trio of girlfriends. The scenes peck away at the ups and downs of relationships, probing into what brings people together, drives them apart, and makes them into couples.

Bierbrauer is the glue that keeps the show together, both in song (his other solo numbers, especially the closing "Being Alive," are excellent) and in character. The rest of the cast comes with a mixture of experience, which mostly works well in this production. Director Peter Rothstein has worked hard with the actors to craft distinct characters and voices for each one, while keeping (with music director Jerry Rubino) the necessary vocal unity to prevent ensemble pieces like the act openers ("Company" and "Side by Side by Side") from collapsing into a sonic mess.

Several other performers stand out. "The Ladies Who Lunch" was built for a performer like Jody Briskey, who channels all of her inner Elaine Stritch for the song. Her character is every bit as bitter as previous interpretations, but Briskey brings a little extra soul that gives her lessons to Bobby extra depth and importance, adding strength to the character's eventual breakthrough. At the other end of the experience spectrum, Suzy Kohane takes on the insanely difficult patter of "Getting Married Today" with nary a misstep.

While the acting was strong from beginning to end, a few bum notes were scattered through the vocal performances. The singers and the four-piece orchestra were also overamped for the McKnight space, sometimes muffling the lyrics. Those are pretty minor quibbles, however, as Company proves to be another winner from Theatre Latte Da, and a sign that a major stage presence has arrived.

Company | Latte Da's Sondheim production hums, thanks to a standout lead performance.

This is truly great 'Company'

October 29, 2012.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Theater Latté Da's new production of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical about marriage has a timeless brilliance. If you wish to see the best arguments for limiting the right to marry, check out Theater Latté Da's brilliant new staging of "Company." Mind you, there's nothing political, and the scalding depictions of marriage are of the man-and-woman variety. One couple gets divorced but remains living together; two dreary mates bathe their ennui in booze; a bride breaks into code-red panic, and above it all circles a man who sees these things and isn't sure wedded bliss is blissful.

Stephen Sondheim's musical broke the Broadway mold in 1970 with its enigmatic hero and vignette structure. The songs comment on, rather than propel the slim story. It is supremely cool, archly observed and dry-aged in the ethos of New York. As a consequence, "Company" has not done well in the hinterlands.

That may change with director Peter Rothstein's sharp and thoroughly engaging production, which opened Saturday at the Ordway Center's McKnight Theatre in Minneapolis. Rothstein pulls off a neat trick: He preserves the sensibility of 1970 and introduces the trappings of 2012 to create something timeless. Tom Mays has designed a minimalist set, with elegant stairs that surround the stage. The white walls reflect projections of New York locations, of pop-art design and birthday candles.

Those candles are there because Bobby (Dieter Bierbrauer) is celebrating his 35th birthday, and Rothstein proposes that the show's action takes place in a suspended moment -- just as Bobby makes a wish and blows out the candles.

Bierbrauer's reserved charm shows Bobby both observing his married friends at arm's length, but also getting into their lives. He relishes the hysteria of marijuana with Jenny (Kim Kivens) and David (Matt Rein); he watches jaded Joanne (Jody Briskey) drink herself angry with husband Larry (Jim Pounds). Suzy Kohane's Amy blisters her way through "Getting Married Today," listing every reason why she shouldn't go to the altar with Paul (David Darrow).

Bobby also steps into three relationships. Heidi Bakke is the most memorable, as April, an airhead who flies in and out of Bobby's life.

Under the direction of Jerry Rubino, the music sounds fantastic, and the singers are uniformly strong. Briskey delivers the jaundiced "Ladies Who Lunch," Bierbrauer plaintively offers "Marry Me a Little." Michael Matthew Ferrell's choreography flows like a breeze through "Side by Side by Side."

This show unfairly gets criticized for lacking heart. Bierbrauer - under Rothstein's eye -  demonstrates the sincere trepidation of a person who desires marriage in his head, but isn't sure in his heart. It is, after all, a big step.

"Company" by Theater Latte Da at the Ordway McKnight Theatre

October 28, 2012.By Jill Schafer, Cherry and Spoon.

I've been writing this blog for over two years, and I've found that some shows are easier to write about than others (which is not necessarily correlated to how much I like the show). But every once in a while, I'm so affected by a piece of theater that I go directly to the computer as soon as I get home, no matter the hour, because I immediately need to get my thoughts out of my head. Theater Latte Da's new production of the 1970 Sondheim musical Company* is one of those shows. I was so immersed and engaged in the world and characters created, that when the show was over, the lights came up, and the applause (reluctantly) died down, it was a jarring dose of reality. I feel like a broken record, but this is another brilliant production by Theater Latte Da. Friends, we are very very lucky to have Peter Rothstein and Denise Prosek and this company that they created 15 years ago in our community. They just keep getting better and better.

I really only heard of Company last year when a filmed concert version starring Neil Patrick Harris was released to movie theaters. I immediately fell in love with it, so this production is coming at a great time for me. Company began as a series of short plays about married couples written by George Furth. When Stephen Sondheim came on board, it was turned into a musical and the character of Bobby was added as a central character tying all of the couples together. There's not much of a plot to it; it's more of a character study and an exploration of the ideas of marriage, friendship, and connection. Bobby is single and turning 35 amidst a bunch of married couples (something I can relate to, although this fall is not my first 35th birthday ;), and he spends time with each of them in turn, trying to figure out what it's all about. In typical Sondheim fashion, the songs are clever and witty and fast, with unexpected and beautiful melodies.

As usual with Latte Da shows, this one is perfectly cast. When I first heard that Latte Da was doing this show, I immediately thought of Dieter Bierbrauer as Bobby, and I was thrilled when I heard he had indeed been cast. Dieter's voice is perfection; there's nothing he can't do vocally. He has such control and emotion in his voice; his singing sounds effortless on these challenging Sondheim songs. As Bobby, everyone's best friend, Dieter rarely leaves the stage. But he's not always the center of attention. In fact that's a crucial part of this role and one Dieter does well - being the observer, the listener, the sounding board, as his friends unload their feelings and crazy ideas to him. Always attentive and engaged as he sits there silently, you can see the wheels turning as he takes it all in and adds it to his growing knowledge base of what this marriage thing might mean. The final song after he puts it all together ("add 'em up, Bobby") is "Being Alive," one of the greatest songs ever written for musical theater. Dieter's performance is a thing of beauty. Angry and defensive, then soft and vulnerable, finally a demand for a richer and fuller life.

The five couples surrounding Bobby are also well-cast. Each couple is different, and are given a scene or two with Bobby to let the audience in to their particular brand of marriage. It's difficult to pick just a few standouts to mention, but I must start with Jody Briskey as Joanne, the three-times married slightly more mature and cynical friend who gets the best song, "Ladies who Lunch." Jody performed the song at this summer's Latte Da in the Park concert, and it was obvious then that she would be the one playing this role. Jody recently won an Ivey Award for her performance as Judy Garland inBeyond the Rainbow at the History Theatre last fall, and you can still hear Judy in her voice. I like to think of Jody as the Patti LuPone of the local theater scene (I'm not sure Patti ever played this role, but I heard her sing the song at Orchestra Hall a few years ago and it's that kind of song). Jody's performance of this Sondheim masterpiece is boozy and brilliant. In short, it's a showstopper.

Also worth mentioning are the adorable Kim Kivens (she may be the smallest of stature in the cast, but not the smallest of voice) as the reluctant pot-smoking mom; Heidi Bakke as one of Bobby's girlfriends, a flight attendant who describes herself as "dumb and boring" in the most charming way (her duet with Bobby, "Barcelona," may be the cutest "morning after" song ever); David Darrow as the groom Paul, despite the fact that we only get a brief taste of his beautiful voice as he sings "Today is for Amy" to his frantic bride (I'm still waiting for the soundtrack of Rip, the Fringe show for which he wrote a bunch of really great songs that could stand on their own); Suzy Kohane as said frantic bride, who wins the prize for singing the most and fastest words in any song in the show, all while pushing her fiance away and still remaining likeable; and Julie Madden, who's a hoot as the dieting ka-ra-TE expert wife who has to remind her husband when and why he gave up alcohol.

