When Company hit the Broadway scene in 1970 it was groundbreaking for its time. The musical garnered 14 Tony nominations (a record finally broken in 2001 with 15 nominations for Mel Brooks’ The Producers) and ultimately won six. With a wonderful book by George Furth and music and lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, Company was one of the first musicals about contemporary adult relationships in a time of great social change in the country. Despite that, the conclusion is old-fashioned without being maudlin. The plot also does not follow a traditional linear path but rather jumps back and forth in a series of vignettes using the birthday party of the central character, Robert (Tom Burns), as the focal point.
With a Tony award-winning Broadway revival in 2007 and Neil Patrick Harris leading an all-star cast in a concert staging with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center in 2011, Company remains a beloved classic of the musical stage. The themes are as relevant today as they were in the 70s – love, relationships, commitment, loneliness, and connecting in a modern, big city world. The most sophisticated technology at the time was an answering machine that opens and ends the show.
… a delightful production with an amazingly talented cast.
Robert (aka Bob, Bobby, Bobby baby, Bobby booby) is at a turning point. It is his not-so-surprise 35th birthday party thrown by his friends – all couples who are married or about to be. He is still single and unable to commit to a serious relationship. Robert is the classic swinger, juggling not one but three girlfriends. He witnesses the pros and cons of marriage through his friends who are also an emotional safe haven – they support him, love him, envy him, rely on him, worry about him, are always trying to set him up and may even be secretly in love with him.
The couples are in different places in their marriages and Robert learns something from all of them. Harry (Shawn Doyle) and Sarah (Rikki Howie) are dealing with addictions – hers is food and his is booze. They comically act out their frustrations with each other in karate demonstrations Sarah has learned in class. As they freeze in awkward positions, Joanne (Shannon Wollman) enters the scene to sing the satirical “The Little Things You Do Together.” When Robert is alone with Harry, he asks if he regrets getting married. In “Sorry-Grateful,” Harry, joined by the other husbands, explains to Robert that it’s complicated.
While visiting the seemingly perfect couple, Peter (David Minges) and southern belle transplant, Susan (Dianna Waller), they cheerfully drop the bomb on Robert by announcing that they are getting divorced despite the fact that they adore each other. Robert later finds out why.
When Jenny (Jennifer Viets) and David (Troy Hopper) get stoned with Robert (who has supplied the pot) one evening, he learns another lesson. A square at heart, Jenny is going along with it only because she loves her husband.
Robert also discusses the women he is dating when pressed by Jenny about settling down. This introduces a marvelous trio of ladies – the self-professed dumb (but sweet) airline stewardess April (Amy Greco); the sensible Kathy (Lauren Everd) and perhaps the one who got away; and Marta (Sarah Ford Gorman) who loves New York City, warts and all, and shines later in “Another Hundred People.” But here the three ladies do a wonderfully choreographed and funny “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” about the frustrations of dating Robert.
Among the many standout performances is that of the lovely Molly Doyle as Amy. It is her wedding day and she is all nerves and jitters. She has many excuses including that she a Catholic and can’t go through with marrying Paul (Jim Baxter), a Jewish man, despite the fact that they have been living together for quite some time and he leaves love notes everywhere. Without missing a beat, Doyle sings the rapid-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” accompanied by some great physical comedy. As a counterpoint to the frantic Amy, a choir member (beautifully done by Jennifer Viets) sings a slow, hymn-like chorus as if she is standing in the church awaiting the bride and groom.
Amy Greco does a wonderful job as April, notably in the scene where she is babbling away while Robert seduces her by slowly undressing her. The morning after, April is trying to leave for her flight and Robert is trying to convince her to stay in “Barcelona.” When she finally relents, he doesn’t really seem quite happy with the result.
Joanne (Shannon Wollman) is the most mature of the ladies and most battled scarred emotionally. She is now on marriage number three and spends her time testing a very loving and patient husband (understudy Joey Hellman) who sees through it all. She is sharp-tongued, beautiful and strong. In the song so identified with the great Elaine Stritch, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” Wollman makes it her own with a powerhouse voice and emotional delivery that also hits all the right notes.
In the ensemble numbers, musical director and keyboardist Douglas Lawler has brought out the best of this cast. The voices blend beautifully, paired with sharp and clever choreography by Ernie Ritchley. This gives the show a big, Broadway feel and even includes a chorus line in “Side by Side by Side.”
Because of the size of the theater, the actors did not have microphones. At times, Tom Burns seems overpowered by the stronger voices in the company. He does better in his sweeter, more poignant solos such as “Someone is Waiting” and “Marry Me a Little.” We watch Robert slowly come to the realization that as imperfect and messy as sharing your life with one person may be, he’s ready to leave the safe harbor of his married friends and take a chance, culminating in the powerful “Being Alive.”
Designed by Moe Conn with lighting by Ed Lake, one set acts as the backdrop for all the action, whether it is the different apartments of the characters or a nightclub. The set and furniture have the retro and the more sophisticated look of the early 70s with a touch of deco by utilizing a monochromatic scheme of black, white and greys. A large cityscape of lower Manhattan commands the stage, acting as a picture window. (Hauntingly, the Twin Towers are prominent in the scene). Empty picture frames are scattered and skewed in a surreal manner on the walls – perhaps ready to be filled with memories if Robert would make the leap.
The entire production team, helmed by director Eric J. Potter, has risen to the complexities and challenges of mounting this sophisticated musical on Vagabond’s small stage. The result is a delightful production with an amazingly talented cast.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Company runs through November 17, 2013 at The Vagabond Players, 806 South Broadway in Baltimore, Maryland. For tickets call 410-563-9135, or purchase online.