Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Company is actually more of a play with musical moments. The songs do not rise naturally out of the scenes of dialogue, as they do in more traditional musicals. In fact, this Sondheim-Prince collaboration is an early example of what they would eventually call the "concept" musicalthe concept here being relationships and marriage. The show opens with the introduction of Robert, or Bobby, who is the lone single in a group of married couples. This group is celebrating Bobby's 35th birthday, a motif that bookends the show. The musical numbers sometimes provide commentary on these scenes, but frequently they address the themes of relationships, loneliness, and togetherness directly.
Director Alex Felix has done a phenomenal job coordinating a production team and cast made up entirely of students to create an exquisite piece of theatre. Boasting one of Stephen Sondheim's most praised scores, Company sounds wonderful here under the musical direction of Adam Beskind. Both orchestra and ensemble handle themselves quite capably with this score, replete with intricate melodies and witty but complex lyrics. Some of the songs do feel very much of the 1970s, yet somehow that doesn't take away from their effectiveness. Scenic design by Wesley Carretto evokes a mid-century modernist abstraction of urban life, taking inspiration from various well-known incarnations of the show to produce a single elegant set for this intimate black box production. Elena McNeice's costume design makes subtle use of the color palette, joining each couple through their own hue.
One of the most innovative parts of this production is its use of projections, designed to great effect by Sonali Mehta. The cast makes frequent use of mobile phones, with their texts and social media posts shown large on the wall behind them, and this puts a fresh, contemporary sheen on the show, while also suggesting that these technologies might be isolating us as much as they bring us together.
Julia Medine's choreography enhances the humor of several musical numbers, especially the crowd-pleasing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." This production might have followed the example of many recent others and removed the "Tick-Tock" dance, which does not always sit comfortably in the show, and in this case the creative choices don't feel particularly inspired or well executed. Another point of concern is the riotous act two opener, "Side by Side." One of several potential showstoppers in this musical, this number labors through moments of purported tap dancing that is clearly outside the training of both the choreographer and the cast.
Company truly is carried by the character of Bobby, and C.J. Cruz brings sincerity and believability to the role, particularly remarkable since he is essentially half as young as Bobby. Sarah Jacobs, as Amy, is hilarious and zany in her portrayal, and her "Getting Married Today" is a true highlight of the production. Kelly McLaughlin makes April, Bobby's flight attendant fling, her own, moving away from the airheadedness this character typically exhibits, and giving her a poise that feels fresh. Shaina Lubliner is a standout as the dieting, karate-student Sarah. Her timing is superb throughout, and she makes a distinct impression in this ensemble.
Instead of attempting to decide whether or not marriage still matters, especially in this day and age, this production has effectively broadened the themes of the musical to focus on the universal fear of being alone and what that means in our world, where we seem to understand ourselves more and more through social media and digital communication. How important are physical relationships, and more importantly, building those relationships beyond the occasional fling, out from behind the protection of a digital screen? This Company ultimately wants us all to take time to get to know each other, to embrace our differences, and, in turn, to learn more about ourselveswhich is what "Being Alive" is all about.
Company is presented by the Hoof 'n' Horn at the Sheafer Theater at Duke University's Bryan University Center on west campus through February 4, 2018. The Sheafer Theater is located at 125 Science Dr. Durham NC. Tickets can be purchased at the Sheafer Theater or online at tickets.duke.edu.
Playwright: George Furth