Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Good and Crazy People

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Good and Crazy People

Article excerpt

Weathering Company outdoors in New Jersey

Plays-in-the-Park in Roosevelt Park in Edison, N.J., began presenting outdoor summer theatre in 1963, funded by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The first season took place in a park shed that was used for storage in the winter but opened on one side to a natural amphitheatre on a grassy hill in the summer. The shed was replaced with a new modern amphitheatre in 1978, and it is estimated that more than one million people have attended performances since then. Patrons bring their own lawn chairs, showing up mid-afternoon to get a good spot on the hill, and then picnic in adjacent groves prior to the evening performance. They are a mix of those who regularly attend professional theatre in New Jersey and New York and others who forego Broadway because of high ticket prices.

The 2009 season at Plays-in-the-Park included a production of Company, which at first glance might seem an odd choice for a venue that usually presents popular titles, including Singin' in the Rain and Little Shop of Horrors, and recent Broadway shows such as The Producers and All Shook Up! In fact, the theatre strives to present recognizable titles in the style intended by the original artists. While Plays-in-the-Park tailors productions to the company's technical resources and talent pool of community theatre and college performers, the group does not re-invent or re-imagine the shows by setting them in another time period or location.

According to Producing Director Gary Cohen, Plays-in-the-Park has had success with several Sondheim shows over the years, including Sweeney Todd, Follies, A Little Night Music and Into the Woods. "Although Sunday in the Park, Merrily or Pacific Overtures would probably never be considered due to the lack of name value," he notes, "Company sort of fell in between this year, with the revival fresh in everyone's mind."

Producing Company, a show that is intimate in nature and content, in such a large venue could present challenges, but Cohen, who also directed the production, chose to mount it on a set influenced by Boris Aronson's design for the original Broadway production. With audience seating extending beyond the theatre building on crowded nights, pains were taken to make sure everyone could see everything, and the large, multi-level set, complete with a working elevator and revolving door, helped accomplish that. …

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