I confess: I have a type. Some people are always the romantic lead, or the ingénue, or the child. I am always cast as a crazy older woman. Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Dotty from Noises Off, a gender-swapped Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone: these are all batty women of a certain age whom I have played and loved. It’s a niche of Johns Hopkins theater that I have been happy to inhabit for almost four years.
When I was cast as April in Company, however, I was suddenly thrown out of my dramatic comfort zone. April is a flight attendant. She is, according to Bobby, “cute, original and odd.” Whether she possesses these qualities is, perhaps, up for debate. However, she is most definitely young. As someone who has always enjoyed the weird sense of freedom that comes with playing older people, there is something daunting about April’s relative youth. She recently dropped out of Northwestern University, and is attempting to date in the romantic hellscape that is New York City. For a college senior, this hits far closer to home than, say, a cannibalistic Victorian pie-maker.
When Company premiered into 1970, musical theater was primarily used as an escape. Most musicals avoided any real relevance to the lives of their audience. The sweeping romance and happy endings of Rogers & Hammerstein seemed incongruous with the complicated sexual politics of the seventies. Company was one of the first musicals to address this new world of adult relationships and dating. Sondheim himself said, "Broadway theater has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, and then here we are with Company talking about how we're going to bring it right back in their faces." I, too, have always seen musical theater as a form of escape. It’s fun to revel in the excess, the solos, the silly costumes and gratuitous dance numbers. It’s fun to play a batty old lady, because I get to escape the anxieties of my own life. For that reason, Company is a challenge. Instead of allowing us to disappear into a world of tidy happy endings, we have to delve into the psyches of people who have doubts and worries, who are “sorry-grateful” about the paths their lives have taken. We have to be vulnerable and petty and young people loving and not loving other young people in big cities. We’re having our problems brought right back in our faces, because in the end, we’re playing versions of ourselves.