BWW Reviews: Rarely Produced COMPANY Sparkles at Crown City Theatre

By: Feb. 19, 2013
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Company/book by George Furth/ music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim/directed by Albert Alarr/Crown City Theatre/through March 31

In its 1970 Broadway incarnation Company with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth reinvented the Broadway musical. Based on a series of short plays, it was the first time a musical could boast a nonlinear plot interweaving the stories of 5 distinctive married couples, all friends of a central character named Bobby, still a bachelor at 35 and incapable of a relationship. Now at Crown City Theatre in NoHo, the rarely revived Company is receiving a handsomely mounted production through March 31.

Updated to present time, some of it works well, such as adding cell phones to the fast paced lifestyle of New York City. And, of course, the theme of needing someone to share your life with... is timeless. But...some of the scenes do not play as shocking or scintillating as they would have played in the 70s. Take, for example, the pot smoking scene - it was the naughty thing to do in the seventies. By today's standards, it's rather laughable and irrelevant. And...sexual confrontations no longer shock. The sexy bedroom, love-making between Bobby (Ben Rovner) and April (Emma Degerstedt) would have been risque and tintillating back then...also Peter's (Zeffin Quinn Hollis) unexpected homosexual advances toward Bobby or Joanne's (Sonja Alarr) attempted seduction of Bobby. Most infidelity/escapades have grown pretty run of the mill, so maybe it would have been better to just leave the time the 70s, where every spicy detail was an ideal fit. In spite of the universality of the message of love, Company really defines the progression from the 60s to the 70s.

What does work is Albert Alarr's fine pacing, John Todd's neat choreography, well accomplished by the cast in this somewhat small space...and the great casting with all sparkling, especially the women. Of the marrieds, Libby Baker is dependable Sarah, Amy Albert is Amy - just sublime! - Alarr a fiercely unhappy Joanne, who needs to be drunk to open up, Lena Gwendolyn Hill, a sweet Susan, and Beatrice Crosbie as Jenny. I cannot praise Albert enough who gives Amy such vulnerability and edge. Her "Not Getting Married" is tops. The singles are the beautiful Julia Black as the slick, sexy Marta, Katy O'Donnell as pretty but lackluster Kathy and Degerstedt, another standout as April. She really feels the pulse of this crazy, insecure character. The men are: James Calvert, excellent as the compromised Harry, Christopher Davis Carlisle supportive/sincere as Paul, Mike Hagiwara a complacent Larry, Jon Hand the resourceful David and Hollis just wonderful as Peter, who makes the sudden move on Bob. Last but hardly least, Rovner as Bob, despite his younger years - he's 27 playing 35, is such a fine actor that he makes it all work smoothly, especially Bobby's noncommital attitude toward relationships and living.

Praise to Jack Forrestel's functional set design with a nifty NYC skyline and to Tanya Apuya's fine costuming that makes everyone look their sophisticated best.

Company is not easy Sondheim; which of his musicals truly is? George Furth's brilliant book adds such dimension to all the characters' plights. Crown City Theatre meet the challenges squarely for the most part, and once again are to be lauded for their high level of consistency. Great to have musical director Bill Reilly at the piano for this show instead of a background soundtrack!

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