BWW Review: COMPANY Musically Examines the Benefits and Pitfalls of Marriage
The original production of COMPANY, with book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was among the first musicals to deal with adult themes and relationships and was nominated for a then-unheard-of and subsequent record-setting 14 Tony Awards and won six as well as five Drama Desk Awards. Originally entitled "Threes," its plot revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three very different girlfriends.
Unlike most book musicals which follow a clearly delineated plot, COMPANY is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby's 35th birthday. Over the course of a series of dinners, drinks, and even a wedding, his friends explain the pros and cons of taking on a spouse. Each couple wants to make their best friend, whom they call Robert during marriage discussions, believe he really needs to be married to be happy, although each of their marriages seems to have so many faults. Along the way, the habitually single Bobby is forced to question his adamant retention of bachelorhood during a hilarious array of interactions with each couple (while either being chased by or chasing each of the wives) during which he asks himself if it really does all boil down to it being better to have company all the time than being alone?The cast is led by the adorably cute Paul Luoma who shines as Bobby as he steps into the spotlight during each of his many songs, especially "Marry Me a Little" and "Being Alive." Luoma confesses he is a Sondheim fanatic and the dream role has always been at the top of his bucket list. In fact, every performer in the show basically told me the same thing abouT Loving playing one of their bucket list roles when I spoke to them at the post-performance opening night party. And trust me, the camaraderie of the cast is apparent in every scene, each celebrating their ability to deliver the difficult score with the joy and enthusiasm that makes Sondheim shows a standout when it comes to Broadway musicals. In the order of his visits, the five couples trying to persuade Bobby to marry are as Sarah and Harry (Suzanne Mayes and Craig Sherman) who are both fighting their addictions (she to food and he to alcohol) as well as bickering with each other while sneaking moments with the item they so covert. When the visit turns into an outrageously funny karate match, Bobby politely excuses himself to avoid being pulled into their ongoing power dispute. Susan and Peter (Amanda Greig and Spencer Johnson) seem to be the most open-minded of Bobby's friends, with both attempting to seduce Bobby together during their visit, then confessing they are divorcing for no apparent reason other than they believe they will be better together as single people. Bobby is shocked and taken aback by their flirtation, running out the door as soon as he can make his escape. Jenny and David (Devon Davidson and Brian O'Sullivan) are the most conservative couple, surprising Robert by agreeing to smoke pot with him during their visit to try and get Jenny to relax. Davidson is a riot as the new experience overtakes her, giving her a dry motor-mouth and the ability to finally swear like a sailor. The entire scene sent the audience into roars of laughter!
Amy and Paul (Amy Coles and Brayden Hade) are getting married soon, although the ditsy Amy is not all that ready to go through with the ceremony. Coles sings one of the show's signature songs "Getting Married Today" with the expertise required to make sure every fast-spoken/sung word can be understood by the audience, while communicating her varying emotions as the song unfolds. She even manages to look like her own wedding cake when she flops to the ground with her wedding dress billowing around her. When she finally tells Paul what is going on, he leaves, opening the door for Robert to tell Amy he loves her and proposes they marry. And of course, it is at the moment Amy realizes how much she really does love Paul and rushes off to marry him.Older couple Joanne and Larry (Janet Krajeski and Larry Gesling) have seen it all during their marriage yet still seem to be perfectly suited to each other. Of course, when Larry leaves the room, Joanne attempts to make plans with Robert to meet the next afternoon while Larry is at work. Of course, it will never happen but it's fun to watch their interest in each other build as the drinks flow. Krajeski is a marvel in the role, and told me she retired from the stage 14 years ago and only decided to audition for the role since it was the one on her bucket list she just had to play. And thank goodness she did, as her renditions of "The Little Things You Do Together" and "The Ladies Who Lunch" are highlights of the show, each celebrating the various ups and downs in all marriages. For me, a highlight of the show is always "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" with Bobby's three girlfriends, Stewardess April (Emilia Sotelo), conservative Kathy (Krystal Combs, whose "Tick Tock" dance was mesmerizing) and free-thinker Marta (Alicia Reynolds-Luoma), displaying their cute individuality while lamenting his inability to commit to any of them. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I am still singing parts of it days after seeing the show. The love scene between Bobby and April during "Barcelona" was sexy, lighthearted, and great fun to watch. Reynolds-Luoma commanded the stage during the rousing showstopper "Another Hundred People" while members of the cast moved about the stage around her. Over the years, I have seen many productions of the show, both good and bad, and am pleased to tell you the current production at the Morgan-Wixson in Santa Monica is by far the best one I have ever seen thanks to the brilliant direction and fabulous casting done by Kristin Towers-Rowles, herself a triple-threat performer who could no doubt shine in any of the musical's roles herself. The entire revival is perfect in all aspects including musical direction by Daniel Koh, the glorious 70s costumes designed by Michael Mullen, the fabulous multi-level New York-inspired set designed by William Wilday, evocative, attention-focusing lighting designed by Donny Jackson, and the fun choreography by Jaime Pierce, which all combine to make this the perfect introduction to Sondheim's body of work.
No doubt this production will be a hit with his fans as well as those seeing one of Sondheim's musicals for the first time. I encourage everyone to call and order your tickets soon as this incredible production is bound to sell out quickly once word gets out about its brilliance! COMPANY performances continue through April 1, 2017 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, CA 90405. Reserved seats are $28 or $23 for seniors/students and may be ordered by calling the theatre box office at 310-828-7519 or online at www.morgan-wixson.org.