Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by William Brown
Music Direction byTom Vendafreddo
Choreographed by Brook Clawson
At Writers Theatre, Glencoe
Writers Theatre first musical in their dazzling new space is a mixed bag
Company is one of my all-time favorite Broadway musicals – one I have seen many times – thus I have certain expectations about what makes the show work. Besides Sondheim’s brilliant score and lyrics, Company needs a strong cast of actor/singers, with the emphasis on singers able to navigate Sondheim’s smart, eloquent, and often difficult lyrics. Company is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday.
The 1970 groundbreaking Tony winning musical is a series of vignettes set around Bobby – a bachelor upon his 35th birthday as his five married or soon to be married couples try to woo him into marriage. The entire show happens in an instant as Bobby reminisces about marriage as he contemplates each couples martial status. Ultimately, he must decide if he is ready for marriage, ready for commitment. Will he attend his own surprise birthday party?
Filled with humor, biting commentary on both married life, commitment, and loneliness, Furth’s book covers nicely the single alternative that was rare in 1970 but now has a large population. We see Bobby (the fabulous Thom Miller) as the somewhat aloof, non-committal bachelor viewing the foibles and rewards of marriage verses freedom – of being alone verses living with someone you love. Bobby’s friends are on a quest to get him married; Bobby has a grip on bachelorhood.
From the opening movements in the title sing “Company,” we hear the chant “Bobby, Baby, Bubby” as he is being lured into marriage. The opening seems to drag on and becomes confusing (my guest never understood the “concept” due to the labored opening). Is Bobby going to open the door to his surprise party?
Along the way, Bobby views his friends quirks in “The Little Things You do Together,” “Sorry-Grateful,” and “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” each delivered with mixed results.
The cast does yeomen work in their couple-oriented comic sketches that are each paced a tad too slow, leaving some gaps. The tech folks at Writers Theatre are still getting acquainted with the space’s sound challenges. I was seated in the top, last row center, giving me a nice place to absorb the visuals and the show’s sounds. Unfortunately, at times spoken dialogue became hard to hear and at times the orchestra was too percussion dominated and at times the orchestra over powered (with volume) the singers. These are items that will improve as the run contiues, I assume.
The “Side by Side Side” dance number, choreographed by Brook Clawson, came off a tad clumsy on the thrust stage. It seemed under-rehearsed. “Another Hundred People,” a hauntingly powerful number and “Getting Married Today,” a funny patter song need a slower and better enunciated delivery, yet Lia Mortensen, a terrific actress doing her first musical, rendered a powerfully emotional “The Ladies Who Lunch” that brought down the house!
However, Company rests on the shoulders of Bobby, and I must state that Thom Miller played him with a proper detached and enigmatic turn just as the script necessitated. Miller has the good looks and the reserved smile that women find alluring. Miller’s strong vocals made “Someone is Waiting” and the pivotal “Mary Me a Little” his benchmark. Miller’s Bobby contains charm, comic aplomb, and a controlled distance from his married counterparts. “Being Alive” demonstrated Miller’s vocal acumen. This anthem made Company truly Bobby’s show!
This 1970 concept show contains a multilevel assortment of comments on marriage verses being single, commitment, freedom, and being alone. Musically and lyrically, Sondheim’s tunes are challenging yet this cast mostly delivered. While this mixed bag of a production will hopefully come together better as the run continues, it still has Stephen Sondheim’s exquisite score. Those of us who know and love the show will have mixed feelings about this production, those new to this brilliant show will experience the essence of Company. It is worth a look.
Date Reviewed: June 22, 2016
For more info checkout the company page at theatreinchicago.com
At Writers Theatre, 325 Tutor Court, Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $35 – $80, Tuesdays- Fridays at 7:30 pm, some Wednesday marines at 3 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission,through July 31, 2016