Normally, you’re drawn to Company, Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway musical about the ecstasies and aggravations of marriage, because of its cynical tang. From the bar fly bravado of “The Ladies Who Lunch” to the blithering brilliance of “Getting Married Today,” Company scorches with acidic wit.
There’s a lot of love and laughter in director Eric Schaeffer’s production and the amazing thing about it is that he does this without sacrificing the show’s signature cool. Daniel Conway’s set is sleek and suggests high-rises and ever-present scaffolding, while a row of flat screens across the back project crisp black and white portraits of the cast.
Costume designer Frank Labovitz clads the cast in “Mad Men”-inspired tight, shiny suits and sheaths (for the most part—like many designers, when faced with a curvy actress he regrettably resorts to dumpy mother of the bride garb) in white, black and silver—a motif reflected in the argentine lighting.
Love between friends, between lovers, between husbands and wives is examined through Mr. Sondheim’s wordsmithy lyrics and George Furth’s pointed vignettes in a way that is wildly funny and human rather than warm and gloppy. Maybe casting real-life married couples in most of the roles caused this unusual alchemy of head and heart, but whatever the reason, it works.
Bobby (the powerful Matthew Scott) is on the cusp of his 35th birthday and has been living the carefree bachelor life in New York to the hilt. As he reflects on his life and his commitment-phobia ways, his group of friends throws him a surprise party. Well, sort of a surprise party, since blabby Amy (Erin Weaver) spills the beans on voice mail.
The friends represent marriage at various ages and phases and are presented as a lively Greek chorus surrounding Bobby and commenting on his lonely lifestyle. Bundle of nerves Amy and steady Paul (Paul Scanlan) are living together and about to be marrieds; square Jenny (Erin Driscoll) and urbane Paul (James Gardiner) struggle with finding time for each other while raising a young family. Sarah (Tracy Lynn Olivera) and Harry (Evan Casey) are a power couple who constantly try to improve themselves with new hobbies and diets, while Susan (Sandy Bainum) and Peter (Bobby Smith) are more of a laid-back, former hippie twosome. Finally, there is Joanne (Sherri L. Edelen), a hard-drinking older divorcee who has seen it all, and her accepting husband Larry (Thomas Adrian Simpson).
Bobby observes the goings-on of his friends, beginning with the songs “Company” and “The Little Things You Do Together,” as if a terribly interested bystander. He tentatively wades into the dangerous waters of emotion starting with his asking Harry if he ever regrets being married. Harry’s answer, “Sorry-Grateful,” is the bittersweet essence of the paradoxes of matrimony and is sung with infinite tenderness and insight by Mr. Casey and the other husbands.
Robert also takes a look at his mad social whirl—his three steady dates Marta (Carolyn Cole), April (Madeline Botteri) and Kathy (Jamie Eacker), who lament his swinging bachelor stance with dreamy Andrews Sisters harmonies in “You Can Drive a Person Crazy.” The girlfriends get their moments in the spotlight, most dazzlingly with “Another Hundred People”—a nervy, jangly Valentine to the dirt and deliciousness of New York delivered with irrepressible joy by Miss Cole. Miss Botteri plays the airhead flight attendant April with wide-eyed sangfroid and displays enviable comic timing in perhaps one of the best morning-after songs ever, “Barcelona.”
Bobby starts to question his singlehood and opens his heart to the possibility of finding someone in the Act One closer “Marry Me A Little,” but he is in full-throttle “get me to the altar” mode by the finale, “Being Alive,” which pours all of Bobby’s fears about intimacy and the realization that life is nothing without it in one song delivered with pounding fury and anticipation by Mr. Scott.
Closes June 30, 2013
4200 Campbell Avenue
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25 – $100
Tuesdays thru Sundays
The lightness and litheness of this production of Company is marred only by a few missteps—most notably an interpretative dance performed by Jamie Eacker that is supposed to convey the difference between casual sex and making love but instead seems superfluous and awkward. There is also a mish-mash of eras and cultural references. The couples are doing the frug and talking about the war and the generation gap, but then there are lines about Prozac, modern clothes and attitude mixed in with the late 60’s-early 70s costumes and disco poses. And the less said about the dated exchange about homosexuality between Peter and Bobby, the better.
Mr. Schaeffer keeps the glossy urban sophistication and adult angst that makes Company one of Mr. Sondheim’s most beloved works, but also adds in elements of hope, heart and an upbeat appreciation for big city life. The result is an ebullient production that satisfies your need for genius snark without thumbing its nose at genuine feelings and generous emotion.
Company. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim . Book by George Furth . Directed by Eric Schaeffer . Featuring Matthew Scott, Sherri Edelen, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Evan Casey, Erin Driscoll, James Gardiner, Sandy Bainum, Bobby Smith, Erin Weaver, Paul Scanlan, Madeline Botteri, Carolyn Cole, and Jamie Eacker. Choreography: Matthew Gardiner . Music direction: Jon Kalbfleisch . Scenic Design: Daniel Conway . Costume Design: Frank Labovitz . Lighting Design: Chris Lee . Sound Design: Matt Rowe. Produced by Signature Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Company director Eric Schaeffer talks with Jeff Walker.
Charles Shubow . BroadwayWorld
John Stoltenberg . MagicTime!
Chuck Conconi . Washington Life
Jeffrey Walker . BroadwayWorld
Jordan Wright . Alexandria Times
Terry Teachout . Wall Street Journal
Jolene Munch Cardoza . Washington Examiner
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
Maggie Lawrence . Star Exponent
Bob Mondello . City Paper
Jeanne Theisman . Connection
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Theatre Gay . BrightestYoungThings
David Friscic . DCMetroTheaterArts
Elliot Lanes . MDTheatreGuide