‘Company’ at Vagabond Players by Amanda Gunther

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Bobby. Bobby, baby. Bobby! Hear the phone ring, the door chime, and in comes the sensational Sondheim Tony Award-winning classic Company on stage at the Vagabond Players. Considered to be one of Sondheim’s more complex musicals, this 70’s musical about single life and married friends is a charming and exquisite night out to the theatre for the autumn season. Directed by Eric J. Potter with Musical Direction by Douglas Lawler, it’s sure to slide its way into your hearts and stay with you all year long.

(l to r) Larry (Roger Schulman) Joanne (Shannon Wollman) Paul (Jim Baxter) Amy (Molly Doyle) and Harry (Shawn Doyle). Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.
(l to r) Larry (Roger Schulman) Joanne (Shannon Wollman) Paul (Jim Baxter) Amy (Molly Doyle) and Harry (Shawn Doyle). Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

With a dashing New York City skyline that absorbs most of the background, Set Designer Moe Conn brings the hip and lively vibe of the times onto the stage in an upscale city apartment furnished with posh accessories. The neon sign baring the show’s title is a nice touch, a true homage to the 70’s style. Conn’s symbolic genius comes into play as well with all of the monochromatic picture frames tilted about sprawling over the walls. The frames are blank, reflecting the many opportunities in which our protagonist had to fill his life with companionship but always remained alone. Everything about Conn’s design suits the pacing and overall atmosphere of the show; a remarkable buzz in the air for this tricky piece of theatre.

Musical Director Douglas Lawler, who doubles as the show’s Keyboardist, brings his impressive ability to coax perfect harmonies and difficult rhythms out of this moderately sized cast. Lawler’s Keyboard playing is divine, his fingers quite nimble in plinking out the intricate rhythms created by Sondheim, particularly the little interludes between scenes. The keyboard sounds so delicate and graceful in his command during “Sorry-Graceful” that you would almost believe it were the fourth voice to the song. Lawler’s ability to balance sound so that the ensemble and soloists are never drowned out is another gift worth of praise, particularly for this space.

Director Eric J. Potter is a visionary when it comes to this musical, crafting impressive still-portraits in moments of action upon the stage. There are several times where Potter’s blocking and clever use of spatial alignment creates stunning imagery among the cast, like the striking vision of the wives that enclose Bobby during “Someone is Waiting” and again during “Poor Baby.” The final scene is another aesthetically pleasing creation by Potter which gives the musical an overall sense of accomplished completeness.

Potter’s focus for this show is the creation of the couples as characters. Each person has their own identity but the couples in a sense function as characters as well, allowing Bobby to stand out even more so as the lone single man in the show. Together Potter and Lawler create musical theatre brilliance that radiates plainly for all to see and hear; an amazing performance given by their cast that takes you along on a moving emotional journey as the story progresses.

In a single man’s life there will always be other women, in this case April (Amy Greco), Kathy (Lauren Everd), and Marta (Sarah Ford Gorman) are the closest Bobby (Tom Burns) gets to having romance. Greco has a gentle voice that duets sweetly with Burns for “Barcelona,” a rather touching yet quirky and tender song that shows a softer side of both characters. Everd, while having no solo, crafts one of the strongest emotional scenes with Burns during her moment in the park. It is a tragically beautiful moment of raw and intensely honest emotions coming from Burns, reflected back well by Everd.

Gorman steals the scene from the trio with her stunning rendition of “Another Hundred People”- a deeply moving and tremendously well-belted number about life whizzing by in New York City. Gorman’s voice, full and melodious, creates a sharp contrast to her coarse character, esoterically passionate about the city that never sleeps. She provides little snippets of comic relief and makes things particularly awkward for Bobby.

The ensemble as a whole is strong; fully passionate, particularly during the title number “Barcelona” and “Finale.” They create a sound of existence; of being alive and thriving, even when no one’s life is perfect. Their passionate enthusiasm for numbers like “Side By Side by Side” really keeps the show moving forward. A nod is well deserved to Choreographer Ernie Ritchey for that number, for while Company is not a dance heavy number, the fully flared and fashionably featured kick-line routine in that number is spectacular.

Another scene stealer of note is Amy (Molly Doyle). Her big musical debut comes during “Getting Married Today.” It’s Doyle’s body that is really captivating during this number as her nervous anxiety attack spreads from her frantic tapping foot right up through her desperate pleading eyes. Crawling all over the floor and flipping out, Doyle creates the single most laughable moment in the piece in this number, pattering through the lyrics at lightning speed. Her poor husband-to-be, Paul (Jim Baxter), has a warm voice that is heard in the off-beat pieces of various verses, and they harmonize well together.

This musical flows with many non-musical scenes, the well-developed characters carrying the emotional weight of these little moments so fluidly that you hardly notice the gaps in the singing. Characters like Sarah (Rikki Howie) and Harry (Shawn Doyle) with their struggling addictions and karate scene add levity and joy to Bobby’s life. Howie is edgy and a bit saucy while Doyle is much more complacent and goes with the flow in this scene. Another couple that comes to mind is Peter (David Minges) and Susan (Dianna Waller.) Burbling with awkwardly cheery energy— about their divorce nonetheless— they keep Bobby on his toes. Jenny (Jennifer Viets) and David (Troy Hopper) do so in a similar fashion with their ‘high’ scene; a well-rounded group of actors giving each little moment a life of its own to keep this show on its toes.

A personality that cannot go without mention is the snarky and suavely seductive Joanne (Shannon Wollman). Well crafted in her character’s creation, Wollman is fiercely present when rattling off her little zingers and playing down life from the spectacle that everyone wants to believe that it is. Her powerful voice is easily identifiable in the group numbers but she truly shines during her solo “The Ladies Who Lunch.” A vibrant and classier rendition of this song will be hard to find with her bitter emotions biting through the cleverly concealed lyrics; Wollman has a laser’s focus for this number and really knocks it out of the park.

 Bobby (Tom Burns) and April (Amy Greco). Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.
Bobby (Tom Burns) and April (Amy Greco). Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

As for Bobby (Tom Burns) it’s a bachelor’s life, even if it is lonely. Burns connects so fully to the character that you cannot help but empathize with him. There are awkward moments and funny moments, but mostly just bittersweet moments where your heart truly aches for his troubles, even if he downplays them. His voice is stunning and makes his solos truly stand out. “Someone Is Waiting” showcases a myriad of emotions not only on Burns’ face but in his voice, from daring to hope to still being apprehensive and uncertain; a remarkable performance. Burns reveals a vulnerable humanity during “Marry Me A Little” so fully swelled with emotional release. Burns has crafted the character of Bobby with such honest expressions, so present in every moment, with subtle nuances of emotional flavor that everyone finds a way to relate to his journey. His life is an emotional sea, perpetually churning and his struggles to dance through life without just moving through the motions makes his character choices deeply fulfilling.

Don’t miss Vagabond Players’ outstanding Company.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Company plays through November 17, 2013 at The Vagabond Players—806 South Broadway in Baltimore, Maryland. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.