In general, audiences see Stephen Sondheim shows to be entranced by Mr. Sondheim’s clever lyrics and to hear how he pushes the envelope as he sets those lyrics to music. The books of Mr. Sondheim’s shows, which are always written by others, tend to be considered the weak link when compared to the score.
So, it is quite a reversal to see Sean Murray’s production of Company at Cygnet Theatre push the humor of George Furth’s book to the foreground. The result is the funniest Company imaginable, though perhaps made so at the expense of the music.
Company opened on Broadway in 1970 to mixed reviews. Mr. Furth’s book shouldered a lot of the blame, as it did not tell the story in a conventional way but rather via a series of vignettes that eventually link together thematically. But, the book won the Tony award, and there has more recently been a fair amount of reconsideration of its quality. So, focusing on the humor might not be a bad choice.
The story centers around Robert, aka “Bobby,” “Rob,” “Robbo,” and a number of other nicknames. Robert is a single New Yorker who has reached his 35th birthday. Not only has he never married but his friends are all married couples. The other single people in his life are women he is dating.
Bobby (Andrew Wells Ryder) is beloved by his friends, who frequently invite him to their homes. In these visits he gets a look at how marriage has affected couples he knows, and those glimpses only confirm for him the simultaneously “sorry/grateful” aspects of married life.
There’s Sarah (Melissa Fernandes) and Harry (Andrew Oswald), who are each desperately trying to avoid addictive substances (alcohol and rich food); Susan (Wendy Waddell) and Peter (Kürt Norby), who are divorcing but choosing to remain together with their children; Jenny (Athena Espinoza) and David (Andy Collins), a “Mad Men”-like mixture of worldly male and sheltered female; Amy (Eileen Bowman) and Paul (Matthew Naegeli), the couple who live together and are about to be married; and Joanne (Linda Libby) and Larry (David Kirk Grant), an older and more wealthy couple, each of whom has been married before.
Meanwhile, the women in Robert’s life are either friends or conquests. There’s Marta (Ashlee Mayer), a free spirit who doesn’t take Robert very seriously; April (Katie Walley), a flight attendant Robert would like to bed; and Kathy (Mary Joe Duggan), a former dating partner who is now moving out of New York to marry someone else.
Moving through the scope of his social life, Bobby never breaks a sweat. He’s a pleasantly neutral observer of his friends’ crazy behavior while mostly acting as a cad to the women in his life. He professes to want to be married, but he’s not particularly convincing and the women in his life know it.
Mr. Furth’s episodes of 70’s urban single and married life resonate humorously (though, the presence of a leisure suit in Jeanne Reith’s costume design moves the period five years or so ahead of the original), and under Mr. Murray’s tutelage the cast finds all of the humor in the script and then some. But, doing so relegates Mr. Sondheim’s songs to a secondary position, at least some of the time.
Perhaps that’s a strategic move, though, as some of the strongest singers in the Cygnet cast (Ms. Fernandes, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Norby) are playing roles that don’t give them much singing to do, other than to contribute to the excellent choral work. And, while Mr. Ryder succeeds in not breaking a sweat while playing a character that does the same, if you’re looking for a Bobby who shines in the singing department he is not your man. Moreover, on opening night, sound mix problems muted the effects of most of the Act 1 numbers, though Ms. Bowman almost stopped the show with her performance of “Getting Married Today.” [php snippet=1]The sound crew may well have fixed their problems during the intermission, as the Act 2 numbers went much better than those in Act 1. And in that act, Mr. Murray managed a cute homage to the 2006 Broadway revival, directed by John Doyle, by having Ms. Libby prance across the stage while playing a triangle (Mr. Doyle had his performers play instruments, and Ms. Libby’s character famously played the triangle in that production). Mr. Murray also staged one of the show’s big numbers, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” in a clever way that kept it from stalling the plot by stopping the show.
Given that the opening night sound problems might have been confined to that one performance, I hesitate to pass a negative judgment on the musical aspects of what was otherwise a well-considered and tightly directed production. If you’re a Sondheim fanatic who’s going primarily to hear the score sung, you may well be disappointed. On the other hand, you’re likely to spend a whole lot of the evening laughing, and that’s by no means a bad thing.
[box] Company performs through August 18 at Cygnet’s Old Town Theatre. The performance schedule is as follows:
Wednesday – 7:30pm
Thursday – 7:30pm
Friday – 8pm
Saturday – 3pm & 8pm
Sunday – 2pm & 7pm
Tickets are priced $34 – $59, with some discounts available. See the theatre listing below for box office number and website information.
Parking at the theatre is extremely limited, and Old Town is often crowded. Allow plenty of time to find parking before the show.