REVIEW: Signature injects fresh life into Sondheim classic.
For anyone who loves Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” the Signature Theatre production will reinforce that emotion. And for those who don’t know this edgy musical that was considered to be one of the first to highlight adult themes about relationships, the Signature production masterfully directed by Eric Schaeffer will be an unexpected pleasure.
First produced on Broadway in 1970, “Company” tells the story of Bobby, an uptown New Yorker facing his 35th birthday who does not have company in his life because of his inability to commit. Although there are some dated aspects to the show, especially in the dance numbers and in the ’70s hair styles, it could be argued that commitment problems are something men grapple with in 2013.
Signature Theatre has a masterful record of producing Sondheim’s complex musicals and Schaeffer has assembled a talented cast that gives new meaning and energy to that treasure trove of “Company” songs that include “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Another Hundred People,” “Side by Side,” “Barcelona” and “Ladies Who Lunch.”
It doesn’t seem fair to single out any member of this outstanding cast, but Erin Weaver as the reluctant bride Amy, reaches show-stopping heights in her ownership of the rapid-fire, tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today.”
Sondheim, with the book by George Furth, takes the bachelor Bobby (Matthew Scott) to his surprise — although not really a surprise — birthday party with his uptown married friends. As they try to sell him on the importance of having someone in his life (company), they each reveal in one way or another that their relationships aren’t as wonderful as they contend. One of the couples is getting a divorce and one of the wives tries to seduce Bobby.
Scott effectively portrays Bobby with a bemused patience. There are casual women in his life, but he is content to keep these relationships from reaching a more serious level. Bobby seems to know himself and his needs, but he could learn a few lessons on love from his friends. No matter how dysfunctional the couples seem, they are in love and value the companionship marriage brings. There is a “she is not perfect, but I love her” attitude that is revelatory for Bobby. He is still alone at 35, but he has a smile of understanding on his face.
Daniel Conway’s angular, high-tech set highlighted by a series of television screens across the top helps set the appropriate New York scenes in shiny black. It’s an effective backdrop to Frank Labovitz’s fashionably smart monochromatic costumes in white and grey tones. Utilitarian pieces of furniture moved on set from time to time seem mostly irrelevant.
There isn’t, however, a wasted moment in this energetic production. The dance numbers choreographed by Matthew Gardiner may reflect a 1970s style, but they are effective and fun. And as usual, Signature veteran John Kalbeleisch’s musical direction is always respectful of Sondheim’s enormous talent.
“Company” continues through June 30 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, VA 22206, starting at $40, 703-573-SEAT and here.