The Theater on High Street in downtown Moorpark opened its doors on Feb. 3 for the opening of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical, Company. The High Street Theater Foundation with Bragg Media Group and Naulin Productions co-produced this ambitious undertaking, bringing a Broadway-caliber show to the people of Ventura County.
After weeks of rehearsals, the cast and crew opened Company last week to an encouraging crowd of community theater-goers. Though the show ran into a few technical problems, opening night was highly entertaining. The inspired performance offered great local entertainment at a reasonable price and the quaint, charming theater made the show even more appealing.
“We raked the ground, watered it and nurtured it … this roller coaster ride to opening night was a success,” said Bobby Bragg, director and music director of the production and an award-winning producer, director, composer, cinematographer and editor. “I am touched and moved.”
This Tony Award-winning musical opened on Broadway in 1970. The music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim and the original production utilized the masterful genius of writer George Furth and director Harold Prince. The show is set in New York City and follows the relationships of five couples and the leading character, Robert, affectionately called Bobby, played by Jeff Hatch.
The story progresses through small vignettes offering plot lines in a non-linear fashion that jump from scene to scene out of order. It isn’t the traditional format of most musicals that progress through time chronologically, but instead the story is told in pieces and continually comes back to the central story line — Bobby’s birthday party. This is what makes Company so brilliant and different; it was the first musical to experiment with this type of storytelling.
Company offers an evening of heartfelt meditation on the value and meaning of life and love, delivered through a bachelor’s eyes. “Is marriage a good thing?” Bobby asks himself as he sees the harsh reality of relationships through his friends’ failed marriages, infidelities and uncertainties. “You’re always sorry about getting married,” one of his friends says. “I have everything but freedom,” says another. Throughout the show, Bobby questions whether marriage is worth it, but he continues searching for the perfect woman to fall in love with.
Sondheim’s music takes us on his emotional journey with the cast singing “Someone is Waiting” and “Marry Me A Little.” The songs reveal the complexities of marriage and why, ultimately, most people choose to love someone for a lifetime. By the end, Bobby learns that relationships aren\\’t perfect, but they are a necessary part of the human experience.
The music also makes the production notable. The rich, complex score required excellent vocal execution.
“This is a difficult play from a musical standpoint,” explained Bragg. “Sondheim’s music is complicated and intricate. It takes seasoned singers to execute the music.”
Bragg and John Naulin, art director for the show and a visual effects consultant for the entertainment industry, cast 14 experienced and talented actors to bring this musical to the stage in three weeks of rehearsals. Renowned choreographers Troy Christian, who recently choreographed concerts for Usher and George Clinton, and Red Savage, who did choreography for major TV shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and the musical Cats, implement well-constructed dance routines that utilize high-energy and synchronized movements, making novice dancers look great.
“The talent level and experience is very wide,” Christian says. “We wanted to bring out the best in that situation to let everyone shine.” Christian and Savage worked with the actors, many of whom had no dance experience, to create a classic chorus line with top hats and canes for the song “Side By Side By Side.” It reminded me of the Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City as the cast stomped, tapped and kicked in unison in a straight line.
The choreographers brought a big Broadway theme to a few numbers and also added other unusual elements to the show, notably when Rachel Hardy, who played Sarah, and Noah Skultety, who played Harry, did a complicated, acrobatic karate scene. The audience reacted as Hardy flipped Skultety flat on his back during a heated discussion.
Gen Anderson, who played Kathy, did a beautiful modern-dance seduction in a red dress to capture the audience’s attention while attracting the leading man’s affections. Other numbers were downplayed, focusing mainly on the words of the songs sung center stage, such as “Another Hundred People” sung by an engaging Holly O’Hair, playing Marta.
Some of the cast were veteran performers with impressive credits, including the heir apparent to Bernadette Peters, Anita DeSimone. She did a masterful job as Amy in the song “Getting Married Today” as she frantically delivered her believable and emotional performance. Her character is engaged to be married and, on the day of the wedding, she breaks off her engagement to her fiancé, Paul, played by Kristan Cleto, because she is unsure if she loves him enough. He is devastated and storms off the stage, and then she is proposed to by Bobby. She laughs it off and finally realizes that Paul is the one for her. She passes her newfound wisdom along to Bobby: Marry the right “somebody,” not just some “body.” Additionally, Courtney Potter, playing the character Jenny, was a crowd pleaser who masterfully used her vocal skills and projection to elevate the quality of the show.
The leading character, Robert, played by Hatch, showed off his vocal artistry in the song “Being Alive.” He held notes with emotional conviction and carried many songs on his own. “We had a lot of elements that came together for opening night,” Hatch said.
The story lines were supported by intricate set designs and lighting. A 25 by 25-foot stage was transformed into three apartments, a New York train station, a park, a nightclub and a rooftop. Instead of using traditional backdrops, Naulin chose to use digitally projected backdrops that effectively set the stage for each scene of the play. It was a unique solution to the small space. Side screens and balconies also made the theater more useful and effective, giving the cast more room to play with.
“Part of what compelled me was the theater itself,” Naulin says. “The challenge was to put on a big-look show on a small stage … We’re using every bit of it.”
The Theater on High Street was originally called El Rancho, built in 1927, and it was the only “talking movie” theater in the east end of Ventura County. It was closed as a movie theater in the 1950s and was used for community activities only to be re-opened as a live theater in 1982. Lawrence Janss bought the rundown building for $275,000 in 2001 with intentions of restoring it. He revamped the entire building, making it more dynamic for stage productions.
Janss put in new advanced technology, sound and electrical systems, lush seating and curtains, ambient lighting and improved acoustics, while maintaining the original 1920s appeal of this historic landmark. The red sea of seats have wooden shelves as they did in the ’20s to accommodate food and drinks purchased in the lobby. The improvements made this small theater, which seats 285 people, a great asset to the city of Moorpark.
Janss sold the theater to the city in 2005 for a mere $1.25 million after spending $1.65 million to renovate the theater into a modern playhouse. Moorpark was grateful for the gift, which kept downtown Moorpark historically intact.
Now the theater is run by the High Street Theater Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to prolong the historical presence of this building and to offer an array of entertainment to the community at a reasonable price.