BWW Reviews: An Electrifying COMPANY Brilliantly Realized at Signature

COMPANY at Signature Theatre is electrifying and brilliant.

Director Eric Schaeffer has already made his mark with the works of Stephen Sondheim. His return to COMPANY - after 20 years - may well be considered among his finest directorial achievements.

First, Schaeffer has assembled an "A" team of musical theatre performers to make George Furth's book and Stephen Sondheim's score and lyrics their own. Lead by the charming performance and exemplary singing chops of Matthew Scott in the pivotal role of Robert ("Bobby, Robbie, Bobby-baby, Bubi"), COMPANY boasts quite a company and these first class singing-actors prove that style and effortless showmanship is alive and well. And you will hear some of the best singing you are likely to hear all season in this musical. During the opening number alone, "Company," the ensemble gave off white hot energy and nailed every note and harmony.

Schaeffer cast real married couples as several of the couples in Bobby's life. Sherri L. Edelen and Thomas Adrian Simpson are brittle Joanne and her long-suffering husband Larry. As the quirky couple Sarah and Harry - of the famous karate scene - we have Tracy Lynn Olivera and Evan Casey. And as the young yet uptight Jenny and her caring husband David, Erin Driscoll and James Gardiner spread their own personal marriage vibe.

The other members of the cast might not be married to each other, but they are every bit as talented, starting with Erin Weaver as the neurotic and marriage-phobic Amy, who delivers a crisply sardonic and hilarious "Getting Married Today." Paul Scanlan is her ever-patient groom-to-be Paul. Sandy Bainum and Bobby Smith round out the couples as Susan and her very open-minded husband Peter. (For the performance I saw, Amy Conley performed the sweetly Southern Susan.)

Those names alone make for a who's who of DC-theatre talent and here they are all in fine form. Here are just a handful of examples:

Watching Bobby Smith is like watching Fred Astaire, as he made Matthew Gardiner's choreography seemed improvisational. Tracy Lynn Olivera is one of the best listeners I have seen onstage ever; when you see her rapt attention when Robert speaks, for example, you believe he really is her best friend. Sheri L. Edelen, who is always memorable no matter the size of her role, makes Joanne her own, by combining withering sarcasm with open warmth. Edelen's rendering of the blazing "Ladies Who Lunch" is a not-to-be-missed moment.

The couples who make up Robert's circle of friends gather for what appears to be a surprise birthday celebration for his 35th. What we really see are moments from Robert's mind just before they arrive for his birthday. The scenes and musical numbers that follow make up Bobby's examination of where his life is and what it should be. In 1970, this was groundbreaking work by Furth and Sondheim; now, in 2013, it is still a mature piece that offers depth that eludes many musical theatre pieces.

Especially as performed by Matthew Scott, Robert Is all things to all people - he is the confidante, court jester, drinking buddy, dinner date, and much sought after third wheel to his coupled friends. He is also an eligible bachelor who has a way with women. Matthew Scott shows the audience the warmth and charm in the many faces of Robert; but he also is able to convey the fact that the person who knows Robert the least is himself. After revealing little by little throughout the famously plot-less musical, we see Robert come close to many key moments in his own life, yet they elude him. That is until, Robert's "To be or not to be" moment - after he has seen marriages grow, unravel, and just be, he takes center stage and pours out his soul in the anthem "Being Alive," a triumphant moment for Robert the character and Scott as a performer.

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Jeffrey Walker Jeff Walker teaches theatre arts in Northern Virginia. He is also an award-winning theatre critic. Currently he is a regular contributor to DC Theatre Scene and Broadway World's DC region. He also writes Stage Views, a regular column for the theatre reviews and views for the Culpeper Times. Jeff is also an experienced director and actor and has performed in musicals, Shakespeare, classics, operettas, and contemporary works.

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