Aspen Community Theatre is back with a Sondheim classic |

Aspen Community Theatre is back with a Sondheim classic

‘Company’ is coming: Aspenites are ready to put on a show again


What: “Company,” presented by Aspen Community Theatre

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Nov. 5-14; Friday sand Saturdays 7 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m.

How much: $20-$30

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

More info: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks required

After two years of planning, two months of rehearsal, one pandemic and one historic cancellation, Aspen Community Theatre (ACT) returns to the stage at the Wheeler Opera House on Friday with a fresh production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.”

A modern classic from 1970 about bachelorhood, sex, courtship, love and marriage, the ACT production was canceled, like just about everything else, in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic — marking the first year since the group’s founding in 1976 that it did not put on a show.

“We are really excited to be doing theater,” director Jeff James-Schlepp said Monday night at the Wheeler, moments before a run-through. “We all went through a lot in this last year.”

The volunteer theater group brings a cross-section of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley together to put on an always impressive show — non-professional actors and singers holding themselves to a professional standard and producing an annual miracle from the heart of the Aspen community.

“We have been away for so long, so just being able to back with our theater community and our theater family, just being able to do that has been really fulfilling,” said cast member and producer Amy Kaiser Pendarvis.

Pendarvis, who is playing an engaged character also named Amy, sings the show’s most popular song — the anthem of pre-nuptial jitters “Getting Married Today.”

Amy Kaiser Pendarvis, playing Amy in ‘Community,’ performs in act one of the musical on the Wheeler Opera House stage in Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The show centers on the single guy Bobby (Travis Lane McDiffett) as he floats through dinners and drinks and parties with married couples, these “good and crazy people, my friends.” They offer unsentimental, too true and often wry marriage and relationship advice set to timeless Sondheim melodies that cover the ups and downs, pluses and minuses of tying the knot or not. At 35, Bobby is questioning whether he will or should settle down, while also enduring the indignities of dating life.

The community theater production has updated some of the staging for the smartphone era – repeated invitations to “come on over for dinner” go to Bobby by text rather than landline, for instance, and selfie sticks assist in group photos – but the dialogue and music adheres to the original production, which has had a handful of recent revivals including a Patti Lupone-led gender-swapped version that opened in London’s West End in 2018 and that goes this month to Broadway.

The music and sentiments of the show are remarkably contemporary and perceptive, attuned to regular speech in the Sondheim style and captured in songs like “Marry Me A Little,” “Sorry-Grateful,” “Have I Got a Girl For You.” and “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Aspen Community Theatre member Travis Lane McDiffett playing Bobby blows out his birthday candles in act one of the musical ‘Community’ performed on the Wheeler Opera House stage in Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Anybody who saw the 2019 tear-jerking film “Marriage Story” will also be familiar with Bobby’s poignant closer “Being Alive” and its timeless emotional resonance.

“It certainly is ahead of its time,” said ACT stalwart Franz Alderfer, who is playing Larry, half of the musical’s older seen-it-all couple. “It alludes to things that are part of the culture wars right now.”

The ACT production places the couples on stage at cocktail tables, under a backdrop of the New York City skyline — designed by local theater veteran Tom Ward — and with three pieces of moveable furniture setting the various domestic scenes. A 17-member cast is joined on stage by an eight-member orchestra, led by Jonathan Tunick.

The music itself is some of the most complex ACT has tackled in recent years, including the show’s signature ornate cascading “Bobby” phrases sung in group mosaic vocals, which the cast has diligently rehearsed and — as of this week’s dress rehearsals — mostly nailed down, sometimes with 12 different actors each hitting a different note.

“They were amazingly good and exciting to listen to,” James-Schlepp said of his cast. “I found myself getting all choked up back here. And I’ve done a lot of theater, so I don’t get choked up that easily.”

Every one of them has to be impeccably in tune and timed, actors noted, so nobody can simply mouth along.

“If you drop out, you’re taking away from the entire piece of music,” noted Andrew Miller, performing in his third ACT show. “I enjoy that challenge.”

The show opens with the couples walking in through the crowd to the stage, wearing masks as they enter, and removing them as they sit — a now-familiar social ritual of pandemic life, which immediately grounds “Company” in a 2021 setting.

The Aspen Community Theatre cast performs the opening number, Side By Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You, of act two of ‘Company’ on the Wheeler Opera House stage in Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The cast is all vaccinated and has been doing twice-weekly COVID-19 tests during rehearsals, which as of Wednesday hadn’t been disrupted by breakthrough cases.

Most of the cast has taken part in some public performances during the pandemic — Gerald DeLisser with the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, for instance, Miiller with Symphony of the Valley and Nina Gabianelli and McDiffett in Aspen Historical Society re-enactments.

“It feels good to be back,” said Miller, now in his third ACT show. “But it definitely doesn’t feel like a normal year.”

On Monday night, entering the final stretch of rehearsals before opening night, cast members were eager to start putting butts in seats and putting on a show for their friends and neighbors for the first time in two years and after so much social distance and isolation.

As Bobby himself puts it in the show: “Alone is alone, not alive.” Or as Gabianelli said before the run-through: “Rehearsal is rehearsal. I’m waiting for the audience.”