Another important character in the play is New York City, my favorite city in the world (outside of Minnesota). In addition to the song "Another Hundred People (Just Got Off of the Train)" which perfectly describes the "city of strangers," there are numerous references to New York and New Yorkers. The city is also incorporated into the clever lighting and set design. Images are projected onto a couple of basic white boxes, as well as the backdrop, to represent the inside of a crowded home, a high rise apartment building with terraces, a park in different seasons, and the streets of New York as Bobby walks and ponders. One of the white boxes opens up to a bed (for the "Barcelona" scene), and a set of stairs leads to a second level providing a place for characters to observe the action as they come and go. There's not much choreography in the piece (Company is not a big song-and-dance kind of musical), but there are a few nice moments. In the opening number of Act II, "Side by Side by Side," Bobby sings and dances around his friend with an umbrella, and a kickline is formed. When all the men are telling Bobby "Have I Got a Girl for You," they're sitting on office chairs with a keyboard on their laps, emailing him, with choreographed keystrokes (choreography by Michael Matthew Ferrel). Touches like that and cell phones bring this show from the 70s into the 21st century, and with the relevant and timeless themes of relationships, it doesn't feel dated at all.

Company is playing at the Ordway McKnight Theater now through November 18. If you've never seen a Theater Latte Da show, well, you've been wasting your local theater-going life. Go see this show. The rest of their season looks to be just as amazing as this show, so you'll probably want to check that out too.

Theater Latte Da chose to do this show this season "as Minnesota grapples with the definition of marriage," but the production does not speak directly to the idea of marriage equality. What it does do is showcase five couples who have five different definitions of marriage. It seems to me, looking from the outside, that there are as many different definitions of marriage as there are marriages. So why would we want to constitutionally limit it to one definition, when it's never been that way? That was my take-away from the show; go see it and decide for yourself.

*I received one complementary ticket to Opening Night of Company. However, I had already bought tickets for myself and 14 friends to go next week. Most of them are good and crazy married people, so I look forward to seeing the show again with them and hearing what they think of it.


'Company' review: Theater Latte Da balances cynicism, romance

October 28, 2012.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.

The song that best sums up "Company," a musical about people who are ambivalent about love, is "Sorry/Grateful." And sorry/grateful is also how I feel about this good/not great production.

First the grateful: The two most recent Twin Cities productions of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical were iffy ones by Bloomington Civic Theatre and Theatre in the Round, but Theater Latte Da's production is bursting with talent. The cast, fine singers all, commits to the Latte Da concept of bringing this 1970s musical into the present, when cellphones and dating sites give us new and improved ways to be confused about romance. Aside from a few outmoded terms ("generation gap," "answering service"), the time shift works quite well, as does the decision to accompany the actors with a modern-sounding four-piece band, rather than a full orchestra.

A few of the actors are inspired. In fact, Heidi Bakke may be giving the freshest performance in any Twin Cities musical this year as April, a flight(y) attendant who is one of the many women that move in and out of the world of Bobby, the single man who is the central character in "Company." April can come off like a dopey caricature if she's played too broadly, but Bakke's cooing performance suggests that April is more innocent than idiot -- she's like the sexiest lamb you've ever seen. I'd argue that there's a little bit of Judy Holliday in Bakke's languid, off-kilter line readings, except that the performance feels wholly Bakke's own.

