Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona State University/Lyric Opera Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Sex with Strangers and Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company took Broadway by storm in 1970, winning seven Tony Awards and changing forever the look and feel of musicals. The material was adult oriented and contemporary, a big change from most shows that had come before, and it was a "concept" musical, a show where the theme is more important than the plot. In fact, Furth's book has almost a complete lack of coherent narrative in regards to Broadway convention. However, the combination of one of Sondheim's best scores and Furth's comical and even poignant vignettes tells a funny and ultimately moving story of a man reassessing his life. Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Theatre opens their 2015 season with a sensational production of this ground-breaking musical, featuring an excellent cast, superb direction from Toby Yatso and a stellar orchestra.

Company is composed of a series of short scenes, all set around 35-year-old Robert, who is afraid to get married. Surrounded by his best friends, a group of five married couples and three of the women he's dated, Robert takes a hard look at his relationships and lack of emotional commitments.

Yatso's production is smart and sharp, with a multi-level set that is used, for the most part, quite effectively throughout. While the college aged cast might not have the life experience of the characters they are portraying, and they may miss a few of the stingy humorous jabs in their delivery of the comical lines in Furth's book or the nuance of every intricate Sondheim lyric, they effectively form realistic married couples and a tight knit group of friends, wrinkles and all. They also do an exceptional job of delivering Sondheim's songs, with some of the best voices and harmonies you're likely to hear in the Valley.

As Robert, Alex Kunz is very good. He has the nonchalant demeanor of a man who doesn't care about commitment, and does nicely in the many scenes when he is mainly the on-looker to the events happening around him, with effective facial expressions and body language. His voice is clear and crisp, delivering beautiful versions of Robert's two big soaring ballads, "Marry Me a Little" and "Being Alive" yet is also just as good in the soul-searching solo "Someone is Waiting" and the humorous duet "Barcelona."

The female characters have the best scenes and songs and Yatso has found a good group of student actresses to bring these women vibrantly to life. The ones with the best material include Emilie Doering as the aloof, wealthy and sophisticated, yet somewhat isolated and vulnerable, Joanne, with Doering delivering a knock out version of "The Ladies Who Lunch," full of stinging cynicism; and Jennie Rhiner as the motherly and hilarious Sarah. Rhiner doesn't miss a beat in effectively delivering every one of her comic moments with relish and brings a deep sense of warmth and caring to the part. Also, Megan Moylan is a hoot as the fearful bride Amy, and Chelsea Chimilar is hilariously deadpan as the very dumb April.

Alex Crossland, Kaivan Mayelzadeh, and Titus Kautz deliver a stunning "Sorry-Grateful." Kautz's deep, rich voice resonates, as does his portrayal of Joanne's put-upon husband Larry, a character I've seen in numerous productions delivered more as a throw away part, but that's not the case here. Caitlin Dhuse and Lane Northcutt create a realistic couple who have made a big decision; Brielle Amrein is genuinely "square" as Jenny; while Drake Sherman is adorable and full of charm as Amy's fiancé Paul. Analise Rosario has the perfect demeanor and expressions for the hip and self-aware Marta, including delivering a very good version of "Another Hundred People," and Michael Madison Ottinger as Kathy dances up a storm during her "Tick-Tock" solo.

Sondheim's score has several numbers with overlapping lyrics, and the combination of Yatso's direction and Brian DeMaris' musical direction, with the outstanding vocal abilities of the cast, makes the end result appear almost effortless. The orchestra, made up entirely of students, is sensational, delivering a lush, clean and full sound that makes the songs soar. The orchestra alone is reason to see this production; it is exceptional. Choreographer Molly LaJoie uses the multi-level set, as well as some props, to add plenty of fun to the dance moves. Her decision to incorporate phones in "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and use the phone cords to accentuate the lyrics, is an excellent one. She also adds fun circus elements and moves that are well delivered by the whole cast in the act two opener "Side By Side By Side / What Would We Do Without You?" Alfredo Escarcega's fairly elaborate set design includes several playing levels, plus a small working elevator that is incorporated into a few scenes very well. The combination of the multiple color panels in the set and Daniel Davisson's lighting creates numerous pops of color throughout the mostly dark design, but also help delineate the various different locations. Costumes by Jacqueline Benard are fun throwbacks to the '70s.

Even though it is set solidly in the 1970s, Company is still as effective today as when it first premiered 45 years ago. With Sondheim's sophisticated, witty, and comical score and Furth's funny and moving dialogue, this analysis of marriage, relationships, and the importance of "company" is a classic of musical theatre, and ASU/LOT's production is exceptional.

Company at Arizona State University / Lyric Opera Theatre through October 4th, 2015, at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU School of Music, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased and information on upcoming productions can be found at

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Stage direction by Toby Yatso
Music direction by Brian DeMaris
Choreography by Molly Lajoie
Scenic Design: Alfredo Escarcega
Costume Design: Jacqueline Benard
Hair and Makeup: Sharon Jones
Lighting Design: Daniel Davisson
Sound Designer: Eric Backus
Stage Manager: Kate Leonard

Cast: Robert: Alex Kunz
Sarah: Jennie Rhiner
Harry: Alex Crossland
Susan: Caitlin Dhuse
Peter: Lane Northcutt
Jenny: Brielle Amrein
David: Kaivan Mayelzadeh
Amy: Megan Moylan
Paul: Drake Sherman
Joanne: Emilie Doering
Larry: Titus Kautz
Marta: Analise Rosario
Kathy: Michael Madison Ottinger
April: Chelsea Chimilar
Female Swing: Anissa Griego
Male Swing: Adam Sowards

Photo: ASU/Lyric Opera Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

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