BWW Review: What Do You Get From Upstart Productions' COMPANY?
Manila, Philippines - Right after the opening night of Upstart Productions' staging of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical comedy Company, we found ourselves asking a similar question with what the central character, Bobby, has been trying to answer: "What do you get?"
For Bobby, he ponders the idea of marriage, after having witnessed what married life looks like, courtesy of his longtime married friends. In our case, we're trying to wrap our heads around what we just saw: a sloppy staging of one of our favorite Sondheim musicals. Despite that this production veers away from a more conventional staging, the outcome appears to be a superficial pageant of sorts, which lacks introspection.
Some degree of experimentation in staging a well-loved musical is always a welcome development, most especially if it's anchored on the intent of giving the audiences a fresher perspective. Director Topper Fabregas' bold decision to stage it like a theater-in-the-round proves to be the main culprit.
First, Joey Mendoza's set design does not work. A rectangular-shaped and slightly-elevated platform offers an entirely different effect as compared to a circular or curved stage. So, geometrically speaking, some scenes feel as if they're just being performed only for a selected section of the audience. Because audiences are scattered in all four corners, blocking scenes that have the entire cast on stage is of foremost concern. Even Nancy Crowe's unimaginative choreography and Meliton Roxas Jr.'s lighting design are incoherent with the design of the stage.
It seems to us the stage's primary function is two-fold: first, to provide more than enough space for the entire cast to sashay into the spotlight and, second, to accommodate the repetitive movement of the furniture. The furniture that adorns the stage are merely benches, which double as drawers to hide some of the props. All the more, by allowing the actors to take out props from these drawers, some scenes diminish into a purely hypothetical undertaking instead of a satisfying discussion about the challenges of getting married and staying married.
The saving grace of this show is the incredible-sounding orchestra led by conductor and musical director Rony Fortich. Company is one of Sondheim's best scores so it gives us so much joy to listen to the superb harmony of voices produced by this company of theater veterans such as Sweet Plantado-Tiongson (Sarah), Joel Trinidad (Harry), Cathy Azanza-Dy (Amy), Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Joanne), and Michael Williams (Larry).
Crowd-pleasing numbers such as "Not Getting Married Today" (hurdled nicely by Azanza-Dy, Bianca Lopez, and James Uy) and "Ladies Who Lunch" (sung will full power by Launchegco-Yulo) come out well delivered.
OJ Mariano (Bobby), on the other hand, also proves to be a good fit (vocally) for the role. But his take on Bobby is quite awkward, especially alongside his female scene partners, which is in contrast to his character's supposed suave and appeal towards his girlfriends.
This awkwardness is also seen among the actors portraying Bobby's married friends (some of them we think are either miscast or wrongly paired together), except for Plantado-Tiongson and Trinidad. The funny banter between their characters early on in the show is probably the most believable scene in this production.
What follows is one of the lesser-known songs in this musical. The song "Sorry - Grateful," performed with less fuss and more feels by Trinidad, Williams, and Chino Veguillas (David), hits the home run for us and becomes our favorite moment, albeit unexpected, in this whole production.
Sitting through this show is like falling into a rabbit hole. This is a sad observation if only because the musical is currently experiencing newfound affection in many audiences in other parts of the globe. This is, of course, a testament to the richness of Furth's book and Sondheim's music. In the West End, for example, the most recent revival of Company featured a female actor in the lead role and, because of its tremendous success, this particular production will hit Broadway next season.
First staged in 1970, the questions put forth by the show remain applicable, although maybe in a different context, after 50 years. How satisfying it would have been if this new production in Manila has grounded itself on these realities: that Bobby may never settle down but will still feel alright or that Bobby chooses to live a life that he pleases and not based on what the society expects him to be.
Photos: Jaypee Maristaza