Company Theatre’s Michael Hammond reveals his favorite part of theatre, a secret project, and ‘Fun Home’

Just prior to the pandemic, an award-winning, intriguing production not only made its debut but closed in one night on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, Massachusetts over a year ago.  Onstage as the meaty role of Bruce, Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond experienced that incredible and bittersweet night and what it meant to the cast of the musical memoir Fun Home. Click here for our full podcast conversation.

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre is offering a chance to see Fun Home for the full run they had originally intended in October.  Michael talks about his experience as Bruce, his favorite part of theatre, and a secret upcoming project. 

Click here for Sleepless Critic’s Fun Home review and here for tickets and further information about the Company Theatre.

Sleepless Critic: So you’ve been in theatre since you were a kid and now that we have had the pandemic, what was your favorite part of the theatre before and was there a change in your favorite or what you miss the most when we had a break?

Michael Hammond: I think we take a lot for granted in life.  We forget how much fun it is to sing with an orchestra or to perform on a beautiful set someone built.  Ryan Barrow does amazing sets at Company Theatre and it’s thrilling to perform on one of his sets.  It’s thrilling to perform with Steve Bass conducting an orchestra and thrilling to perform Sally Forrest’s choreography under Zoe Bradford’s direction. 

I think we take that for granted in some ways and as much as I enjoy it and maybe as I got from show to show to show, I think I just liked performing specific roles for the experience of getting to know a new cast.  I did a Christmas show at Company Theatre and just recharged my energy to be around such beautiful people and exciting kids and talent.  You’re in a flow and you are doing shows and enjoying it. 

The cast of Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

You get what you get out of it, but when the pandemic was coming, I was doing Fun Home with an extremely talented cast.  Riley Crockett was playing the youngest Alison.  I was re-experiencing theatre through her eyes and she had never been on a big stage or performed with an orchestra which is shocking because she is so talented.  She would ask me, ‘Are you nervous for your solo tonight?’  I would say, ‘I am a little.’  She would say, ‘Good, now you know how I feel.’  Ok, she needs a little more support and encouragement in that moment. 

Then we were standing on top of a staircase and we were about to walk down for our first entrance and she said, ‘Michael, I’ve never performed on a set like this.  This is a big deal.’  I said, ‘Yes, it is a big deal.  You are right. This is a beautiful experience and you’re about to sing live with an orchestra for the first time in a big theatre on a beautiful set.’  It made me look at what we are doing and not take it for granted. 

So we were fortunate to open and close Fun Home on the exact same night because the pandemic had really hit.  That day everyone was cancelling their performances but we went on because we had a feeling this would be it.  I’m so glad we did because it was one of the most exciting and electric experiences of my life.  People were rebellious and excited.  They knew this might be the last time they ever saw this show and Fun Home is not a super positive and happy experience.

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  It is melancholy.

MH:  Right, but the audience treated it like it was a rock concert! 

SC:  Yes, I was there to review your first and final performance.  I felt so comfortable and wonderful and I had saw this show in Boston before.  What I liked about watching this particular show is that you can make it so different every time you perform it.  The parts can be portrayed very differently and you can do so much with the show.  In a way, if you had to say goodbye to theatre for awhile, I felt like that was such a poignant thing to do in that moment.

MH:  It was.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences I think I ever had and it was just so bittersweet because it was the last show with Jordie.  How thrilled and grateful am I that I got to have Jordie’s final show be Fun Home and I got to be a part of it. It was just such a fantastic experience and she loved the show. It was such a joy to go through that process with her. 

SC:  It is one of those shows that sneak up on you unexpectedly.  You’re experiencing the show and you enjoy it, but once it’s over, it is really thought-provoking. 

MH:  I saw it on Broadway and loved it.  I thought that I don’t necessarily need to see it again.  It was beautiful and moving and I think of it like a beautiful film.  You watch it and then you watch another film.  When this opportunity came around to work on the show, I have such a great appreciation for it.  I think it’s just one of the greatest things ever written where you’re dissecting and it personally and really in the trenches on it.  It’s so much more brilliant than I realized. 

SC:  It has such multi-layered performances as well. 

MH:  I was thinking today that there were so many things about Bruce,  I almost feel like I just left my body.  I personally couldn’t be any part of this character because it just wasn’t anything like me.  Sometimes I think about it and it feels really difficult to do it again because I remember it as ‘What did I even do?’  I feel like something else took over and performed the role for me.

