I keep saying (if you’ve read my previous reviews) that I am not a huge fan of garden variety musicals. Too much singing and dancing for no reason gives me a migraine. There are a few exceptions though. Sondheim. I love me some Sondheim. I performed in Merrily We Roll Along in college and I’ve been hooked ever since. I needed to see Company at Stillpointe Theatre.
Basic summary: Robert aka Bobby (Jason Hentrich) is a single man on the eve of his 35th birthday. All of his well-meaning couple friends throw him a surprise birthday party (who does this at 35?) only to push their married agenda on him. The couples include: sometime teetotaler Harriet (Allyssa Wellman Houde) and dieting Sarah (Caitlin Weaver); square Jenny (Madeline Belknap) and chill David (Kaya Vision); Southern Belle Susan (Valarie Perez-Schere) and her happily uncoupled Peter (Josh Schoff); runaway bride Amy (Karen Shantz) and sweet Paul (Christopher Allison); and calming Larry (Mason Catharini) and over the top Jo (Anne) (Timoth David Copney). All of them insist that Bobby hurry the fuck up and get married already. The play follows Bobby as he spends time with each couple and sees the cracks in their happily married façades. He is also dating three women: ditsy flight attendant April (Nina Kearin), free-spirited Marta (Amber Wood) and easy going Kathy (Christine Demuth). All of the women are wonderful but are any of them the one?
I could relate to Company. I’m a married BITR sister who has been boo’d up with the same man for almost 15 years. The song “Sorry-Grateful” summed up the situation I sometimes find myself in. Regretful/happy. Sorry/Grateful . Yaassss Sondheim lyrics! This is how marriage feels. Sometimes I’m sorry I got married, but I’m also extraordinarily grateful to have a partner to share my life with. It’s complicated. Also, I’ve never pushed marriage on my single friends. Get married if you want, I don’t care. But the couples in this play were plain ignorant. They had absolutely no chill and after a while even I was annoyed with them. The makings of a good production is when the audience is engaged. I was engaged enough to punch the couples in the mouth. Moving on.
First of all, the cast of Company looked like they were having fun. Their energy was infectious. There were a few stand out performances in this stacked cast. Caitlin Weaver as Sarah was lovely and over the top as she described beloved foods in an orgasmic way while on a diet. Her character made me smile. Jenny was delightful and expressive as the uptight, trying to smoke pot to be cool, half of her couple. The character Marta (Amber Wood) was easily the coolest single woman in Bobby’s life. Amber Wood played her with swagger and sarcasm. Marta was a person who lived intensively and Wood played her flawlessly. I wanted to hang out with this chick. Wood had a great set of pipes! Her powerful voice filled the room during the number “Another Hundred People.” The song “Getting married today” was one of my date’s favorite songs and I could see why. Karen Shatz performance as Amy was animated, hilarious, and oh so real. Bobby (Jason Hentrich) was best when he was introspective. Hentrich’s sweet and clear voice rang true in the song “Someone is waiting.” However, for most of the production I couldn’t connect with Bobby. The character felt really apathetic and I wasn’t clear if this was a character flaw of Bobby, the book, or a choice by the actor or director. What do you want Bobby?
Damn there were some beautiful harmonies in this production! Great acoustics in the space. The singing, dancing and music had me grinning randomly throughout the performance despite myself. I also enjoyed that the characters were flawed. This is not a musical where every damn person is cute and perfect. Together the ensemble was a powerhouse. However, some of the couples were not well matched in terms of their performances. Acting was better for some and singing for others. Some of the voices were uneven as solos or duets, but hey, we all have our strengths and weakness. Overall, the production was extremely well cast with a talented and diverse group of actors.
Stillpointe Theatre continues to shine technically in new and unique spaces in Baltimore and Company was no exception. Costume Designers (Danielle Robinette, Ryan Haase and Nick Staigerwald) did an admirable job dressing different body types and showcasing unique styles for such a large cast. Costumes were bright and character specific. Projections set the scene without being distracting. Kudos to Projection Designer Johnny Rogers for utilizing online dating profiles as a modern addition to the story. The set was simple and clean and consisted of sparse furnishing well situated in the space. I got the multi apartment vibe thanks to Set Designer Ryan Haase and Properties designer Anna Platis. Lighting was lit! Lighting designer Kateri Pelton did a straight forward job of using cool toned gels and ambient glow that set the tone for each scene in a subtle way. Musical director Ben Shaver (Piano/Keyboard), Stacey Antoine (Reeds), Cody Raum (Bass), Tanner Selby (Guitar/Keyboard 2) and Lisa Wood (Percussion) kept Sondheim’s music peppy yet grounded. Production Director Deirdre McAllister (doing double duty as the Choreographer) did a bang-up job on this production. The choreography was tight with simple yet animated steps. I didn’t feel like it was in your face “jazz hands” theater. The blocking filled the space and direction was specific and thoughtful. I did have one directorial note in Act 2. Act 1 was uptempo and interesting; however, Act 2 lacked the same energy and pacing. It seemed to go on forever. The songs shifted to a more melancholy tone and there was a lot of “air” in the scenes. The characters were lost somewhere in the music and the lyrics. Tightening up the pace a hair would have kept the story moving more efficiently.
Sondheim has a way of writing exactly how we think. The lyrics were honest, straight-forward, funny and raw. The music was rich with great tonal and emotional range. And George Furth’s book was the glue that kept the action moving. Stillpointe Theatre’s Company captured the essence of married life; the good, the bad and the dumb. Our love lives can be complex and the, music, lyrics and the book matched the rollercoaster ride and struck all the right “chords.” See what I did there? Stillpointe Theatre continues to be one of the premiere Baltimore theaters producing high quality, entertaining musical theater. Company is a great example of musical theater at its finest. The ultimate question in this production: Is it better to be single or married? To be honest they both suck. So do you boo. Do you.
Should I stay or should I go? Go now! It’s Sondheim people! Fun, sweet and candid, Stillpointe Theatre’s production of Company is a heartwarming show with a little bit of snark and a lot of soul. If you are part of a married or a long term happily coupled unit you will get this play. If you are a single he/she/them, you will cringe at how the pushy couples in the show remind you of the pushy couples in real life. Company is an enjoyable night at the theater full of strong voices, well-executed technical elements, layered lyrics and uptempo music. Kick, ball-chain your way over to Stillpointe Theatre before it closes! (Z)
Runs 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Now through Feb 2nd.