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Keeping Good Company in Los Altos
Los Altos Stage Company

Also see Richard's reviews of The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures and 36 Stories by Sam Shepard


Jennifer Mitchell and Adam Cotugno
Sondheim is hard. His musicals are notoriously filled with challenging vocals and complex characters, depending on a savvy, sophisticated New York frame of mind that may be difficult for non-New Yorkers to portray. Company, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book devised by George Furth based on a collection of his one-act plays, is one of Sondheim's most successful Tony-winning shows, dating from 1970, although current productions are based on a revised version from the 1990s. Los Altos Stage Company tackles classic Sondheim as their season closer, and mostly succeeds, with entertaining staging and some outstanding performances.

The interconnected scenes depict Robert (Adam Cotugno) amid his married, or at least living together, friends, as they surprise him with a 35th birthday party and then try to get him into a relationship. There's Sarah (Melissa Reinertson) and Harry (Michael Rhone), who squabble and work it out with karate; Susan (Katherine Leyva) and Petey (Vanessa Alvarez), an affectionate lesbian duo; Jenny (Skye Violet Wilson) and David (Andy Rotchadl), married with children, committed but bored with their routine; live-ins Amy (Kristin Walter) and Paul (Aaron Vanderbeek), who hit a speed bump on their intended wedding day; and Joanne (Mary Gibboney) and Larry (Scott Stanley), the older couple in the group, but no wiser—this is Joanne's third husband. Add to the ensemble three of Robert's erstwhile girlfriends: dumb-as-toast stewardess April (Maureen O'Neill); small-town girl Kathy (Jennifer Mitchell); and city-loving, slightly vulgar Marta (Sheila Townsend).

Robert has scenes with each couple and every girlfriend at least once, revealing in episodic fashion his puzzlement over the nature of coupling, and the others' desire to see him "settle down." Every scene is also the occasion for a song detailing his dilemma or lack of understanding—"I just don't get it," he says: "What do you get?" Ultimately, he seems to discover something crucial about finding a partner, someone with whom to celebrate this journey through life.

Together, the LASC ensemble has a strong, beautiful vocal blend, nicely managing the complex harmonies and syncopation that are Sondheim's stock in trade. Cotugno starts off his many solos timidly, but finds his way more confidently in act two with "Side by Side" and "Being Alive." Rhone delivers a wistful and lovely rendition of "Sorry-Grateful," with assistance from Stanley and Rotchadl. Walter's hilarious version of "Getting Married Today" is great fun, and Townsend does an excellent job with "Another Hundred People," both of which require stellar vocal control.

Gibboney serves up a delicious rendering of "The Ladies Who Lunch," and the trio of girlfriends channel the Andrews sisters on "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." O'Neill enjoys one of the funnier scenes with Robert in his bedroom, showing off her skills on "Barcelona." Vocal director Sheila Townsend has coached her singers well.

In spite of some excellent singing and staging, the show overall feels slightly underwhelming and not as energetic as one would like. The stakes seem too low and Robert's travail and final discovery are hence not as meaningful and moving as they might be. Director Carol Fischer moves the show along briskly, but misses the New York sophistication and dry wit, and has made some conceptual choices that don't always work. Also, the decision not to mike performers means that occasionally we have trouble hearing the lyrics and, with Sondheim, that's disastrous.

Lighting by Jeff Swan is good at capturing mood and isolating stage areas for different locales. Katie O'Bryon's choreography is somewhat restrained, but includes some clever staging in order to move 14 bodies around smoothly. Bryan Hornbeck's set evokes gritty New York, with levels and inventive pull-outs, but doesn't read as upper middle-class—and all that dark grey weighs the set down. Costumes by Trish Files are spot-on for character and present an attractive palette of gem colors.

Quibbles aside, Sondheim fans will find much to enjoy in this production powered by some first-rate performances.

Company music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth, presented by Los Altos Stage Company, 97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos; through June 28, 2014. Tickets $18-$34, available at 650-941-0551 or at www.losaltosstage.org.


Photo: Joyce Goldschmid


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith



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