SC:  I don’t often see you play parts like that.  Not to reveal anything, but your character is very complicated.

MH:  Then to hear compliments like you should do roles like that more often is such a compliment because people think of me as a song, dance, and musical theatre man.  Not that I shy away from roles like that, but it was very gratifying to play that part especially opposite such a talented cast.  It’s unbelievable.

SC:   I know you’ve written a few works with Jordie and Zoe over the years.  Please tell us how that came about.

MH:  I co-wrote Paragon Park the Musical with Zoe, Jordie, Sally, and Michael Joseph for the first production and Steve Bass for the second who worked on the music.  I love amusement parks and I loved Paragon Park. I went there so many times in my life. 

When I heard that Zoe and Jordie were thinking of writing a musical about Paragon Park, I selfishly just wanted to see it.  I had no inkling that I would be involved or that they would want me involved.  I just wanted to see that production so it got mentioned many times over the years and one summer I designed a poster Paragon Park the Musical coming summer of whatever year it was.  It was a long time ago. 

One day Zoe decided years after the poster even to start doing some research.  She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?  We’ll get lunch.’  We went to the Hull Library which was incredible.  They put us in a private room and provided us with access to microfiche, boxes of memorabilia, and photographs.  They were so generous.  It just snowballed from there.  We just couldn’t stop.  We were researching and loved what we found.  It did not end up being the musical we thought we were going to write because the ideas we had in mind turned out to be completely not true.  It all got shifted.

We thought maybe there was this seedy underbelly to the park and that once the park was closed, things happened at night.  It was going to be dark and mysterious and then we find out from the park owners that ‘Oh no, we locked that place, sealed it like a drum at 11 pm, and went out for Chinese food.’  Nothing happened at the Park after hours.  So much for that, but the Stone Family provided us with so much information that we were able to write a really interesting and factual musical.  It was 80% true except for the love story we incorporated. 

SC:  Not only did you write it the first time around, but when it came back around, you got to star in it too. 

MH:  I did and it was a thrill!  The nicest feeling about that show and being in it is to be putting on a costume and as I’m by myself getting dressed, I would hear people walk down the hallway singing the songs or they would say that they get to do that scene they love now.  There was so much positivity and to realize we wrote a show that was really fun to perform.  Some of the kids were in Ragtime and we used to make these funny backstage videos.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we make videos during Paragon Park?’  They said, ‘Michael, you and Zoe wrote a show where there is no time to make videos.  When would we do that?’  It was nice to know we had a hand in creating this really fun experience.   It was quite thrilling to be able to perform something that I helped write.

Michael Hammond in Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC: Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

MH: I’m devoting all my time to Company Theatre and Zoe and I thought, ‘Why not write another musical?’ It’s a completely different project from Paragon Park and we can’t quite announce yet what it is, but Zoe is incredibly inspired by this project. 

Watching her, it’s almost like she is channeling something like I’ve never seen.  She’s a beautiful artist and I’m obsessed with the way she draws and paints.  So she just took out a magic marker and a gigantic pad of paper and drew what she saw in her head for the plot of this show and it was quite impressive to watch.  Her ideas are flowing through her.  It is unbelievable so we’re hoping that will probably be the summer of 2023. 

A celebration of life for Company Theatre co-founder Jordie Saucerman. Visit companytheatre.com to learn how to be part of this tribute. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, is presenting Fun Home in October as well as devoting a night to their late co-founder, Jordie Saucerman, in November.  Click here for more information and check back to find out about Company Theatre’s mystery original production.

REVIEW: Company Theatre unveils remarkable ‘Fun Home’

The crowd roared.   Even with a half-full Company Theatre crowd that adhered to Covid-19 requirements opening night on Friday, March 13th, this enthusiastic audience was more than ready to be taken away by what theatre does best.  Company Theatre co-founder Zoe Bradford provided a special Fun Home introduction and mused, “Theatre has a way of helping you escape reality.”

Company Theatre Fun Home Airplane

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home explores different perceptions of reality within the Bechdel family.  They wrestle with it, deny it, but ultimately, must come to terms with it.  Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre presented musical Fun Home on Friday, March 13 at Company Theatre at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts and plans for the show’s return when the theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.

Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, Fun Home takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an antique Victorian house so tidy and flawless flanked with a fireplace, grand piano, and large casement windows, it neatly hides any cracks and crevices underneath.  With elegant scenic design by Ryan Barrow and Zoe Bradford as well as rich, emotive lighting by Ethan R. Jones, The Company Theatre unveils this absorbing musical that lures the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Looking On

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

It’s funny what you recall in life.  Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory and gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she recalls, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

With its share of comedic and uplifting moments, Alison looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic and intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the exceptional work of Riley Crockett as adorably precocious Small Alison, and Jaclyn Chylinski who is impressive as naïve, anxious, and excitable Medium Alison.  Crockett performs an impeccable version of Ring of Keys and shines with Charlie Flaherty as Christian and Owen Veith as John in the darkly humorous title track, Fun HomeMelissa Carubia is smooth and charismatic as cool and collected Joan.

The Company Theatre 'Fun Home'

Riley Crockett as Small Alison, Charlie Flaherty as Christian, and Owen Veith as John Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre  

With black rimmed glasses and short dark hair, IRNE award-winner Aimee Doherty slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Doherty narrates this emotional journey evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features while building her strength in each new discovery.

Michael Hammond, in a tenacious performance, embodies the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce.  With black rimmed glasses, dress pants, and a collared sweater, he is critical man with a refined intellect, and perpetually occupied to become an expert on most everything.  Seemingly a friendly, strict, and hardworking family man, Bruce is also secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Hammond’s engaging and affecting vocals capture Bruce’s perplex feelings in each number, including the poignant song Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World.

Amy Barker skillfully portrays Alison’s unassuming, overwhelmed, and misunderstood mother, Helen.  Surrounded by outward perfection, she lives her life distancing herself from reality reflected in the heartrending and beautiful number Days and Days.  Always putting others first, she is a repressed woman following the traditional values of her generation within the confines of her home.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Full Cast

The full cast of ‘Fun Home’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the intimate, seven piece orchestra features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by cheerful retro costumes and illustrating Small Alison’s hope of escape.

Company Theatre’s Fun Home is on hiatus and plans to return when the Company Theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.  Follow Company Theatre on Facebook for further updates.

Take a look at Company Theatre’s new logo as co-founder Zoe Bradford discusses the Company Theatre’s exciting future

The Company Theatre is kicking off 2020 with a new look.

Not only are they starting a fun-filled new season that includes The Who’s Tommy, Bring it On, Rock of Ages, and Fun Home, but they recently unveiled their new logo.  Click here to see their new logo.

Sleepless Critic had a chance to interview Zoe Bradford about the Company Theatre’s upcoming projects, their vision for the future, and even walked away with some good advice.  Click here for the full list the Company Theatre’s 2020 season.

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford, courtesy of Company Theatre

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s recent 40th anniversary. So much has happened in the last few years from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) with an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  We have a growing summer program that has been at full capacity.   Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We have a path to the pond front and we’ve held classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

ACT summer program

A group of past A.C.T. students Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into uncharted waters a bit with musicals such as Carrie the Musical, Lizzie Borden, and American Idiot.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  It’s a gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed how we choose our shows a little, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do WickedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.

The Company Theatre The Wiz auditions

Company Theatre’s ‘The Wiz’ auditions will be held on January 22. Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

SC: The Wiz is also part of Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and we set up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For over ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Company Theatre's The Who's Tommy

Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

The Company Theatre kicks off their 2020 season with A.C.T’s The Who’s Tommy from January 17 through January 26.  Click here for tickets and here for more on Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  You can also get tickets by calling the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here for how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

REVIEW: Featuring delicious food and eclectic charm, consider Boston’s ‘The Beehive’ before or after the show

After spending Sunday afternoon at the Calderwood Pavilion for the Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, I had made reservations through Open Table for The Beehive restaurant right next door at 541 Tremont Street in South Boston, Massachusetts.  It’s a charming and convenient place to enjoy after show cocktails, brunch, lunch, or dinner while featuring daily live music including jazz and tribute to famous musicians.  Decorated subtly for Halloween and featuring a lit outdoor patio, The Beehive has unique charm and Bohemian décor in the South End on the orange line off of the Back Bay T stop.

