Theater & art

STAGES

In ‘Company,’ Sondheim’s ruminations on love

John Ambrosino (center) and fellow cast members rehearsing for
Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
John Ambrosino (center) and fellow cast members rehearsing for

One of the highlights of any Boston theater season is a Lyric Stage Company production of a Stephen Sondheim musical. Spiro Veloudos, the Lyric’s producing artistic director, has directed nearly all of the Sondheim canon, with a keen sensitivity to the composer’s works and an understanding of how to stage them in the Lyric’s intimate amphitheater.

Through Oct. 9, Veloudos is taking on “Company,” considered one the first concept musicals, with a book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Sondheim.

“All of the action happens in one character’s head,” says Veloudos, taking a break after a rehearsal. “It’s the story of one man at a crossroads in his life, looking around at the friendships he’s had with couples who are now married and wondering about whether he will ever be able to make that commitment to one person himself.”

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The musical takes place on Robert’s 35th birthday, and in a series of vignettes that follow, we meet the five couples and three girlfriends that make up his social circle.

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“When you direct this play, you can’t help but think about whether or not you have a little bit of Robert in you,” says Veloudos. “It’s a moment when you stop, look around at where you are and think about the past and what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 35, 45, or 64.”

Veloudos’s production of “Company” comes as he celebrates his 20th anniversary as the producing artistic director at the Lyric Stage Company. During his tenure, the Lyric Stage has expanded to its current seven-show season, increased its subscriber base, and picked up dozens of awards, all while championing local talent both onstage and behind-the-scenes.

“I’m very proud of the work we’ve created here,” Veloudos says.

John Ambrosino, who plays Robert, was a standout in the Lyric’s productions of “Into the Woods,” “Avenue Q,” and “On the Town,” but he has also appeared at New Repertory Theatre, Stoneham Theatre, off-Broadway, in national tours, and in Las Vegas (“Jersey Boys”).

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“When I was casting Robert,” says Veloudos, “I needed someone who has both charisma and a quality of introspection. While there is no traditional plot structure, we need to see the journey Robert takes.”

While much has been made of Robert’s sexuality, with Sondheim and Furth rewriting some lyrics and dialogue to suggest that Robert is conflicted about it, Ambrosino says he believes Robert is a straight man who just can’t connect with another person on a deeper emotional level.

“He’s scared of opening up to someone,” he says. “He is surrounded by friends who are affectionate, but he doesn’t have love, and he’s not sure if he is a person of enough substance to share himself with someone.”

Although the show’s vignettes don’t offer a traditional story arc, Ambrosino says “Company” opens with Robert understanding that he is at a crossroads, and by the end of the play, when he sings “Being Alive,” he understands what’s important.

“For me, that is the ultimate acting song,” Ambrosino says. “It really pulls together everything that Robert has been struggling with, and he moves from being a guy who is so fearful, to someone who is ready to take a chance.”

Role reversal for acting couple

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Throughout their nine years as a couple, Amanda Collins and Lewis D. Wheeler have appeared together onstage in 10 different plays.

“We met performing in ‘What Then’ by Rinne Groff, directed by Jeff Zinn,” says Wheeler. “So it feels right that Jeff is directing our 10th show together.”

In “The Totalitarians,” at Gloucester Stage Company Sept. 1-24, Collins and Wheeler play a married couple for whom gender stereotypes have been reversed. Wheeler is a family doctor who is eager to start a family, while his wife is an ambitious political operative who has a chance to manage the campaign of a woman running for lieutenant governor of Nebraska.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s absurdist comedy takes things to extremes, with both characters getting caught up in the chaos of a candidate Wheeler describes as having “the DNA of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin: Someone who has no filter and gets all the attention because she is so unpredictable.”

Collins says the world of “The Totalitarians” is far from the couple she and Wheeler are, but because they know each other so well they have a shared language as they approach the roles.

“We are trying to play to a reality but then add this crazy, absurdist layer on top,” she says. “When you are taking risks and pushing a scene to its extreme, it helps to be in a safe environment with someone you trust.”

That helps, Wheeler says, as the two transform from mild-mannered Midwesterners to political revolutionaries.

Tickets: $25-$38, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com.

‘Eight by Tenn’ at Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist Stage opens its 16th season this weekend with “Eight by Tenn,” a collection of eight short plays by Tennessee Williams. Williams, who considered his short plays to be among his best work, often captures a crushing emotional moment in just a single scene. The plays in Zeitgeist’s collection include “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion,” “Portrait of a Madonna,” “Auto-Da-Fe,” “This Property Is Condemned,” “Something Unspoken,” “A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot,” “The Unsatisfactory Supper,” and “The One Exception.” The production runs Sept. 2-Oct. 8. Tickets: $30, 617-933-8600, www.zeitgeiststage.com.

Israeli Stage launches its season

In its seventh season, Israeli Stage once again gathers some of the area’s top actors for a series of staged readings of Israeli plays and one full production next spring. The readings include “Fertile” by Yakir Eliahu Vaknin (Sept. 18, 170 Beacon St., Boston); “Happy Ending” by Anat Gov (Nov. 13, 170 Beacon St., Boston); a residency in spring for playwright Joshua Sobol, who will develop a new play called “David, King”; and a full production of “Days of Atonement,” by Hanna Azoulay Hasfari (June 1–25, 2017, Boston Center for the Arts). For tickets and more information, go to www.israeli
stage.com
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COMPANY

Presented by Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Sept. 2-Oct. 9. Tickets: Starting at $25, 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.