Signature Theatre has outdone itself with its current production of Stephen Sondheim’s breakthrough musical Company. This musical of a modern man searching for commitment with the condition of having “no-strings attached,” set against the personal angst and foibles of his “happily married” circle of friends, has always been the quintessential urban musical replete with witty banter, highly stylized set and a pulsating, intricate, and varied score that captures the hectic and impersonal microcosms of this milieu. Characters who long for connectivity are propelled through Sondheim’s beautifully varied score and the vignettes interspersed throughout by playwright George Furth.
In this production, Director Eric Schaeffer and his team have offered us a Company that boldly presents a radical departure from past versions of this compelling show. Hope, humor, and immediacy are the hallmarks of this Company —-in contrast to past versions which accent the more negative aspects of city life. I have never laughed as hard as I have at the all-too-human contradictions of the human race as I have in this production. Director Schaeffer has brilliantly let the the pathos and loneliness of central character Bobby and the tension underlying the relationships of the other characters sizzle just below the surface so that the audience can be pulled in more immediately to the seemingly animated and humorous tone of the proceedings.
The book by Furth usually seems dated and stale –but not here; the songs and spoken scenes are fused seamlessly into one organic whole. The highly stylized sleek set design of ramps, catwalks and terrace levels are on display here –aided by marvelous rear video panel photographic projections of the characters (kudos to Set Designer Daniel Conway). The kinetic and fluid choreography by Matthew Gardiner is a knockout in all aspects especially the numbers “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Side by Side by Side.” Choreographer Gardiner serves up each number with a charming mixture of well-oiled regimentation coupled with a disarming air of nonchalance. Recent versions have not often included the sensuous dance solo “Tick-Tock” but it is,indeed, included here and danced beautifully by Jamie Eacker (Kathy). The married friends of Bobby are overtly set up as a singing Greek Chorus to the actions of Bobby and this works most effectively. The orchestrations by Jon Kalbfleisch, who conducts a nine-piece orchestra, are perfectly etched, timed and played with exquisite tone and musicianship. The Lighting Design by Chris Lee is stunning and atmospheric. The Sound Design by Matt Rowe is perfection.
Bobby, our cautious bachelor, often a nebulous cipher in other productions– is played with clarity and sensitivity by Matthew Scott of Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Sondheim on Sondheim. Scott knows how to move on stage with power and grace and he can sing up a storm; he is especially effective and beguiling in his solo numbers such as the evocative “Someone is Waiting,” the defensive ode to wanting it all “Marry Me a Little” and the closing anthem to life’s affirmation and pain “Being Alive,” At the show’s finale, as Scott sings full throttle “Mock me with praise, let me be used, vary my days,” Schaeffer pulls the rug out from under us and the seemingly hopeful proceedings and we feel the full anguish of a soul begging for release from his isolated freedom as Scott sings, “Somebody know me too much, Somebody know me too well, Somebody pull me up short and put me through hell.”
The entire ensemble cast of Bobby’s supposedly “happily married” friends are all uniformly excellent and Schaeffer has them often comment from the sidelines with their anecdotes and ripostes in a most amusing manner. Standouts are Tracy Lynn Olivera (Sarah), who has the requisite toughness and raw honesty in her portrayal to easily switch roles with Joanne (Sherri L. Edelen–another standout) if the need for such experimentation should ever arise! Edelen delivers a scathing and scorching rendition of the classic song attacking the indolent and smug “Ladies Who Lunch.” Evan Casey (Harry), James Gardiner (David), and Thomas Adrian Simpson (Larry) sing a mini-tutorial on the dualities of married life to Bobby in the gorgeous “Sorry-Grateful.” Carolyn Cole (Marta) delivers a disarming version of “Another Hundred People” that is, most refreshingly, not as predictably rushed as past versions I have heard. Madeline Botteri (April) eschews the usual portrayal of her character as the typical sex kitten and, instead, delivers a deliciously neurotic acting patter and a charming vocal delivery as she sings of having to leave Bobby’s bed for flight attendant duties in “Barcelona.”
In a cast of highlights and standouts, it is Erin Weaver (Amy) who “brings down the house” with audacious comic timing and acting in her portrayal of the nervous bride who may or may not be “Getting Married Today.” Weaver is so good that she reminded me of Carol Burnett doing one of her classic comedy sketches – to give any of the precise details of her portrayal away would be a severe injustice to any reader of this review so let me just say that seeing Weaver do this number is reason enough to see this show (aside from the fact that all aspects are all so originally conceived!).
I have seen eight other previous incarnations of this classic Sondheim musical and I never thought that I would ever see a production of this show that highlighted the hope and humor of the characters in such a boldly re-imagined manner – while still maintaing the stylized and sophisticated feel of this show. I cannot imagine ever seeing such a bold and radically re-conceived version of this show again in my lifetime. This is, indeed, a Company that will be talked about for years to come. If you are a Sondheim fanatic or you just want to feel pure theatrical bliss, do not miss this perfectly realized Company.
Running Time: Approximately two and one-half hours, with one fifteen- minute intermission.
Company plays through June 30, 2013 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. To purchase tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or order them online.