Same goes for Suzy Kohane, as Bobby's ex, Amy. Kohane's delivery of the breath-defying "Getting Married Today" was not quite there on opening night, but it was very close, and her crazy energy -- all flailing, swanlike limbs and machine-gunned punchlines -- helps make Amy's dilemma (moments before her own wedding, she panics) funny and relatable. It's about-to-be-married Amy who delivers what may be the most chilling line in a musical that has lots of refrigerated things to say about love: "I have never seen one good marriage."

"Company" -- this one, anyway -- takes place in Bobby's head as, surrounded by his married friends, he is about to blow out the candles on his 35th birthday cake. The show is a series of vignettes of married life -- a couple about to divorce, one just getting started, one resigned to unhappy marriage -- and songs about the tricky business of relationships. Under Peter Rothstein's direction, moments that feel almost ghostly remind us that what we're seeing is Bobby's skewed take on how relationships work (or don't). We also see him interacting with a few of the women with whom he has failed to connect, while his married friends urge him to settle down.

It's a terrific musical -- funny, fast and just hopeful enough about romance to balance the huge helpings of irony, as in "The Little Things You Do Together": "It's the concerts you enjoy together/Neighbors you annoy together/Children you destroy together/That make perfect relationships."

On opening night, Rothstein and the cast expertly balanced the cynical and romantic aspects of the show, and they've wisely used a '90s revisal of the show in which its dream ballet is omitted, as all dream ballets should be. But, somehow, the production doesn't quite sing.

That may be partly because some of the actors playing Bobby's male friends don't make much of an impression and partly because the action takes place on a sorry-looking set. In order to accommodate projections that often feel too literal for this very not-literal show (The Brooklyn Bridge as Bobby walks the city? Really?), the stage is a vast expanse of cold, ugly off-whiteness, set off by a long, metal catwalk overhead and a couple of pieces of drab furniture that make it look like Bobby lives in a Salvation Army display window, circa 1974. The intimate McKnight Theatre is perfectly scaled for this razor-focused musical, but the vast set often seems to work against the inventive actors who, one suspects, would be grateful for a bare stage and a couple of chairs.


Company by Theatre Latté Da performing in the Ordway McKnight Theatre

October 27, 2012.By John Olive, HowWasTheShow.

Last night your indomitable reviewers, Janet Preus and John Olive, attended the Theater Latté Da opening of the masterwork Company (at the Ordway McKnight Theatre, through Nov 18).  After the show they repaired to the bar at Kincaid’s for beverages, fries and pithy conversation, excerpted herewith:

Janet Preus:  I liked the show.

John Olive:  So did I.  It’s Stephen Sondheim!

JP:  It’s George Furth!  His book for Company is smart, playable, impeccably timed and genuinely funny.  And timeless: the show was written in 1970 and it’s still fresh.  Well, pretty much.

JO:  There isn’t a throwaway song in the show and some songs – “Another Hundred People,” “Being Alive” – are breathtaking, true classics.  The music is deceptively simple, not nearly as easy to perform as it seems.  Sondheim is hard on singers

JP:  This is particularly true of the harmonies.  They’re very complex.  Sondheim often uses tritones.  Tough to execute and he expects them to be crisp and immediate.

JO:  There’s something about the music – especially the “Bobby’ theme that runs throughout.  It gives the show a big-city jitteriness, an edge.  A nice balance to the scenes, which often verge on comic schtick.

JP:  This effect is enhanced by the show’s cinematic structure, the way characters impinge on scenes, coming in quickly, abruptly changing the location and atmosphere.

JO:  In Company, New York [City] is a character onto itself.

JP:  I adored [director PeterRothstein‘s occasionally overly structured but generally outstanding staging.  It’s probably the best use of projections paired with lighting that I’ve ever seen.  I presume that lighting slash scenic designer Tom Mays did these.  He makes them seem effortless.  The show will go from an interior, to a NYC street, to an abstract playing space quickly and completely.  Boffo.

JO:  What did you think of Dieter Bierbrauer as Robert?