At the time I made the reservation, the live band didn’t start until 8 p.m.  The servers were friendly and asked about the performance I saw at the Calderwood.  Pricing is a bit expensive, but the food is wonderful and can easily be shared.  The artisan sour dough bread was seasoned with sea salt and topped with delicious honey butter.  Our dinner dish, the half chicken was tender, flavorful and juicy mixed with carrot puree, bok choy, rainbow carrots, and olives in a peanut aillade.  It was more than enough for two unless you prefer to take some home.

The Beehive is open seven days a week and located in the Back Bay, an area in Boston that features many theatrical options.  The Beehive offers a special menu on holidays and are open on Thanksgiving.  Take a closer look at the Beehive here for the menu, live music schedule, and much more.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s award-winning drama ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’, a powerful, darkly comical look at a family gone awry

“Eat vegetables.  Fiber is your best friend.  Potassium combats blood pressure.”  This sage, conventional advice was delivered in a humorous moment by Pops in an earnest attempt to be an average, conventional dad.  Though wise in his own way, Walter “Pops” Washington is anything but conventional as an alcoholic widow, father, and head of a wildly dysfunctional household in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Between Riverside and Crazy that recently completed its run at the SpeakEasy stage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This production is not meant for children.  Click here for more information on the SpeakEasy Stage, winner of the 2018 Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian, and its upcoming productions.

Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene and written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy takes an edgy, at times controversial look at a struggling family who is losing their connection to each other while trying to survive by any means necessary.  With darkly humorous moments that delve into issues of racism, privilege, and deception, this message-driven production grows every bit as crazy as the title suggests.  However, things are certainly not all that they seem and the show is all the better for it.  The Washington family has a great deal of underlying heart and blunt honesty, but it takes some digging to get there.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Dinner with Audrey and Dave_083web

Lewis D. Wheeler, Maureen Keiller, Stewart Evan Smith, Tyrees Allen, and Octavia Chavez-Richmond in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

The real strength in Between Riverside and Crazy is in its energetic, complex performances.  With a gravelly voice, more than his fair share of obstinacy, and traces of Red Foxx from Sanford and Son, Tyrees Allen slips smoothly into Walter’s tough skin with an inner turmoil that is always brimming to the surface, at the brink of revealing itself.   Every snarl, agitation, and sorrow flows eloquently, delivering a powerful punch to a performance that should not be missed.   It is easy to spot his outspokenness brashness in his son Junior, portrayed with a tough exterior, but with charm and secretiveness by Stewart Evan Smith.  Their exchanges, like most of the show, are quick paced and snappy, and if it wasn’t for the darker nature of this show, shows earmarks of any relatable American family.

Completing this family is Alejandro Simoes who delivers a quiet and sympathetic performance as Walter’s adopted son Oswaldo.  A bit naïve and with a secret of his own, Simoes delivers a clever and at times shocking performance of a troubled individual who is not all that he seems.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu and Junior Roof_207web

Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Stewart Evan Smith in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

With over-sized gold earrings, a tiny outfit and a Puerto Rican accent, Octavia Chavez-Richmond portrays the mysterious and often humorous Lulu.  Chavez-Richmond delves into this juicy, darkly comical role with gusto every time she takes the stage.  She is particularly funny during an exchange with Junior about their future and during a subtle, fascinating scene with Oswaldo and Junior discussing Ring Dings, bologna, and grape soda.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu Pops Caro Clash_355web

Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Tyrees Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Maureen Keiller as warm, but complicated Detective O’Connor and Lewis D. Wheeler as brown nosing Lieutenant Caro are outspoken New York police officers who have a history with Walter.  Some of the most memorable scenes of the show are between Keiller, Allen, and Wheeler, each exchange between them like a fascinating game of poker.  Although brief, Celeste Oliva offers a bold, pivotal, and controversial performance as Church lady.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Pops Meets The Church Lady_272web

Celeste Oliva and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

As a lit Christmas tree sits in the corner and what looks like a functioning kitchen, Eric D. Diaz and Wooden Kiwi do a wonderful job to portray a warm and inviting apartment equipped with a built in brick terrace, a set that is consistent throughout the entire show.  The staging is also strong as simultaneous scenes play out throughout the household, not a moment of it distracting.

Though it is not a show for everyone, its underlying themes, powerful performances, and meaty, twist-filled story delivers its award-winning appeal.  Between Riverside and Crazy kicked off Speakeasy Stage’s 28th season.  Next for the SpeakEasy Stage is the contemporary, Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, continuing through November 24.  Click here for more information of their current season which includes the the Tony award-winning musical Once and The View Upstairs.