A Sondheim classic takes to the stage at Silhouette Stages in their spring presentation of the Tony Award-winning Company. Co-Directed by Debbie Mobley and Conni Ross, with Musical Direction provided by Michael Tan, this show is Sondheim’s first introduction to the concept musical. The master of the musical considered this to be more of a ‘revue’ show based on 11 one-act plays, but with George Furth, who wrote the book, he transformed this idea into a fluid, moving story of one man’s bachelor life and all of his comforting friends. Sondheim crafts waves of sound that resonate through the characters in the various musical numbers; moments like the end of the opening number where the cast sings only two notes — a perfect fourth — in two different octaves, creating a rich glorious sound. Sondheim’s musical genius is at play and Musical Director Michael Tan works incredibly hard to make sure every note has purpose, every song has energy, and every sound is pleasing in a glorious attempt to do justice to one of his earlier masterpieces.
Tan coaxes deep rich sounds from many of the cast – encouraging them to really project songs in their range and provides the cast with a professional, perfectly harmonious sound during ensemble numbers like “Company” and every time they sing their “Bobby” intros. Tan manages to guide smooth dulcet tones from the men, creating perfect four-part harmony during “Sorry- Grateful” and gets a dated but fun pop sound from the ladies during “You Could Drive A Person Crazy.” Doubling up as the performance pianist, Tan plays every note with soul and emotion – truly expressing his understanding of Sondheim’s vision.
The two non-musical directors, unfortunately, do not come together as cohesively as I hoped. Mobley and Ross’s casting choices are questionable, especially in the lead of Bobby (Ryan Geiger). While Geiger has a strong voice, well intoned and well ranged, his songs lack emotion and feeling. He sings with a hollow sound – exuding apathy like a virus. By the time he belts his Act I finale, he is miserable – but he’s made me so miserable with his lack of feeling. Geiger’s character, though suffering through what should be a midlife crisis, instead of coming off as apathetic and annoyed, simply comes off as dull and one-dimensional. Every expression is the same, his voice is practically monotone, and his attitude toward anything is virtually non-existent. Whether this is Geiger’s misinterpretation or poor unclear direction from Mobley and Ross it is hard to say, but it is unfortunate, detracting largely from the show.
Mobley and Ross continue their questionable line of decisions by employing the use of Choreographer Angela Stein only once throughout the production. There is only one burst of notable dancing, which happens at the beginning of Act II. And while Stein’s work here is impressive, I yearned for more.
There are, however, four wonderful performances in this production that manage to float and carry the show to a finish. We see real talent and expressive performing from these four actors, though never at the same time as their characters do not really clash or interact. Peter (Patrick Mason) has the voice of a subtle angel; sweet and clear while being heard above the others in the smaller ensemble numbers like “Sorry-Grateful” and “Have I Got A Girl For You.” During his scenes on his rooftop terrace Mason manages to exude a quirky fun level of awkward intimacy first with his wife Susan (Elizabeth Higbee) and then with Bobby. His confessions to Bobby are executed with perfect comic timing and are truly laughable.
The quirky characters are far from over after the encounters with Mason. April (Danielle Sherry) one of the ‘girlfriends’ is a bubbly little bimbo with very little occurring between the ears. Sherry drives the upbeat fun tempo of “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” and manages to make the trio shine like a laundry detergent commercial of the 50’s. Her scenes with Bobby are compelling as she tunnels into her character during her butterfly story, desperate to try and share a human connection with him. Sherry is another gem in this production, and I wish she would have been cast in a larger role.
The two most stunning and appreciated performances of the show come from Joanne (Conni Ross) and Amy (Ashley Gerhardt). These two women really stand their ground; own their vocal prowess and become one dynamic sensation with the characters. Ross is the boisterous old salt character, too old to be young and too young to be old. Her cynical and acerbic tongue is witty and well-timed, capturing the attention of the audience. Her rich rough sound brings sarcastic sass to “The Little Things You Do Together” with perfect articulation and annunciation. She runs away with the show in her performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch” belting that song with such fierce resentment and powerful feeling that she brings the house to thunderous applause.
Ashley Gerhardt is nothing short of sensational. She’s having fun with her character and it shows in her performance. The spastic little blonde girl who has cold feet the day of her wedding provides endless comical moments for the audience to enjoy. Gerhardt is pumped full of anxiety as she rapidly spitfires each verse of panicked breathless phrases, literally falling apart in a way that brings new meaning to pre-wedding jitters. Each verse is punctuated with a shriek of shocked surprise and her breakdown that follows the song is second to none. Gerhardt is a talented performer and breathes a fresh life into this show.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, plus one intermission.
Company plays through May 20, 2012 at Silhouette Stages at The Slayton House Theatre, located in the Wilde Lake Village Center – at 10400 Fox Cross Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.