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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep,
To Make you aware
Of being alive. . .
— from Bobby's big finale, "Being Alive."

It took the vision of director Harold Prince to shape George Furth's collection of one-act plays into something that would shatter the conventions of the plot driven musical. A show driven by a concept -- the struggle to connect and commit -- rather than a tightly knitted plot; songs that instead of moving the story forward, commented on its characters. That groundbreaking musical, Company, was composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim's first big success. It won 6 Tony Awards, and has been much revived and recorded and many Sondheim devotees have memorized every song and seen every production they could.

These Sondheimites and anyone who's never seen Company, will want to catch Julianne Boyd's spiffy production which opened last Friday at the Consolati Arts Center. As with previous revivals Ms. Boyd invests this one with her gift for capturing the original creative vision within her own always up-to-the minute perspective. She has assembled a talented and energetic team of performers. All do full justice to Sondheim's varied rhythms and the at once touching and funny lyrics and George Furth's vignettes about a group of New Yorkers determined to pull their thirty-five-year-old bachelor friend Bobby into their two-by-two Noah's Arc world.

Robert Bartley is a personable Bobby, who is understandably confused by his friends' double messages about marriage. Even as they tell him marriage is wonderful, they make him spectator to their own troubled relationships. No wonder Bobby can't gather the will to blow out the candles on the cake they present to him at his thirty-fifth birthday party.

From the overture with its insistent " Bobby, Bobby, Bobby baby, Bobby bubi, Robby, Robert darling . . ." coming out of Bobby's answering machine to Bobby's final move towards self-awareness with "Being Alive", his married and about to be married friends, as well as the three potential Miss Rights in his life emerge as fully rounded characters.

Kathryn Kendall epitomizes the funny-sad quality in everyone. Her Sarah knows how to throw a karate chop but not how to stick to her diet, just as her husband David (Larry Cahn) periodically forgets his pledge never to drink again. One of the show's comic highlights, a musical panic attack before an impending wedding, has Brandy Zarle as Amy deftly navigate hysteria and the impossible tempo of "Getting Married Today. "

The older couple, Joanne and Larry, are beautifully portrayed by Alison Bevan and David Brummel. The only disappointment about Ms. Bevan's on target "The Ladies Who Lunch" is that since she is seated very close to the musicians during this number, the instruments at times drown out the priceless lyrics. Since this space has no orchestra pit to avoid such problems, perhaps Ms. Boyd ought to consider moving the musicians to the rear of the stage for her next musical.

The look of the show is just specific enough to scream New York, but without being locked into a particular time. Becca Ayers, is a delight as Bobby's hip girl friend Marta. Her peppy rendition of the quintessential New York song, "Another Hundred People" makes it hard to believe that this number was almost dropped from the show. Erin Gilliland as another of Bobby's girl friends is deliciously dumb as April the dumb airline hostess who must leave his bed to fly to "Barcelona. "

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth hoped that Company would give the audience something to make them laugh all night and then stay awake the rest of the night thinking about it. Add to that weeks of humming the by now classic songs and fast forward to summer 2000 when Ms. Boyd and her energetic team have once again done exactly that.

Sondheim at CurtainUp
Saturday Night (Sondheim's never produced show, presented last season off-Broadway A Little Night Music (at Barrington Stage)
Marry Me A Little (popular on the regional circuit)
Putting It Together -- on Broadway, with Carol Burnett
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street a much heralded production in DC

Some Other Barrington Stage Musical Reviewed by CurtainUp
Mack & Mabel
A Little Night Music


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Starring (in alphabetical order): Becca Ayers, Robert Bartley, Alison Bevan, Pamela Bob, David Brummel, Larry Cahn, Michael J. Farina, Erin Gilliland, MaryleeGraffeo, Kathryn Kendall, Gary Lindemann, Christianne Tisdale, Brandy Zarle, Kurt Ziskie
Musical Director: Darren Cohen
Choreographer: Linda Cholodenko
Set Design: John Coyne
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Costume Design: Louisa Thompson
Sound Design: Jim van Bergen
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including 1 intermission
Barrington Stage at Consolati Performing Arts Center
Sheffield, MA (513) 528-8888
6/21/2000-7/16/2000; opening 6/24/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 6/24 performance

Musical Numbers Act One
Overture/ The Company
Company/ The Company
The Little Things You Do Together/ Joanne, Amy, Paul, Peter, Susan, Jenny, David, Larry
Sorry-Grateful/ Harry, David, Larry
You Could Drive a PersonCrazy/ April, Marta, Kathy
Have I Got A Girl For You /Husbands, Wives
Another Hundred People/ Marta
Getting Married Today /Woman, Amy, Paul, Guests
Marry Me a Little/ Husbands, Wives, Robert

Musical Numbers Act Two 
Side By Side By Side/ Robert, Husbands, Wives
Poor Baby/ Wives
Barcelona/Robert, April
The Ladies Who Lunch/Joanne
Being Alive/ Husbands, Wives, Robert

Background Notes
  • Company opened at Broadway's Alwin Theater in April of 1970, under the direction of Harold Prince.
  • Hailed as a landmark musical it was Sondheim's first big hit, running for a 706 performances and collecting six Tony Awards -- despite the somewhat cool review by the most influential critic of all, the then NYTimes Drama critic Clive Barnes. He admired Sondheim's "sweetly laconic cynicism" but found the overall too "eclectic" and "slick."
  • Contributing to the show's success: Boris Aronson's striking steel and plexiglass set which featured an elevator, the choreography of Michael Bennett and the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick.
  • Most people who saw the original remember Larry Kert )as the first Bobby -- though during the first couple of weeks the role was played by Dean Jones. Actually, the first choice for the part was film actor Tony Perkins who the show's creators felt would enhance and define the role.
  • Elaine Stritch recently reprised her show-stopping rendition of "Ladies Who Lunch" as part of a lively CD featured in our book store:
  • George Furth extracted the book from four of eleven short plays written in 1967, all based on people he knew. The role model for Bobby was Warren Beattie (currently very much married to actress Annete Benig). The marriage of Furth's script and Sondheim's music and lyrics was initially as difficult as some of the marriages that make up the "plot" of Company. According to Meryle Secrest's fascinating biography of Sondheim, Furth's writing was "antithetical to singing" which is why so much of the show comes across more as Brechtian commentary than a conventional musical book.
  • The last number, "Being Alive" was added during the show's Boston tryout, as an alternative to a devastatingly downbeat song about marriage being something to be avoided at all costs.
  • There have been numerous revivals and, during the 90s some revision, including the addition of the song "Marry Me a Little" for the 1995 Roundabout Theatre revival which featured Boyd Gaines. Though Gaines would seem a perfect Bobby (as anyone who saw last season's innovative musical, Contact can attest) and the new song was a lovely addition, this was not the show's best received production.
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