Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Inherit the Wind
Martin Fox takes on the role of Robert with boundless energy: he's every couple's rakish single friend, charming even when the burdens of keeping everyone young and fun (instead of just boring and married) become a crushing obligation. It's about wanting what you can't have, and desperately clinging to what you don't need anymore. Furth's urbane short stories are melded into a cohesive whole by Sondheim's witty restructuring, with great music and sometimes lacerating lyrics.
Everything's well in hand under the direction of Doug Finlayson, with an outstanding set by Peter and Margery Spack. Mr. Fox is backed-up on that sleek set by an excellent supporting cast, including Laurie McConnell as Joanne, singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" and making it her own. Meghan Baker's Sarah is very funny, tricked into rhapsodizing about all the fatty foods she can't eat, or posed fiercely to use karate on the semi-achoholic Harry, played by Phil Leveling, in one of the "Battling Bickersons" marriages that help make up this classic musical from 1970.
Comedy and comic songs gradually give way to a very taught and fraught struggle to go from youth to middle-age for five couples and their single friend. Whether the marrieds are all sucking the life out of Robert, or whether he's just making single life seem too attractive for their own good, depends on the couple and on Robert's own internal development from scene to sceneand how directly he's forced to confront himself. Things get so personal, and great ephemeral issues become so fearsome, that Company makes every other musical look like shtick.
Cole Gutman and Taylor Pietz are adorable as couple Peter and Susan, who have some great, unexpected confidences to reveal. Ms. Pietz (Jenny) is capable of being quite the stunning beauty, though she hides her light under a bushel this time, as a disarming Southern girl.
It's all about the grass that's always greener, whether coupled or "un," though when the young wives worry that Robert is living a lonely, loveless life ("Poor Baby"), we get a rueful laugh because (of course) the opposite is true. Three young women do great work as his serial lovers. As April, Bailey Reeves gets the "morning after" duet "Barcelona" with Robert, and it's just as lovely and conflicted as you'd hope. Melissa Gerth is heartbreaking as Kathy in an extremely awkward scene about getting married, and Samantha Irene (Marta) draws good laughs talking about what it means to be a real New Yorker.
As jittery bride Amy, Stephanie Long gets that impossible "Getting Married Today" song and does beautifully, while Matt Pentecost as Amy's groom-to-be Paul achieves a lot from a little, with simple small contributions to a life-changing discussion that make it all work perfectly.
Stark, romantic honesty is like the hidden pea in a shell-game here, turning up magically wherever you least expect it. The three walnut shells are Robert and whatever couple he happens to be spending the evening with. On any given night, revelations will emerge that are still shocking in this fresh, natural production. But in every case, somehow, love conquers alla phrase that's guaranteed to make Mr. Sondheim cringe, but one that still makes for great musical comedy.
Through July 3, 2016, at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave., at Big Bend Blvd. For more information visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity