Sondheim musical puts ATL in good ‘Company’

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imageAs an actor working in musical theater, Dustin Lewis calls his lead role in Stage Door Players’ version of Broadway classic “Company” one of the roles of a lifetime. The show opens Friday.

“It’s definitely something you want to do at some point, something you wait for,” says the openly gay performer (photo from the production).

In Stephen Sondheim’s 40-year-old musical—a show considered daring and experimental when it debuted—Lewis stars as Robert, a 35-year-old bachelor celebrating his birthday. His married friends want him to settle down, but he is content playing the field with three younger women.

“Company” put its composer on the fast-track to musical theater superstardom and helped set a new, more daring and modern tone for Broadway at the time. It’s known for its great musical score, including “The Ladies Who Lunch” (made famous by Elaine Stritch), “Barcelona,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Getting Married Today,” and the climactic “Being Alive.”

The popularity of the latter song was reinvigorated by Raul Esparza’s rendition on the 2007 Tony Awards. Esparza starred as Robert in the acclaimed 2006 Broadway revival, where the ensemble sang and played musical instruments as well.

Lewis was very familiar with the songs but had never seen the show prior to taking the role in the Atlanta production. Nonetheless, he feels the musical is as vital today as it was when it opened.

“It’s a classic,” Lewis says. “Besides the music, the piece is timeless. It deals with fear of commitment, settling down and growing up, determining what is next. That applies to everyone, whether you are gay or straight.”

Lewis can relate to what the main character is going through.

“I’m the same age as Bobby,” he says. “I love his journey, his arc. I think he goes from being a lost soul to finding peace. He is kind of a tragic character. He is a good person and everyone likes him, but he is not happy.”

Besides Lewis, this version of “Company” also features other gay cast members, and the director is openly gay Robert Egizio, artistic director of Stage Door Players.

Over the years, there has been some speculation over whether the character of Robert might be gay or possibly bisexual. Lewis falls on the side of those who don’t believe so.

“I think he is 100 percent straight, and that is how I play him,” the actor says. “Maybe there was a time when he wanted to see what was out there. Maybe he dabbled, but I don’t think he is gay at all.”

“Company” opens July 16 runs through Aug. 8 at Stage Door Players. 770-396-1726.

imageJim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He is the director of the annual Out On Film, Atlanta’s gay and lesbian film festival, and has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years.

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