At first, Company seems like an ideal show for Reprise! Given that the show has more than its fair share of stand-alone numbers, it seems the sort of thing that is tailor made for Reprise’s short rehearsal schedule and singing-over-production-values philosophy. Treated strictly on those terms, the current production is a mixed bag.
Some of the performers are absolute knock outs. The best is Jean Louisa Kelly, who has Sondheim’s fast-talking showstopper “Getting Married Today.” Kelly’s delivery as the frantic, terrified bride-to-be is just spot on. But what makes her performance particularly memorable is her work in the scene immediately following the song. Kelly maintains the tempo of the song in some her dialogue, which makes the song feel like it burst forth organically from Kelly’s character, rather than just being a delightful gift from the composer. Another winner in the show is Amy Pietz, who plays flighty stewardess April to comic perfection. And when Pietz sings, she keeps the comedy going while displaying a surprisingly rich singing voice.
Other performers could be special, but are hindered by awkward staging or musical direction. Nobody can deny Deborah Gibson’s powerful delivery of “Another Hundred People,” but the number is staged with Gibson standing on a balcony while another actor sits in half-light below her, stealing a good deal of the attention that should be totally on her. Christopher Sieber as Bobby has a huge, beautiful voice he really sets free on the final number, “Being Alive,” but he is undermined by musical director Gerald Sternbach, who manages to play the number both too fast and too slow.
A few performers completely misfire in their big numbers. Judith Light opens “The Ladies Who Lunch” with so much venom, she has nowhere to go after the first line. (And that number is also played much too fast.) Cady Huffman’s centerpiece is the second act dance number, “Tick-Tock.” Huffman’s high kicks and splits are impressive, but she delivers her upper-body choreography with an almost embarrassing lack of commitment. Huffman is, however, quite charming in the first act trio, “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” with Pietz and Gibson.
Considered as a Sondheim revue rather than an actual book musical, Reprise’s Company would earn mixed marks. But, of course, Company is a book musical. The story of a thirty-five-year-old commitment-phobe, his married friends, and his meaningless relationships has to be told or the production isn’t Company. And here, too, Reprise’s production has problems. First and foremost is the character of Bobby, the show’s protagonist. Christopher Sieber has absolutely no trouble conveying Bobby’s flaws; Sieber shows us Bobby’s superficiality, his ignorance, his coldness, his lack of feeling, even his fear. But what Sieber fails to connect with is anything good about Bobby. The show’s second act opens with a rather long number in which all of Bobby’s friends sing his praises; but given what we’ve seen in the first act, it’s very hard to understand what any of these people see in this loser.
Another problem the show has is its attempt at timelessness. The program says the play takes place “now,” and there are a few references to the present day (for instance, Bobby and his friends all have cell phones). But, apparently, nobody told this to choreographer Kay Cole, who came up with some lively dances that charmingly invoke the 1970s. Additionally, some of the women have hairstyles that also point to that era. Even some of the show’s staging, with cast members popping their heads out of doors, is reminiscent of “Laugh-In.” The combination of the two time periods is awkward. The production should give up on its attempts to modernize the show and instead revel in its datedness.
There is a lot of talent in Company. In addition to the performers already mentioned, Kevin Chamberlin and Anastasia Barzee do some wonderful comic work as a married couple experimenting with marijuana, and Richard Kline, who has very few lines to sing, sings them with a remarkably strong voice. But even with all of its good performances, this Company doesn’t quite come together.
Company runs through June 6, 2004 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. For tickets and information, click www.reprise.org.
Reprise! Broadway’s Best - Marcia Seligson, Producing Artistic Director; Jim Gardia, Managing Director - presents Company. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth. Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. Scenic Design Bradley Kaye; Costume Design Randy Gardell; Lighting Design Tom Ruzika; Sound Design Philip G. Allen; Associate Music Director Mary Ekler; Music Coordinator Joe Soldo; Technical Director Peter Falco; Casting Director Bruch H. Newberg, C.S.A; Production Stage Manager Jill Gold; Press Representative David Elzer/Demand PR; Company Manager Danny Feldman; General Manger Kelly Estrella. Produced by Marcia Seligson; Music Direction by Gerald Sternbach; Choreographed by Kay Cole; Directed by David Lee.