Company
O'Reilly Theater

Also see Ann's review of Wicked



Stephen Sondheim, welcome back to the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. It's been a long wait, since A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum played at the (old) Hazlett Theatre in 1998—my first Public Theater show and I think producing artistic director Ted Pappas' third season. Pappas has chosen Company, which Sondheim wrote with George Furth, for his named Masterpiece Season, and the show and its dynamic score fit that theme well. The director, his cast and staff provide a tight, well paced and focused presentation.

Company is very "New York," but its main theme of, put simply, living single vs. being married, is universal. As it has been since it was first presented in 1970, the setting is described in the program as Manhattan, Now. In this production, there are cell phones and no answering machines, present day costuming but some Shindig-era choreography. Bits of the dialogue and lyrics, and some of the attitudes, are more 1970 than 2014. But that makes you sit back and realize that what we're seeing —someone trying to decide if he's ready (or ever will be ready) to commit to being with one person for the rest of his life—is kind of timeless. And so is imperfect marriage, which we see through five sets of coupled friends. It still works.

The challenge of fitting a show with a lot of group numbers to a small thrust stage is met and overcome (once more). Two staircases bank a second level balcony which is used efficiently and extends the playing area. Behind that balcony is a wall of wooden slats, arranged in rectangles like pallets, horizontally and vertically. Set design by the maestro, James Noone. The wall is used for video projections (Larry Shea) that most often show the frantic and bustling city of Manhattan; the projections being broken up by the varying surfaces allows this to work very well without being too distracting. However, projections of the faces of the women referenced in the song "Someone Is Waiting" are slightly unnerving, and a bit reminiscent of the Brady Bunch tic-tac-toe title screen.

Our single man Robert is played by Jim Stanek, with boyish looks and an anxiousness that shows how serious he feels his dilemma to be. His "Being Alive" is heartfelt. Robert's good and crazy friends are well cast (though one couple may convey an age issue which isn't in the script), with standouts Daina Michelle Griffith and Daniel Krell as the pot-smoking Jenny and David; and Nancy Anderson and Benjamin Howes as karate-fighting Sarah and Harry. Griffith extends her range once again, and Nancy Anderson is almost too good, holding the bar high. As Joanne, Judy Blazer is gorgeous (thank you costume designer Martha Bromelmeier for the stunning black cocktail dress) and certainly sells her big song, "The Ladies Who Lunch," but this Joanne isn't quite as caustic as she is sometimes portrayed. On the song that make you hold your breath, "Getting Married Today," Courtney Balan earns that roar from the audience. She delivers the hilarious song at top speed, yet every word is clear.

Ted Pappas directs his cast efficiently, though some group numbers still needed a little melding when I saw the show; they've probably come together since then. He provides a good amount of choreography as well (with associate choreographer Carol Schuberg) and it adds a lot.

The brilliance of Company is truly celebrated in the Public's production, with a respect of and love for the show clearly on display.

Company at the O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater through February 23, 2014. For tickets and more information, visit http://ppt.org/ or call 412-316-1600.


Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater


-- Ann Miner




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