Review: ‘Company’ presented by Fredericktowne Players

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Company, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, is now playing at the JBK Theater at the Frederick Community College presented by the Fredericktowne Players. It was directed by Alex Prete and produced by Matt Kopp. This is Prete’s debut as a director, and he has created a fine production of a very complex musical.

Company by the Fredericktowne Players at JBK Theater. Photo by Peter Foiles.

Company was produced on Broadway for the first time in the 1970s. The theme of the plot is that we all need someone in our lives to make us feel alive, needed, and complete. Even with an occasional dated reference, the musical does not seem passé.  As a confirmed bachelor, Robert, or Bobby, (Rennes Carbraugh) confronts his 35th birthday still living alone and unable to have a long-term relationship, he also slowly realizes his married, or coupled, friends may lose freedom but are truly more fulfilled than he is. It is Sondheim at his best.

The music is not easy for the singers or the musicians. It is complex with a great deal of fast patter that must be sung clearly and in perfect tempo. The songs are quite memorable from the opening number, “Company,” to the powerful final “Being Alive.”

The story, plot, and characters also capture the feeling of New York City. As Marta (Aly Julian) performs, “Another Hundred People,” we can picture the throngs of New Yorkers hustling through their days but still trying to connect with each other.

There is lots of comedy as well from the wrestling match between Sarah (Jessica Graber) and Harry (Matt Kopp) while Joanne (Karen Harris) sings “The Little Things You Do Together” to Joanne’s satirically biting torch song, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

The success of the production, in the end, revolves around the performance of the actor who plays Robert. Carbraugh is able to transform this unaware bachelor who is willing to be the third wheel for all his friends into a person who is self-aware and on the threshold of making changes in his life. His rendition of “Being Alive” is right up there with the many wonderfully talented actors who have played the role. (Note: It is this writer’s favorite song from a musical.)  You will not be disappointed.

Harris had developed an interesting and earthy Joanne.  Her solo, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is always a highlight of the show, and her version is show-stopping.

Jessica Bay Graber and Matt Kopp in Company. Photo by Peter Foiles.

Another standout performance is Robin Samek as Amy. Amy is the manic girlfriend of Paul played by Matty Montes.  She has one of the most difficult songs in the musical, “Getting Married Today.” The song captures her mania, and the words are many and quickly sung. She grabs the audience and holds their attention throughout. Montes does a fine job countering her patter with a more heartfelt and much slower paced section dealing with his love of Amy and how excited he is about their impending wedding.

Kopp and Graber are very funny as Harry and Sarah who are constantly at odds with each other, always trying to one-up each other, until they are alone.  Then they transition to a couple very much in love and comfortable with each other.

Julian and Marta along with Jen Drake as Kathy and Natasja Handy as April do a brilliant job as Robert’s three girlfriends. Handy is lovingly ditzy as the jet-lagged stewardess while she sings “Barcelona.”

However, this is also a powerful musical for an ensemble cast. All the cast, which includes Mike Warshauer as Peter, Julia Donato as Susan, Rachel Allnutt as Jenny, and Billy Lewis as David (I loved their little pot smoking scene), and Don Plugge as Larry all help bring strength to this production with their strong harmonic singing and occasional dancing.

Hats off go to Music Director/Conductor Matthew Dohm. He leads a fairly full orchestra, more than you might usually see in community theater.  Also, a nod of appreciation goes to Kendall Sigman as choreographer.  She did not have a group of gypsies, but in the number “Side by Side,” Sigman gives them enough movement to keep the piece moving without making us aware that these dancers have limits to their dancing prowess.

Morgan Southwell has an interesting set design as the play goes from apartment to apartment, into a park and later to a restaurant.  She creates the visual effects needed and allows the action to flow.  Steve Knapp did the lights and helped create the many interesting visual effects.

Company is my favorite musical. Go to Frederick and catch this production. It will become one of your favorites as well.

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an Intermission.

Company plays through February 4, 2018, at the Jack B. Kussmaul Theater on the campus of Frederick Community College – 7932 Opossumtown Pike, Frederick, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.