Michael Tan (above), Silhouette Stage’s music director, knows Sondheim like Sophocles knows Philosophy. For the upcoming production of Company, opening May 11 at Slayton House Theater in Columbia, expect harmonies with foundation and melodies with roots.
Tan’s resume is impressive: multiple masters degrees, a teaching background, and a lifetime of studying piano and voice. Alongside, Debbie Mobley and Conni Ross, the show’s co-directors, offer, literally, hundreds of productions worth of directorial, acting, and technical experience. These are the people who make up Silhouette’s bedrock: a rotating cast of directors, musicians, producers, and actors.
“He’s such an intelligent composer,” says Tan, waxing Sondheim. “He doesn’t choose a note or rest without an intention behind it.”
Ask Tan to elaborate, and what you get is a complex understanding of music theory and acting. “On one level the ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ seem superficial,” he says of one of the show’s most popular and confusing numbers. “And on another level, they’re survivors. They’ve survived affairs, heartbreak, and the disappointment of their children. Today you might see them at Starbucks or Panera wearing tennis skirts.”
As Tan will say, Company is a musical for our times. Bobby, the anti-hero, played by Ryan Geiger, is in a crisis: He’s 35 years old, and he’s not yet married.
If it seems a familiar theme, that’s because it is. Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Crazy For You, The Importance of Being Earnest, all end in ironic Happily Ever After. But if the point of matrimony is to tie up the confusion on stage, this musical is not following the typical narrative. For Bobby, marriage is life’s unraveling.
Geiger’s Bobby is depressingly naïve. At 35, his character hasn’t the courage to examine a life of selfish pleasures: womanizing, drinking, moneymaking. But the character also hasn’t the courage to examine the marriages that masquerade as decrees of Destiny all around him. He has, until this point, lived his life passively. Will he bring this moment of his birthday to its crisis? Does he possess the courage to reach catharsis? Or will he continue to live a life unexamined?
After four years of productions, Silhouette Stages is beginning to find its stride. Their last production of Avenue Q sold out four houses and allowed the company to start the Brian Best Scholarship Fund. This production is going to be equally important in helping Silhouette to build a reputation as one of Columbia’s premiere community arts non-profits.
What is so unique about Silhouette Stages is its untapped well of intellectual, hard working volunteers. In any given production, 50 people play supporting roles in mounting a show.
With a directorial board of equals, a rotating production staff, open auditions, flexible hours, and a technical crew of 20 or so competent adults, Silhouette has created a model arts campaign. If there is something to be learned from Silhouette, it’s this: Build it, and they will come. In droves.
This may be one of Silhouette’s strongest productions. It may also help to define the company as model non-profit arts organization. Go see Company to be entertained, to laugh, to find understanding. Leave inspired. This company started four years ago from scratch.
Columbia’s potential to be an artistic Mecca is there. Who will build it?