Theater Review: “Company” at Signature Theatre
Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 masterpiece gets a stunning revival at Signature for the first time in 20 years.
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.