Theater Review: “Company” at Signature Theatre

Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 masterpiece gets a stunning revival at Signature for the first time in 20 years.
The cast of Company serenades Bobby (Matthew Scott, center). Photograph by Scott Suchman.
The cast of Company serenades Bobby (Matthew Scott, center). Photograph by Scott Suchman.

If Stephen Sondheim’s
Company had debuted in the era of Twitter, it’s impossible not to imagine its 140-character
reviews being punctuated with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. Poor Robert, facing
the relentless sanctimony of the coupled-up every time he accepts an invitation to
dinner or misses an errant candle on his birthday cake. Poor Bobby, seeing nothing
but wedding photos and sonograms every time he logs into Facebook. What is a single
35-year-old man-child to do?

It’s hard to imagine a better way for Signature to showcase its strengths than with
this current revival, led by artistic director
Eric Schaeffer and featuring choreography by 29-year-old associate artistic director
Matthew Gardiner. The ensemble cast boasts an embarrassment of riches, including
Erin Weaver as the maniacally neurotic Amy,
Sherri L. Edelen as Joanne, and
Tracy Lynn
Olivera as Sarah, to mention just a few. As Robert,
Matthew Scott is charming but just slippery enough to convey the cyclical angst of the commitment-phobic.
As one character aptly puts it, he’s “a thing of beauty and a boy forever.”

Daniel Conway’s set is a geometric, perspective-tweaking grid of fluorescent lines and metal constructions,
upon which Robert’s friends gather to surprise him with a 35th birthday party and
cluck amongst themselves over why he’s still single. What they don’t realize, of course,
is that his life is the Rorschach ink blot in which they see their own specific desires.
Whether Bobby’s rolling spliffs for parents David (James Gardiner) and Jenny (Erin Driscoll), or tempting the abstemious Harry (Evan Casey) and Sarah (Olivera) with bourbon and brownies, he’s manifesting the vicarious way
they live through him and his not-so-gleeful promiscuity.

Schaeffer’s ensemble scenes are so strong (riddled always with the plaintive, ridiculously
catchy cries of “Bobby”) that you almost long for the dramatic interludes to be over
so the singing can begin again. Of particular note is
Carolyn Cole as Marta, whose delivery of the frantic “Another Hundred People” is nothing short
of spectacular. Among the perils of the terrific ensemble production is the fact that
you end up longing for more of everyone, particularly Weaver after her rapid-fire
“Getting Married Today,” and ditsy stewardess April (Madeline Botteri). Edelen’s big number, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” comes late in the show but threatens
to eclipse everything else with its furious, gin-soaked overtones of bitterness and
regret. The cast are buffeted by a superb nine-person orchestra led by conductor Jon Kalbfleisch, which further enhances the unselfconscious theatricality of it all.

If the show has one false note, it’s the gaudy photographs of New York City that appear
in frames above the set and look for all the world like the cover images on a
Sex and the City DVD box set. Otherwise, it’s hard to fault.
Frank Labovitz’s costumes are remarkably subtle, in muted shades of white and gray, and
Chris Lee’s lighting enhances scenes such as
Jamie Eacker’s dance solo, which otherwise might seem gratuitous. Robert’s lifestyle of henpecking
and cheap thrills might seem unfulfilling to him by the show’s conclusion, but it
sure is entertaining to observe, as his friends can absolutely testify.

Company
is at Signature Theatre through June 30. Running time is about two and a half hours,
including one intermission. Tickets ($30 to $87) are available via Signature’s website.

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