by Macey Levin
There is a gem of a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company at Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson mainstage. Everything about it is virtual perfection from the set to the acting to the voices and especially the soaring, insightful score.
Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy in the 50’s; the music and lyrics for A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle and Do I Hear a Waltz? in the 60s. But the Age of Sondheim began in 1970 with Company.
The show, labelled a concept musical, was a groundbreaker. It eschewed the expected structure of exposition, conflict, crisis, climax and conclusion in favor of a series of related scenes each adding an element to the writer’s thematic ideas. In 2008 Thomas Hischak wrote in The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television: “The concept musical truly arrived with Company, a musical that managed to be palatable to audiences even as it broke just about every rule of musical comedy.”
Though the play takes place in the 1970’s it is obvious that things haven’t changed much, human beings being what they are. At its core the play is about marriage. Central character 35-year-old Bobby (Aaron Tveit) is single while his closest friends, five couples, are either married or about to be and they don’t understand why, at his age, he is still unwed. He professes to be ready to be married even in light of the fact that one of the couples is on their way to a divorce. We see Bobby interacting, even more than that, with three single women. All the friends serve as a sort of Greek chorus reflecting on Bobby’s actions and attitudes or commenting on the nature of marriage and relationships.
Bobby is a cipher who adapts to the personalities and thoughts of those around him. They project their attitudes onto him to help them make it through the evening. Sarah (Jeannette Bayardelle) is convinced to show off her karate expertise using her husband Harry (Lawrence Street) as her foil. Bobby congratulates them as they run through their several sets of moves knowing that neither one is very expert at what they’re doing. However, in his dalliance with the unmarried flight attendant April (Mara Davi) we see a more assertive Bobby, very much in control of the situation.
Joanne (Ellen Harvey) and Larry Peter Reardon,) the oldest couple, have a different tone about them in comparison to the others. Joanne has been married several times and is a depressive who drinks. Larry is a fun-loving, gentle man who adores his wife. It appears that if ever two people were meant not to be together it would be this couple, but they go on. Bobby tries to to stay out of their abraded relationship though Joanne insists on including him.
As compelling as the subject matter is, it is the music that drives the thematic elements of the show. And what music it is! Harry, David (James Ludwig) and Larry sing Sorry/Grateful a paean to the subconscious conflicts they have until “You’re always wondering what might have been/Then she walks in.” The song is wistful and accepting. The comic highlight of the score, and the production, is Amy’s (Lauren Marcus) Getting Married Today. The song embodies the fears and apprehensions of committing one’s life to another human being. Written as a high-speed patter she imagines telling the wedding guests to leave, “Go and cry/At another person’s wake.” Her panic is contrasted with Paul’s (Joseph Spieldenner) words of love and devotion.
Marta (Nora Schell,) one of the single women, sings Another Hundred People, a cynical look at Manhattan’s impersonal life style where…
It’s a city of strangers
Some come to work, some to play
A city of strangers
Some come to stare, some to stay
Some go away…
Joanne’s Ladies who Lunch is the only song in the score that is not fully about marriage; rather It is her observations about the superficial lives led by New York women… “Look into their eyes and you’ll see what they know:/ Everybody dies.” Ellen Harvey delivers this with power and a sense of drama.
The final number in the show is Bobby’s moving Being Alive, a further testimony about the requirements of love and marriage. It’s a song of “I want to, but I don’t want to because I’m afraid of what it will do to me.”
Somebody crowd me with love,
Somebody force me to care,
Somebody let me come through,
I’ll always be there
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive, being alive, being alive.
The acting, led by Tveit’s sensitive portrayal of Bobby’s confusion and understanding, is marvelous. All the characters ring true and their voices are more than outstanding. They work together as an ensemble, obviously enjoying themselves.
The production is intelligently and beautifully staged by BSC’s artistic director Julianne Boyd. She mines the wisdom and the fear inherent in the dynamics of a committed relationship. Her stage pictures, enhanced by the artistry of the set design by Kristen Robinson (when you enter the theatre your jaw will drop) which includes two curved staircases and several terrace-like playing areas, are vibrant and visually exciting.
Jeffrey Page’s choreography is electric, moving the 14-member cast through the various set levels and allowing the numbers to support the central ideas of the show. The orchestra, only nine strong, led by Dan Pardo, honors Sondheim’s musicality with strength and depth.
Brian Tovar’s lighting design accompanies the show’s mood shifts subtly and effectively. Though the show takes place in the 70’s, Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes are redolent of the era but still have a classic element to them.
This is a brilliant production of one the musical theatre’s finest works. Get there!
Company; Book by George Furth; Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick; Directed by Julianne Boyd; Choreography by Jeffrey Page; Music supervision by Darren R. Cohen; Music direction by Dan Pardo; Cast: Aaron Tveit (Robert) Kate Loprest (Susan) Paul Schaefer (Peter) Jeannette Bayardelle (Sarah) Lawrence Street (Harry) Lauren Marcus (Amy) Joseph Spieldenner (Paul) Ellen Harvey (Joanne) Peter Reardon (Larry) Jane Pfitsch (Jenny) James Ludwig (David) Mara Davi (April) Rebecca Kuznick (Kathy) Nora Schell (Marta); Scene design: Kristen Robinson; Costume design: Sara Jane Tosetti; Lighting design: Brian Tovar; Sound design: Ed Chapman; Hair and Wig Design: Liz Printz; Stage Manager: Renee Lutz; Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; 1 intermission; Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Main Stage, Union St., Pittsfield,, MA; From 8/10/17; opening 8/13/17; closing 9/2/17
For tickets call 413-236-8888 or online at www.barringtonstageco.org.