Love and marriage go together, but not always, in the Fredericktowne Players’ new production of “Company,” Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy about what marriage means, and what it means to be married. This new iteration of the old favorite features some of Sondheim’s most ear-wormy songs, as well as laugh-out-loud performances from a fine cast.
Our story follows the purportedly confirmed bachelor Robert (Bobby) and his relationships with his very married set of friends. The orange and green patterned wallpaper of Bobby’s swank bachelor pad (set design courtesy of Morgan Southwell) locates the story in the 1970s, closer to the original Broadway production’s debut in 1970. The time period brings an air of fun and exploration to Bobby’s journey of romantic fulfillment, and his decision about whether or not to tie the knot.
Despite his avoidance of the ball and chain, the opening scene makes it clear that Bobby has surrounded himself with marriage. The show begins with Bobby’s “surprise” birthday party, thrown by his friends. Clever costuming quickly matches the different couples together as they flank him. As a lone figure in the middle, Bobby seems outnumbered.
…see “Company” and enjoy an evening of profoundly satisfying musical theatre.
Rennes Carbraugh brings depth and affability to the role of Bobby. In the same opening scene, after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake at the “surprise” party thrown by his friends, the character admits, “I didn’t wish for anything.” The admission points to the character’s passivity, a trait that in a lesser actor could make for a dull performance; in contrast, Carbraugh is sensitive and emotive even as he acts as an observer to the humorous function and dysfunction of his friends’ marriages. A solid vocalist, his rendition of “Marry Me a Little,” at the end of the first Act renders the character’s ambivalence nicely, as though he’s trying to talk himself into marriage.
After the opening birthday scene, the story moves swiftly through delightful set pieces showcasing the foibles of each married couple, as well as strong ensemble vocal performances. The cast’s rendition of “The Little Things You Do Together,” a treatise on the joys of wedlock may make you want to sing along. In-set in a scene that includes an increasingly ugly (and hilarious) husband-wife karate standoff, the song is perfectly wry and understated thanks to Karen Harris’s delivery as Joann, the sadder but wiser character of the group.
With music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, the energy never lags; small quiet scenes with punchy back-and-forths are interspersed with energizing vocal numbers. Alex Prete as the director allows the actors to shine, and Robin Samek as Amy deserves special mention for her hilarious vocal gymnastics in “Getting Married Today,” delivered as she frantically stares down her wedding day.
The cast holds their own against a live orchestra, helmed by Matthew Dohm, an ensemble that does a nice job picking out the swelling, bustling and soulful moments of the diverse score. The soundtrack pairs well with Steve Knapp’s impressively versatile lighting design, which creates mood with blushing blues and pinks, and uses spotlighting for both dramatic and comedic effect.
The show has too many charms to list here (though Natasja Handy, particularly delightful as Bobby’s sometimes girlfriend, April, would definitely be on the list). To experience them all, go see “Company” and enjoy an evening of profoundly satisfying musical theatre.
Running Time: About 2 1/2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: The production contains adult language and situations.
“Company” runs through Feb. 4th at the Jack B. Kussmaul Theater on the campus of Frederick Community College. For tickets or more information call 240/315-3855 or click here.