Therry Theatre. The Arts Theatre. 10 Jun 2023, Matinee
Sondheim long has been favoured by a swathe of musical purists, each one seemingly more expert than the last.
He has been a landmark composer, delivering a style which has been springboard to assorted modern musicals writers.
Few would deny that he is hard to sing. There are “greats” whose greatness has soared with their exquisite mastery of his masterpieces.
None such, sadly, are evident in Therry’s latest offering - lest it be the orchestra. MD Rodney Hrvatin’s musicians there in the Arts’ pit are producing the most beautifully balanced, almost impeccable sound.
There are some pretty proficient renditions onstage, too, and the second act of the work significantly outshines the first.
But, there is only one really bring-the-house-down moment and it comes from the ever- classy Trish Hart as Joanne singing that wickedly wonderful The Ladies Who Lunch.
The musical, Company, tells of a group of rather anxious, highly-strung New Yorkers who are constantly evaluating the merits of being married or not married. The very engaging Jared Frost plays the principal character Bobby, who is not married but should be married and who wants to be married and goes through assorted girlfriends who would or should be married. The show kicks off as his friends gather around to surprise him on his 35th birthday and then it slopes away into vignettes about these friends as couples and characters. There are some quirky scenes, especially the competitive couple in a lather of one-upmanship with karate and dieting. It’s arguably the best performance cameo, delivered herein by Catherine Breugelmans and Sam Mannix, who is never to be forgotten for his performances in Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
George Furth wrote the book for Company and Sondheim the lyrics. When the show opened on Broadway in 1970, it scooped awards in all directions. It features songs which now are concert classics: Being Alive, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, Another Hundred People.
In the 2000s, directors have tried to take some of the gender cliche out of the show by changing Bobby to Bobbie. But the whole idea of this community of would-be match-making mates still has a seventies ring. The characters go on about being “squares”, for heaven’s sake. And they have a rather darling but ingenuous old-school dope smoking scene amusingly imparted here by Grace Frost and Ben Todd.
The high moments of this this production are product of the sense of enjoyment the performers impart in delivering their characters, and with some darned good American accents, too. Albeit there are moments of indecipherable lyrics, most importantly, there are some nice voices and harmonies, not to mention Frost himself in his final solos. Notable in a diligent and disciplined bunch are Sophie Stokes, Robin Schmelzkopf, Claire Birbeck, Cassidy Gaiter, and Emily Morris along with Ryan Ricci, Emily Fitzpatrick, and Daniel Fleming.
While one will always admire David Sinclair as a director, one feels the set he has designed for Company is just a bit cruel, with the cast endlessly clomping up and down and down and up three sets of New York brownstone stairs. The scenic panels, on the other hand, are terrific, as are the projections.
Only recent visitors to New York could justify some of the strange lighting frequently shedding shadows on the players from the knees down. It might be to hint at that scaffolding now swamping the sidewalks of dear old New York city and diminishing the reach of natural light.
One’s wish with Company would be to salvage the wonderful lead songs and make the plot less binary and, oh please, remove the endless blowing on the birthday cake. That ritual went out the window when Covid came in. It just makes one shudder now.
All this said, there is a lot to recommend. A blast of Sondheim presented with love and good sound on a winter’s night.
When: 10 to 17 Jun
Where: The Arts Theatre