BWW Review: Moonbox Productions Steps Up in Class With COMPANY
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth, Produced by Sharman Altshuler, Directed by Allison Olivia Choat, Music Directed by Dan Rodriguez, Choreographed by Rachel Bertone; Set Design, Dale Conklin; Lighting Design, Jeffrey E. Salzberg; Sound Design, Dan Costello; Costume Design, Susanne Miller; Stage Manager, Katherine Humbert; Props Master, Elizabeth Arnold; Assistant Stage Manager, Alexandra Jameson
CAST: Dave Carney, Leigh Barrett, Rick Sherburne, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Teresa Winner Blume, Matthew Zahnzinger, Anne Colpitts, Brian Bakofen, Catherine Lee Christie, Peter Mill, Shonna Cirone, Lisa Dempsey, Katie Clark, Megan Alicia
Performances through March 1 by Moonbox Productions at Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com, www.moonbox.org
Stephen Sondheim is a musical theatre sorcerer. How else can it be explained that a show, first produced in 1970, continues to connect with audiences who live in a world of social media, hooking up, and a greater than 50% divorce rate? Company explores many facets of friendship, love, commitment, and marriage through the eyes of one man, struggling to find his niche in the realm of personal relationships. It is a timeless, universal quest that resonates with anyone who has ever dated, married, or even just watched their friends pair off while standing on the sidelines. In other words...everyone.
Moonbox Productions steps up in class from the Plaza Theatre to the Roberts Studio Theatre for their first large scale musical comedy under the direction of Allison Olivia Choat, with choreography by Rachel Bertone, and Musical Director Dan Rodriguez at the keyboard in front of eight live musicians crammed onto an upstage platform. The fourteen-member cast is a mix of Moonbox veterans and newcomers, led by Dave Carney as the bachelor Bobby and Leigh Barrett as cynical Joanne (talk about casting against type). The show opens with Bobby being fêted at a "surprise" 35th birthday party by his married friends, five couples clamoring to share vicariously in his adventures of singlehood. In a series of non-linear vignettes, Bobby observes their relationships, juggles dates with a trio of women, and tries to gain insight into which status is the better deal.
Each of the couples in Choat's pairings seems well-matched, with Barrett and Rick Sherburne (Larry), Daniel Forest Sullivan (David) and Teresa Winner Blume (Jenny), Matthew Zahnzinger (Harry) and Anne Colpitts (Sarah), Brian Bakofen (Peter) and Catherine Lee Christie (Susan), and Peter Mill (Paul) and Shonna Cirone (Amy) portraying a variety of relationship styles. Harry and Sarah put Bobby in the middle of their competitive gamesmanship, driving him to ask the husband if he's ever sorry he got married. Sondheim's answer is the magnificent doublespeak "Sorry-Grateful," wryly sung by Zahnzinger, Sullivan, and Sherburne.
When Bobby visits with Peter and Susan, he is envious of their fabulous Manhattan apartment with a terrace that almost offers a view of the East River, as well as Susan's Southern grace and style. When he jokes that he'd like to be the first to know if Peter ever decides to leave Susan, they happily inform him that they're divorcing. An evening smoking pot with David and Jenny gives Bobby a window into the intimate way they know each other, leading him to announce that he's ready for a change in his life. Segue to his three girlfriends - Kathy (Lisa Dempsey), April (Katie Clark), and Marta (Megan Alicia) - singing his truth ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy") with outstanding three-part harmony.
Speaking of crazy, Amy flips out on the morning of her wedding to steady, mild-mannered Paul, recognizing that the ceremony is a "prehistoric ritual" ("Getting Married Today"). Cirone blends her character's manic panic with spot on comic delivery, even managing to catch a breath here and there, while Blume's classically trained soprano voice is radiant in her verses as the church soloist. Stunned and stung by Amy's change of heart, Paul's composure fails at last and Mill's face is a study in shock and sorrow. Once again, Bobby is a witness and misunderstands what he sees, going away with the idea that he just needs to be married to someone who shares his world view ("Marry Me a Little").
After spending much of the first act in denial ("It's not like I'm avoiding marriage, it's avoiding me"), Bobby is more focused on being alone and trying to remedy the situation in act two. During an extended scene with April ("Poor Baby," "Barcelona"), he travels an arc from bar to bedroom to uh-oh. Clark tugs the heartstrings when her not-too-bright character realizes that her feelings for Bobby are not reciprocal, and the highs and lows of their evening are beautifully interpreted in a balletic dance solo by Dempsey, underscored by the wives singing mournfully about his choices of women.
In contrast to the other women who fawn over Bobby, and the men who not-so-secretly envy his freedom, Joanne confronts him with his shortcomings before propositioning him. She has her own issues, self-esteem and drinking too much among them, but sees reality with her jaundiced eye. Sondheim gives Joanne the eleven o'clock number ("The Ladies Who Lunch"), arguably one of the best known songs in Company and previously owned by the inimitable Elaine Stritch. Eschewing imitation, Barrett's reading has multiple layers of emotion and a strong, assured vocal, ending with a plaintive exclamation to make it her own and a decided high point in the show.
Thanks to Sondheim's marvelous, complex score, the band's musicianship, and the terrific voices in the cast, nearly all of the high points come during the musical numbers. Despite the best efforts of the actors, the book sections feel dated and slow the momentum. However, Alicia knocks "Another Hundred People" out of the park, and the company has great energy in the opening montage and "What Would We Do Without You?" Carney is at his best in the spotlight in the ensemble songs, and he conveys sweetness and longing in the refrain of "Someone is Waiting." Unfortunately, he strains for the high notes at the end and his "Being Alive" lacks the necessary wallop for the finale.
Set Designer Dale Conklin uses angled, tiered platforms and minimal furnishings to suggest Bobby's place, the couples' apartments, a bar, and a club. Lighting Designer Jeffrey E. Salzberg adds color and accents, while Sound Designer Dan Costello provides details, such as traffic noise, ringing phones, and answering machine beeps and messages. The costumes designed by Susanne Miller are gently evocative of the 70s and suit the characters. Choat's staging and Bertone's choreography make the most of the larger Roberts space and have no problem filling the hall with the wondrous sounds of Sondheim and Company.
Photo credit: Sharman Altshuler (Cast of Moonbox Productions Company)