Stephen Sondheim’s musicals have been a long standing tradition at Signature Theatre since its inception, so it is fitting that the 2012/2013 season at Signature ends with one of Sondheim’s best. Company premiered on Broadway 43 years ago and has had several revivals in NYC, including one where the actors played their own instruments. Signature Theatre’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer along with a cast and creative team of stellar talent has given us a Company revival that is more than worthy of continuing its journey after the Signature run concludes. The show presents a not so rosy look at marriage which is why some audiences don’t like it. For me it brings up the point that not every marriage is perfect and life is not all “puppies and rainbows” (phrase used by permission from my wife Jen Perry).
…straight forward and honest… needs to go on your run don’t walk list.
The story is told vignette style centering around Bobby (Matthew Scott), an unmarried man in his 30s who is dating three separate woman while the rest of his friends are already married. Each couple has its own set of quirks. We have Sarah and Harry (Tracy Lynn Olivera and Evan Casey) who are trying to diet and give up alcohol respectively. Sarah has taken up karate and when Bobby asks for a demonstration, let’s just say Harry does not fare very well. Next we have Susan and Peter (Sandy Bainum and Bobby Smith) who live in a NY high-rise complete with balcony. We find out later that the two have divorced but are still living together and are happier now than when they were married. Next are Jenny and David (Erin Driscoll and James Gardiner) who are happily married with kids. David knows his wife so well that even when the three are together smoking pot and Jenny seems to be enjoying herself, David knows she is only enjoying it for him. Next up is Amy and Paul (Erin Weaver and Paul Scanlan). Amy is what we would call a “bridezilla” on her wedding day while Paul is on “cloud 9.” At one point Amy has a huge meltdown and….. not saying anymore about this one. Last but not least we have Joanne and Larry (Sherri L. Edelen and Thomas Adrian Simpson). Joanne is just plain bitter after being married twice before and Larry knows how to deal with his wife perfectly. If this sounds like a soap opera to you, you’d be wrong; it’s more like real life.
Then there are the three women that Bobby is dating. There is April the airline stewardess (Madeline Bottari) who Bobby gets quite serious with the night before she flies to Barcelona. There’s also the loud and brash Marta (Carolyn Cole) and Kathy (Jamie Eacker) who Bobby meets for a quiet date in Central Park.
Now that you’ve met everyone let’s talk about the high powered talent on stage and there is no better place to start than with Matthew Scott as Bobby. His vocals on “Being Alive” and “Marry Me A Little” will make you feel total sympathy for his character and his acting is equally as heart wrenching. Real life couple Erin Driscoll and James Gardiner, are just so darn cute together onstage and Driscoll’s soprano on “Getting Married Today” is pitch perfect and wonderful to hear. Sandy Bainum and Bobby Smith actually make divorce funny (if such a thing is possible) and we get a glimpse of their tap skills in the “Side by Side by Side” number as well. Tracy Lynn Olivera and Evan Casey are always a joy to watch and I can only imagine what the practice sessions at home were like for that karate demo. Erin Weaver and Paul Scanlan bring humor and pathos at the same time to their characters with Weaver wowing us with the tongue twister section of “Getting Married Today.” Sherri L. Edelen and Thomas Adrian Simpson are just terriffic with Edelen totally nailing “The Ladies Who Lunch” and Simpson’s feature in “Sorry Grateful” with Casey and Gardiner top notch vocals as well was a definite highlight.
The trio of Bobby’s girlfriends blends nicely in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” but Carolyn Cole in “Another Hundred People” came off as a little too shrill vocally for my taste. On the other hand Madeline Bottari’s duet with Scott called “Barcelona” was another vocal highlight of the proceedings.
Daniel Conway’s set fills the stage of the Ark with multiple flat screen TVs to suggest location. There are moving platform units and hanging fixtures to suggest windows in NYC apartments. The video was co-designed by Rocco Disanti. Frank Labovitz’s costumes which feature almost no color except for Bobby’s pieces are making the statement that everyone is the same except for Bobby. Whether you agree with this is up to you but the concept works very well for the material. Chris Lee’s lighting pops when it needs to and then pulls back so as not to disrupt George Furth’s book scenes.
Musically this show sounds fantastic. Stephen Sondheim’s landmark score is played by nine great musicians under the direction of Jon Kalbfleisch. Add to this Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations and the music sounds as fresh as it did originally. Here are two random theatre geek facts for you. First off the set of orchestrations used in this production were first written for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of the show. There is also a small smattering from the Donmar Warehouse production in London. My point is the charts are all Jonathan Tunick and while some theatres do their own orchestra reductions with varying degrees of success, Signature is wise enough to use an existing set of orchestrations by the god of all orchestrators. Second random fact is that Company was the first show of Sondheim’s orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick. As you can tell we like to educate our readers besides entertain them.
Matthew Gardiner’s choreography crackles with energy especially in the title song and “What Would We Do Without You” and also with the restored “Tick Tock” dance feature, which has been chopped from previous revivals, we get a well danced solo turn from Jamie Eacker.
This is the best staging by Eric Schaeffer I have seen yet. He totally got it right. The dramatic points are not over schmaltzed or preachy and there is just enough comedy to lighten the mood when it needs it.
It is up to you to figure out why Bobby does not want to get married to his female companions. Maybe it’s because he is a closeted homosexual or is just afraid of commitment. Whatever you think I can tell you that Company at Signature Theatre presents the world of marriage as it should be presented, straight forward and honest. Complete with fine production elements, a groundbreaking score and book, and a cast that is second to none, Company is one that needs to go on your run don’t walk list. You might not agree with its views on marriage but that’s what makes for good theatre now doesn’t it.
Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Company plays through June 30th , 2013 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. To purchase tickets, call (703) 820-9771 or order them online.