Therry Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company” directed by David Sinclair is well crafted, with all areas of production – acting, singing, dancing, music, and overall design – cohesively coming together to produce a competent outcome.
Sondheim’s musicals are not for the faint hearted. There is often a ‘message’ simmering away not too far beneath the surface, which impacts the very nature of the song, dance, and dialogue. “Company” is no different, and although it focusses on the not-so-out-of-the-ordinary themes of marriage and relationships, it does so with a real sting that dares us to take a mirror to our own lives and examine the very nature of ‘company’ we each keep: what do we value in our friendships? how well do we know our friends? how well do we know ourselves? how much of ourselves should we preserve in a relationship? are we courageous enough to acutely explore our relationships? do we thrive on our companions, or do we just endure them? when has a relationship run its course? These are not inconsequential matters, and Sondheim meets them head on with razor-sharp dialogue and dramatic songs and music. In producing “Company”, the director’s challenge is to ensure their overall vision does not in any way diminish the show’s inherent grittiness and to avoid becoming bogged down in its gravitas. Sinclair mostly achieves this.
The central figure of “Company” is Robert (Bobby), who is celebrating his 35th birthday with his friends, who, unlike Bobby, are all married or in relationships. Bobby looks at each of the five couples, and wonders whether he wants to settle into a life of domesticated bliss and have what they have. Like the Curate’s egg, he observes that his friend’s relationships all have good and not-so-good aspects. Through a series of self-contained vignettes, the play explores each couple and exposes responses to the questions asked above.
Jared Frost gives his all to playing the lead role of ‘Bobby’. Frost gives him a hint of an aloofness that partially explains why he is not in a relationship. His Bobby appears to not deeply know or empathise with his friends, and this is exemplified when he uncomfortably walks off when ‘Paul’ confesses he may be attracted to Bobby. At the end of the musical, Bobby finally realizes he is ripe to share his life with someone – both the good and not-so-good bits. Frost has a strong clear voice and his performance of “Marry me a Little” was a highlight, as was his bedroom scene with ‘April’.
Catherine Breugelmans and Sam Mannix as play dieting foodie ‘Sarah’ and alcoholic ‘Harry’. Their stand-out and suitably exaggerated performances are first rate, and their comical fight scene is reminiscent of the pugilistic antics between Inspector Clouseau and Cato.
Not-so-perfect couple ‘Peter’ and ‘Susan’ are played by Ryan Ricci and Sophie Stokes with just the right amount of a ‘nouveau’ attitude to dealing with a crumbling relationship. Stokes was able to inject just enough wistfulness to expose the darker side of persistent individuality in relationships.
‘Jenny’ and ‘David’ are played by Grace Frost and Ben Todd, and their marijuana smoking scene with Bobby is humorous but sufficiently controlled so that it does not become gratuitously farcical. In conversation with Jenny and David about why he is still single, Bobby’s three current girlfriends ‘appear’ to him and explain their frustration with his reluctance to go to the next step. Emily Fitzpatrick, Claire Birbeck, and Cassidy Gaiter play the hapless girlfriends (‘Kathy’, ‘Marta’ and ‘April’), and the staging of their performance of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” was stingingly funny in a throwback to the style of the female singing trios of the 50s.
‘Amy’ (Emily Morris) and ‘Paul’ (Daniel Fleming) are about to get married, but it all comes to a grinding halt when Amy gets exceedingly cold feet and calls it off. Morris is excellent in playing the scene with both humour and sadness. It really is quite touching, in a preposterous way! Fleming’s performance is tinged with sadness amongst the unbelievability and funniness of it all. Nicely nuanced.
‘Joanne’ and ‘Larry’ are the most world-wise (and weary) of all of Bobby’s friends, and they are performed in style by the ultra-experienced Trish Hart and Robin Schmelzkopf. Hart plays cynicism well, while Schmelzkopf gives Larry and a lackadaisical manner. They work well together.
The singing throughout the show is mostly of a high standard. Some of the ensemble numbers are performed fabulously well (such as the opening “Company”, and “Getting Married Today”), while others lacked colour although they were sung technically well.
Rodney Hrvatin’s musical direction is tight, and the orchestra is well balanced. (Some numbers, such as “Another Hundred People” perhaps need instrumentation to more obviously support and colour the melody line. Sondheim’s music is challenging, ain’t it?!)
Linda Lawson’s choreography is excellent in design and mostly well executed by the ensemble. Some of Bobby’s musical numbers might have been moved more to underline his frustration, questioning and at times loneliness.
Director David Sinclair’s set design is very appealing, with a good use of levels, physical space, colour, and projections. He moves his cast (and stage crew) through and around it most thoughtfully. Tim Bates’ lighting design is also very effective, notwithstanding the usual problems of unwanted light spill on the downstage scrim.
Therry’s “Company” is a great contribution to this year’s season of community theatre musicals. The standard remains high.