Company,book by George Furth, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Julianne Boyd. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Ellen Harvey, Lawrence E. Street, Nora Schell, Jeannette Bayardelle, David Ludwig, Lauren Marcus, Kate Loprest, Aaron Tveit, Joseph Spieldenner, Rebecca Kuznick, Mara Davi, Paul Schaefer Jane Pfitsch, Peter Reardon; photo: Daniel Rader
"What do you get? I ask you, what do you get?"
Aaron Tveit, Lauren Marcus, Joseph Spieldenner; photo: Daniel Rader
Julianne Boyd is back. . .and she's in very good company; the musical, that is, "Company," the show that made a star out of Stephen Sondheim back in 1970, an inspiring shooting star that has never settled anywhere, still illuminating in its path those curious tales and more curious people who populate them, the characters in "Into the Woods," "Pacific Overtures," " Passion," "Follies" and more. This is her second time directing this electric musical in the Berkshires and she has outdone herself with this new production. She proves here, once again, that the musical with a message is her forte.
The message of this show, like the plot, is mercifully short; message: "Grow up while there's still time to be an adult." Plot: Bobby, turning 35, tries to avoid his surprise birthday party with his married couple friends while moving toward abandoning the parts of his life that are no longer rewarding, which could include his married friends themselves. As he relives certain points in his own life he becomes more and more resigned to the fact that he can't just wait for maturity, he has to pursue it.
Bobby is but a man, though, and apt to be led astray by one or another of his girlfriends if he's not careful, and careful he's not. A stewardess manages to manipulate him out of a day off. An aging multiple divorcee is able to twist him around her finger, and so she does it gladly. A young bride cannot decide between him and her fiance on her wedding day. Each story becomes its own little playlet contributing not so much to the show's "story" as it does to the texture of that tapestry known as New York City.
The score is a classic. Beautiful ballads, funky parody songs, productions numbers and a show-stopping star turn in act two are among the evening's best music and lyrics. Joanne (Ellen Harvey) sings the blues ballad "Ladies Who Lunch" in a loud, strident manner and rips out everyone's heart. She does the sardonic and sarcastic choruses in "The Little Things You Do Together" also. She is, to be specific, fabulous.
"Another Hundred People" is given a rousing rendition by Nora Schell. One of only three songs in the score not specifically written for the show and/or not carrying the relationships theme, Schell's delivery of the tune is so strong and wonderful I hope I can find another reason to hear her do it again. As April, the Stewardess, Mara Davi delivers one of the funniest performances on this or any other regional stage this season. In her duet with Bobby, "Barcelona," she is such a picture of mixed emotions that every word takes on a weird combination of sincerity and its opposite. Her scenes are hilarious, her facial expressions and her hand movements building a character that is almost unbelievably disastrously real.
Each of six couples who are close friends with the hero consists of uniquely talented actors who deliver highlights whenever they can. Jeannette Bayardelle is enormously funny performing her karate moves with her husband, the quiet foil who turns idiotically vengeful, played to perfection here by Lawrence E. Street.
Amy, played by Lauren Marcus, has the most difficult song to sing, its words that fly by being so very important to the storyline. She is a rare clown, one who can make us laugh and cry at the same time. As her husband-to-be Paul, Joseph Spieldenner holds his own beatifically while Jane Pfitsch exercises her operatic chops in the song to great effect. Her husband David, played by James Ludwig emerges as the second sanest member of Bobby's group of friends, but he displays quirks when necessary in a fine, old-school manner.
Mara Davi, Aaron Tveit; photo: Daniel Rader
Paul Schaeffer, Kate Loprest, Aaron Tveit, Nora Schell; photo: Daniel Rader
Peter and Susan (Paul Schaefer and Kate Loprest) present the odd-side of perfect bliss for Bobby and they do it in multiple ways. Schaefer plays the man with two entirely different sides to his life with a quiet, sane and silly sauciness. Loprest's southern belle is entirely believable in the most outrageous of situations. Kathy, the third girl-friend, is played with a degree of sanity not found in the others by Rebecca Kuznick whose simple clarity is much appreciated for without her we would be laughing too much.
Returning to Barrington Stage after ten years of growing success in the entertainment industry, Robert, the hero of sorts, is played by Aaron Tveit who may be remembered for his work in the musical, "Calvin Berger" in 2007. Tveit is young, handsome, slender and charming, a decent dancer and a good singer, a comedic actor who keeps us serious in this funny show about funny people. There is a strange quality to his work at times when Bobby is hurt or mentally injured we see and feel his pain rather than just witness the incident or hear the remark. He reacts to everything in this role better than anyone else I've seen play Bobby. In its short, two year run on Broadway I saw the show four times with both its male stars, Dean Jones and then Larry Kert. I saw the revival with Raul Esparza. I saw the revival with Boyd Gaines. I saw George Chakiris in Los Angeles. None of them ever brought this quiet understanding, or struggle for understanding that Tveit conveys in the role.
Two outstanding performances are given by Joanne and Larry (Ellen Harvey and Peter Reardon). Joanne's song, "The Ladies Who Lunch," was immortalized by its first singer, Elaine Stritch. It has since been delivered by a host of talented women, but Ellen Harvey's rendition on the Barrington stage was an electric shocker of pure tone and elegance. It is sung by a woman drunk on liquor, lust, and power. Harvey gives it everything. As her husband, Reardon plays with the utmost gentlemanly fervor. His speech about her underlying realities was the sixth moving moment in the play when tears welled up in my eyes. His portrayal of unselfish love was a thing of utter beauty.
The physical production is a very special one for this production. Kristen Robinson's elegant set lent itself perfectly to the variations within the writing of the show. Sara Jean Tosetti's costumes reeked of the 1970s but didn't place the show in any one period giving it a timelessness and a relevance it needed. Brian Tovar's lighting was effective and colorful and warm where warmth was needed. Ed Chapman's sound design was off-balance and we often lost voices we should have heard.
Julianne Boyd has outdone herself with this show. She has brought a late 20th century classic into new focus and opened up its characters' relationships with a keen eye for detail. I remember her earlier voyage into this show and it was shallow by comparison, but I didn't think it shallow then. This time around she has brought out every conceivable color that her cast can play. This is a triumph for her, especially with the very sweet and compelling choreography of Jeffrey Page making smooth transitions from scenes to movement and back. The show is truly seamless. Darren R. Cohen's nine musicians sound more like a full Broadway complement under the direction of Dan Pardo and their sound is appreciated in a show like this one.
I hear that Aaron Tveit's presence has almost sold out the show in advance, but if you can get a ticket, and you like a good musical play, you should see this if and while you can. I doubt there will ever be a better edition of "Company" found anywhere.
(l-r) Peter Reardon, Ellen Harvey, Aaron Tveit, Lauren Marcus, Joseph Spieldenner, Jeannette Bayardelle, Lawrence E. Street; photo: Daniel Rader
Company plays on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at Barrington Stage Company, Union Street, Pittsfield, MA through September 2. For tickets and information call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line at www.barringtonstageco.org.