JP:  He can really sing.  It’s a difficult role because Furth and Sondheim give us absolutely no information about Bobby: what job does he have, where is he from, what kind of family does he come from?  Nothing.  He’s an amiable presence and he sparks over-the-top emotions from the other characters.  The three women he’s involved with – April, Marta and Kathy – are totally different and seem to not be “a fit,” so they provide us with no clue.

And then, within one song, the climactic “Being Alive”, Bobby Bubby changes; the reserved “someone to sit in my chair,” becomes a pleading, exuberantly and humanly needy, “somebody, sit in my chair.”  It really works.

JO:  Rothstein stages this beautifully.  Bierbrauer doesn’t move, doesn’t even gesture.  The lights and projections swirl but Robert remains motionless.

I was especially taken by Heidi Bakke as April.  I found her funny, sexy, with an astonishing presence.  She made “Barcelona” soar.

JP:  We also need to mention the excellent work of Suzy Kohane.  She performed the technically demanding “Getting Married Today” perfectly and managed to be screamingly funny at the same time.

JO:  (Note: ignorable cranky criticism follows)   Jody Briskey performed “The Ladies Who Lunch” beautifully, but this song seemed dated to me.  Something about the smoking, the drinking seemed arch and calculated.  Maybe it’s because I’ve heard this classic too much.

Everyone is good.  Company is definitively recommended.

JP:  Agreed.  And I would also recommend these sweet potato fries.

Theater Latte Da invites in some 'Company'

October 26, 2012.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

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," 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."

A timely view of the 'Company' we keep

October 25, 2012.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Divorce, free love, cohabitation and fierce individualism put marriage in the cross hairs in 1970, when composer Stephen Sondheim and writer George Furth cobbled together the musical comedy "Company." The show revolved around Bobby, a laconic gent celebrating his 35th birthday in the company of married friends and his three girlfriends.

Sondheim freighted the enigmatic Bobby with an entire society's insecurities about marriage: Could it survive in its traditional form; was its traditional form even the tradition; was it threatened by changing mores and attitudes; did it require reinvention?

"A person is not complete until he is married," says one of Bobby's friends -- repeating a bromide that typified mainstream views of how one succeeded in society up until even the late 1960s.

Marriage has become one of the topics du jour in this election season, so artistic director Peter Rothstein thought it might make sense to revisit "Company" for Theater Latté Da. The production, starring Dieter Bierbrauer as Bobby, opens Saturday at the Ordway Center's McKnight Theatre. The cast also includes Jody Briskey, who will sing the Elaine Stritch classic "The Ladies Who Lunch," David Darrow from last season's "Spring Awakening" and Andrea San Miguel, who just played the title role in Walking Shadow's "Eurydice."

"Company" started as a series of 11 disparate one-acts, stitched together by Bobby's story thread. It is not linear or plot-driven. Instead, each scene comments on the state of wedded bliss/hell and Bobby's bachelorhood. It was nominated for 14 Tonys and won six back in 1970.

That success has rarely translated into box-office catnip -- a point not lost on Rothstein -- but the inquiry into Bobby's psyche, along with Sondheim's music, made it worth the trouble for the director.

"They [Sondheim and Furth] were asking, 'How do people maintain intimate relationships in a society that is becoming depersonalized?'" Rothstein said.

To bring this idea into 2012, he has his cast on cellphones, surfing the Internet, hooking up on and otherwise finding new ways to connect through technology.

"I read that there are studies showing the iPad is used in the bedroom more than anyplace else," Rothstein said, amused by the irony that in the most intimate room of the house, people have chosen an electronic mate.

"Company" resists easy choices. Bobby, in particular, never reveals himself fully. Rothstein said during an interview that he was planning to spend the next day with Bierbrauer, going through the script and asking in each scene, "What is Bobby learning here?" The challenge is to get out of Bobby's head and show the action on the stage without being too literal.

The show's relevance is not necessarily right on the nose. But marriage is certainly in the air. In Minnesota, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. "Company" is less a look at the politics of marriage and more an exploration of its relative sturdiness -- whether for same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

"With what's happening with the heightened focus on marriage right now, it feels less dated," Rothstein said. "We really wanted to update it."

