BWW Review: In Very Good COMPANY
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth, Originally Produced and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince, Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; Directed by Spiro Veloudos; Music Director, Catherine Stornetta; Choreography & Musical Staging by Rachel Bertone; Scenic Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design, Frank Meissner, Jr.; Sound Design, Andrew Duncan Will; Stage Combat Choreographer, J.T. Turner; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Kristin Loughry
CAST (in alphabetical order): John Ambrosino, Elise Arsenault, Leigh Barrett, Teresa Winner Blume, Adrianne Hick, Maria LaRossa, CarlA Martinez, Will McGarrahan, Davron S. Monroe, Tyler Simahk, Erica Spyres, Kerri Wilson, Todd Yard, Matthew Zahnzinger
Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos has a thing for the shows of Stephen Sondheim, arguably the greatest composer/lyricist of his generation. However, Veloudos is not just a fanboy. He has a long resumé of successfully staging Sondheim's musicals and has committed the Lyric Stage Company to produce one selection from the canon in each of five consecutive seasons. Following last year's Sondheim on Sondheim, Veloudos opens the 2016-2017 programming with Company, the ground-breaking concept musical which took home six (out of 14 nominations) Tony Awards in 1971, and also won for Best Revival of a Musical in 2007. Don't be surprised to find this modern makeover capturing some hardware when awards season rolls around in Boston next spring.
First and foremost, the ensemble is filled with a roster of talent that doesn't quit. Most of the cast will be familiar to Lyric Stage audiences, and the five artists making their debuts are welcome additions. John Ambrosino (Bobby) returns to play the leading man, a bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday in the company of his best friends, five couples (all but one married) who want to help him settle down and join their ranks. Each of the pairs shows Bobby a different view of marriage and the meaning of love, even as he tries to learn from his own unfulfilling relationships with three women. He claims that he's ready for commitment, as he tells Jenny (Teresa Winner Blume) and David (Todd Yard): "It's not like I'm avoiding marriage. It's avoiding me, if anything." However, in one of the musical highlights, the girlfriend trio of Kathy (Maria LaRossa), April (Adrianne Hick), and Marta (CarlA Martinez) weigh in with their contrasting opinion ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy").
As two of the newcomers, LaRossa and Hick make strong contributions. The latter shows a genuine flair for comedy in the role of the flighty flight attendant who Bobby brings home for the night, only to be flummoxed when she succumbs to his (not-so-sincere) plea to play hooky and stay ("Barcelona"). Hick's lovely singing is icing on the cake. While April and Bobby roll around under the covers, Kathy, the girl who got away, performs a free-spirited dance ("Tick-Tock") with emotional abandon. Martinez infuses her Puerto Rican character with spice and attitude, but has a little trouble with the intricate breathing and timing that Sondheim's music demands ("Another 100 People"). Kerri Wilson also impresses in her Lyric debut as Sara, a foodie trying to follow a strict diet and sublimating her frustration by beating up on her husband with her new karate skills.
Bobby visits each of the couples in turn, providing them all their moment in the spotlight. Harry (Davron Monroe), David (Yard), and Larry (Will McGarrahan) offer sound advice in Sondheim's bipolar "Sorry-Grateful," but the men are relegated to the background as Bobby examines what attracts him in each of his women friends ("Someone is Waiting"). While Bobby waffles on his commitment to commitment, Paul (Tyler Simahk) and Amy (Erica Spyres) face their wedding day, he with confidence and love, but she with uncertainty and the biggest case of nerves. "Getting Married Today" presents a tremendous vocal challenge, with rapid fire lyrics that must be sung clearly to mine their humor, and Spyres never misses a beat. Her facial expressions and body language convey Amy's fear and desperation, all while illuminating how hysterical (in both senses of the word) the situation feels. Meanwhile, as the wedding singer commenting on Amy's craziness, Blume's gorgeous soprano soars above the scene, and Paul blithely professes his devotion.
The penultimate musical number, and probably the best known in the show, thanks to Elaine Stritch, is "Ladies Who Lunch." It is a cynical anthem delivered by a tipsy Joanne (Leigh Barrett), the toughest cookie in the jar. While judging Bobby for being merely an observer of life, and middle-aged women who waste their lives on meaningless activities, she ultimately judges and criticizes herself the most harshly. In less than five minutes, Barrett crafts a character study that tells us everything we need to know about Joanne, acting the song with nuance to get at the pain and insecurity that dwell deep inside of her. And did I neglect to mention the voice? The emotional power hits you in the gut and resonates beyond the last note. "Rise! Rise! Rise!"
Barrett is a tough act to follow, but Ambrosino fittingly gets the eleven o'clock number and completes Bobby's journey, finally awakening to the realization that he needs to be in someone else's life as much as he needs to have someone in his. "Being Alive" encapsulates the message that Sondheim (who has never been married himself) has been playing with, building to this "aha!" moment when he tells us in the simplest terms what life is really about. Director Veloudos guides his leading man steadily through the vignettes with a flow that rarely stops, so it feels as if Bobby is experiencing the ups and downs of the other couples like riding a raft on a river. Parts of the ride are gentle, and parts are turbulent, but they all lead him to the waterfall. Once he takes the plunge, he can enjoy the pleasures that open up to him, and Ambrosino expresses that rebirth with every fiber.
Music Director Catherine Stornetta plays keyboards and fronts a seven-piece band, and the choreography and musical staging are by Rachel Bertone. With the story taking place in Bobby's head, their challenge is to bring it all out in the open. The measure of their success is the degree to which the musical numbers engage and enchant, while some of the book sections take a back seat. Janie E. Howland (scenic), Rafael Jaen (costume), Frank Meissner, Jr. (lighting), and Andrew Duncan Will (sound) combine for an effective, seamless design package and augment the updated feel of the production. Company opened on Broadway in 1970, but it has not lost its relevance. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said at this year's Tony Awards, "Love is love is love..."
Photo credit: Mark S. Howard (The Cast of Company)