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BWW Reviews: Broad Brook's COMPANY Leaves Us Sorry-Grateful, Regretful-Happy

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COMPANY
Theatre: Opera House Players
Location: Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main Street, Broad Brook, CT
Production: Book by George Furth, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Directed and Scenic Design by Paul DiProto; Lighting Design by Sharon FitzHenry; Costume Design by Moonyean Field; Choreography by Eddie Zitka. Through September 22; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $17-$21, visit www.operahouseplayers.org or call (860) 292-6068.

Can a swinging 1970 musical about a sexually liberated Manhattanite wrestling with an early midlife crisis feel right at home surrounded by the rustic charm of the Broad Brook Opera House? Absolutely! Does the Opera House Players' revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company capture the groundbreaking zing of a show that dared to explore the unstable marriages, drug use, neuroses and sexuality of Broadway's target demographic? Not really. Does this make for bad theatre? Not at all. Is it great? It has its moments. I urge you to go and consider it yourself.

There is not much of a plot to Company. All of Bobby's married friends are planning to surprise him for his 35th birthday party. Instead of being a joyous occasion, Bobby is confronted by his friends' desire to see him happily married while their own marriages are in fluctuating states of disarray. Juggling three girlfriends of his own, Bobby must decide if he is ready to settle down or if he is just settling.

Running now through September 22, the Opera House Players' Company wrestles with the inherent difficulty of the seemingly dated material. Some of the elements that made the show daring in the early 70s, hardly seem shocking now. References to "The Generation Gap," sexy stewardesses and the Seagrams Building ground the play's sensibilities firmly in its period. The costumes, coordinated by Moonyean Field, feel fairly contemporary and the clunky choreography by Eddie Zitka executed by a cast of disparate abilities does not lend itself to a period feel.

Surprisingly, Company is still dead-on in examining the perversity, pleasure, advantages and drawbacks of the married state. With the national turmoil surrounding the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, it is a delight to be reminded that straight marriage sometimes needs to be defended from itself.

Bobby, the emotional center of the show, is a tricky role. Mainly he exists to react to his friends' marriages and struggle with his own colorful paramours. If underplayed, Bobby can seem to be a cypher or, worse, colorless. If overplayed, he becomes less of the mirror that he reflects back his friends' insecurities. Steve Wandzy makes his Bobby an affable, likeable guy. The result, one can understand why his friends would want to see him settled and why the ladies would love him.

The only drawback, primarily in the first act, is that little seems to be at stake for Wandzy's Bobby. He doesn't seem particularly tormented by his bachelor state. When his beatnik girlfriend compares him to a clenched anus, it's difficult to agree. In the second act, he settles more deeply into the character's challenges. Wandzy has a variable voice that ranges from charming to off-key. As both acts climax with Bobby's big arias, this leads to a bit of an anti-climax.

Similarly, the supporting cast fluctuates in quality of performance and vocal ability. Stephen Sondheim is really, really difficult to sing. Fortunately, this cast has some very strong singers on the boards. Nicole Giguere as Sarah and Sue Dziura as Amy both nail their respective parts and songs. Kathi Such renders a powerfully bilious Joanne with her 11 o'clock scene and number "The Ladies Who Lunch." Unfortunately, Such misses some of the comic notes in the early goings that make Joanne an acidic, wry audience favorite. Becky Rodia Schoenfeld is a dippy delight as a stewardess who literally uses Bobby as a layover.

The men are not quite as distinguished musically. This is partially because Sondheim has given the best songs to Bobby and the ladies. Although uniformly well-sung, Shaun O'Keefe stands out with a killer singing voice, only briefly spotlighted in "Getting Married Today." The men in the cast tend to excel in the dramatic and comic non-musical scenes, of which Company has many.

The direction by Paul DiProto `is mainly solid, but does contain a few missteps. Keeping the company of Company off-stage for much of the show's opening leaves the audience watching Bobby Listen for a little too long. DiProto is perhaps too restrained when the show demands a looseness and toothless when the show requires more bite. The tepid orchestrations played by a 4-piece ensemble takes some of the tooth out of the show, as well.

All in all, anytime Company comes calling, it is best to welcome it. With two more weeks of performances, hopefully the cast and crew will tighten things up and rural Broad Brook will be swinging like 1970s Manhattan.

The company of Company. Photo courtesy of the Opera House Players.


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From This Author Jacques Lamarre

Jacques Lamarre has worked in theatre for over 20 years. As a Public Relations/Marketing professional, he held positions at Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks Hartford and Yale (read more...)