Hard sell

"Company" has a sketchy history in the Twin Cities. It lasted only two months at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre in 1977.  Theatre in the Round had a production in 1994 and Bloomington Civic Theatre mounted the show in 2004. Asked whether he felt his production would sell, Rothstein asked, "Does any Sondheim sell, other than 'Into the Woods?'"

"Once you leave New York, Sondheim is always a tough sell," he said, noting that the acclaimed production of "A Little Night Music" did not go on national tour after its successful Broadway run. "Company" finds Sondheim in excellent voice and the show breaks norms, but the question for any production is whether audiences can identify with Bobby's early-life crisis (although in 1970, 35 was a lot older).

"It's really a hard show," Rothstein said.  Some of the demands stump him, he admitted, but he's determined to come up with answers because he's convinced there is something there.

"They were radically breaking the form open," he said. "When the show does something you don't expect it to do, you have to assume Sondheim had to have a reason."

Radio Feature: Sondheim in the Twin Cities

October 19, 2012.By John Birge, Classical Minnesota Public Radio.

Stephen Sondheim is a genius of the theater who inspires a worshipful following. Two productions running side by side this month at two Twin Cities theater companies offer the opportunity to experience two of Sondheim's most iconic musicals: Company, at Theater Latte Da and Sunday in the Park with George at Bloomington Civic Theatre.

Company is Sondheim's smart, funny, bittersweet, and powerful look at marriage and emotional intimacy. Its 1970 debut came at the height of the sexual revolution. But forty years later, Theater Latte Da's new production finds Company is still as timely as today's headlines, delving into the meaning of intimacy in the age of social media, and the definition of Marriage against the backdrop of Minnesota's proposed marriage amendment to the state constitution.

Sunday in the Park with George investigates other timeless themes of how the artist (in this case the pointillist painter Georges Seurat) finds -- or fails to find -- his place in the larger world around him, and the intimate relationships beside him.

For a sneak preview, we opened our studio for conversation and music from artists with both productions. From Bloomington Civic Theater, Director Karen Weber, Associate Director Rob Goudy, singers Joey Clark (George) and Jennifer Eckes (Dot), and pianist Alex Heetland. From Theater Latte Da, Director Peter Rothstein, singer Dieter Bierbrauer (Robert), and pianist Jerry Rubino.

 Click here to listen to the feature.

Theater Latté Da will stage Sondheim's 'Company'

July 5, 2012.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.

Three Sondheim shows will hit stages in the Twin Cities in the next several months, with the biggest being the just-announced "Company." Theater Latte Da will perform the conceptual musical, with such songs as "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Being Alive" and "Another Hundred People," starting Oct. 25 at the Ordway's McKnight Theatre.

"Company" will run almost concurrently with Bloomington Civic Theatre's production of Sondheim's musical about art getting in the way of life, "Sunday in the Park with George." Look for the show, which won a Pulitzer Prize, at Bloomington Art Center beginning Oct. 19.

First out of the gates will be Sondheim's re-working of fairy tales, "Into the Woods," which asks what happens to folks such as Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk after their happy endings. Theater Mu performances of "Into the Woods" begin July 17 at Park Square Theatre.


July 3, 2012.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.

I’m sure this is just a coinkydink but get this:

Two months ago, I noticed that two theaters are doing Stephen Sondheim shows this year. I’m a huge Sondheim fan and in the newspaper world, three things equals a trend, so I was on the hunt for a third Sondheim.  I jokingly emailed Theater Latte Da, which seemed like the likeliest place for another Sondheim to emerge, jokingly requesting that they announce a Sondheim title for their next season.

This just in: Theater Latte Da is doing “Company,” Sondheim’s landmark ’70s musical, starting in October.  The others: “Sunday in the Park with George” opens at Bloomington Civic Theatre in October and “Into the Woods” at Theater Mu later this month.