When you go downtown to the Mount Vernon area of Baltimore City, you might not immediately think of the Wilkes School on Park Avenue as a theatrical venue, especially with the Baltimore School for the Arts just around the corner. Stillpointe Theatre Company, however, quite handily finesses the architecture into a charming jewel box in which to present their rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical, Company.
Upon entrance, audience members are invited to partake of cocktails, which I find quite pleasant, or wine, which my companion enjoys. Then it’s upstairs to the staging space, a large room wherein a raised and curtained stage has become the backstage, the audience is on two sides of the polished wooden playing space and the orchestrette is opposite the stage/backstage, at the end of the room, tucked into an alcove.
There are a variety of chairs for seating, and the occasional table for the cocktails. I’m curious how lighting will be done, and there seems to be a screen pinned to the main curtain. It all looks a bit low-tech, and my anticipation builds. The opening and title number, “Company,” presents a cast of strong vocalists who offer visual variety and ooze warm-hearted charm.
In a move that tracks with the 2018 London revival of Company, Director Deirdre McAllister tinkers with casting, giving a millennial gleam to the sensibilities of a ‘70s show. It’s spot-on and seamless, and (as this was my first experience of the musical) I’m having a hard time imagining it otherwise. Projection Designer Johnny Rogers does a nice job of using standard tech to enhance the story, expand the set and provide nuance to a number of dramatic sequences. It’s nothing particularly fancy or esoteric, but it’s very effective, and really, that’s the point. Lighting is well executed, though perhaps uncomfortable from some angles, but production values overall deliver satisfactory results a level or two better than the basic equipment suggests.
The cast continues to impress me with emotion, connection, and delicious vocals. “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” is fun and “Getting Married Today” is brilliantly done. Musical Director Ben Shaver deserves both praise and congratulations, and I’m tickled by Deirdre McAllister’s choreography. However, I spend many moments of Act I (scene changes, mostly) wondering if I LIKE Stephen Sondheim or not. By intermission, I still haven’t decided.
Much of Sondheim’s work is grim, cynical, misogynistic and horrifying. Yes, the creator of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and A Little Night Music also wrote Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd and Assassins. Let’s offer as a given that his music is brilliant, his lyrics clever and his pacing unchallengeable. It’s his themes and relationships I question.
The dialogue by George Furth, who wrote the book for Company, is characterized by authentic characters, authentic conversations, and authentic relationships. Quite a bit of it’s funny. The humor and mood are augmented by physical non-verbal business that runs as an undercurrent throughout the performance.
Live musicians always delight me, and I’m particularly pleased with the work of guitarist Tanner Selby and flutist Stacey Antoine. The instrumentals balance nicely with vocals and the whole thing is a pleasure to the ears. Even the complicated number “Poor Baby,” which has every opportunity to hiccup, comes off smoothly and hilariously. Jason Hentrich as Bobby delivers a realistic, nearly likable archetype of a self-involved bachelor and nails his solos every time. Karen Shantz is solid as mid-meltdown Amy, Nina Kearin as April is marvelous, and as Jo(Anne), Timoth David Copney is stunning.
Well-delivered Sondheim is a work of art, and Stillpointe delivers well with Company. The Wilkes School is a fun, quirky space in which to do a show, and the entertainment value of this production is very high. The angsty vibe Company shares with Pippin and other ‘70s musical theatre seems uncomfortably contemporary, while Stillpointe’s custom adjustments and incorporation of supportive visuals put a fresh face on the show. While I still haven’t decided whether or not I like Sondheim, I find Stillpointe’s Company a conclusively satisfying theatrical experience.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one fifteen minute intermission.