San Diego, CA—In keeping with artistic director Sean Murray’s homage to songster Stephen Sondheim, Cygnet Theatre Company in Old Town is mounting Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway hit “Company” with music and lyrics by Sondheim and Book by George Furth, that will be available for Sondheim lovers and other strangers, through Aug. 25th.
Since moving to The Theatre in Old Town Cygnet Theatre has produced a goodly collection of Sondheim favorites and not so favorites including “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “A Little Night Music”, and just recently “Assassins”.
If you are not an avid admirer of Sondheim his music can, over the course of time, become an acquired taste. Perhaps that’s what Murray is hoping. As director of all three of the above shows, including this current offering, he does them well enough to have earned his stripes making converts of many in his audience. Just as an aside, he played ‘The Demon Barber’ a few years back.
“Company” is not brain surgery although some might think that the title character Bob, Robert, Baby, Bobby, Bubby (Andrew Wells Ryder) might need a little probing of his gray matter to get him on the same page as are his married coupled friends. That’s pretty much the ‘company’ he keeps. While professing to want to get married, he does everything in his power to avoid it.
Every year at his ‘surprise birthday’ party (we start out on his 35th) Bobby’s best-married friends come to his Manhattan bachelor pad and have him make a wish (after all the candles have been blown out) to be like them; married. Surprise! Robert never makes a wish. He later confesses to this indiscretion after he asked about his wish. Ryder floats through these scenes with the ease of someone strolling through life.
Presented in a series of vignettes Furth’s book is not that earth shattering or for that matter, that engaging, although at the time was given high grades for addressing adult situations. Martin Gottfried of Women’s Wear Daily called it “exceedingly adult”. That was back in 1970. We’ve come a long way since, baby. In some quarters, it might now be called dated.
The fact is that much of what happens is same old/same old with a twist here and a change of personality there. After many birthdays’ come and go and we get a glimpse into Bobby’s ‘happily ever’ friends, what gives this production the oomph and push it needs are the more recognizable of Sondheim’s sharp, witty and smart score; (“Sorry-Grateful”, “Marry Me a Little” “The Ladies Who Lunch”, “Getting Married Today”, “Side by Side”, “Being Alive” and of course “Company”) a finely tuned cast that maneuvers very nicely through his edgy and oft times difficult lyrics, David Brannen’s snappy choreography, musical director/conductor Patrick Marion and his six member band that delivers Sondheim’s emotionally packed music and Jeanne Reith’s 70’s looking (OMG) costumes.
Of Murray’s fourteen-member cast that make up the five couples, most are married one on the way to tying the knot, one in the process of a divorce and none are friends with the others. Bobby is the common denominator, passively putting himself into their world as an onlooker, flirting and sometimes conflicted. Some skits are funnier than others. Thrown into this mix are three of Bobby’s girlfriends who he dabbles around with but seriously? …has no intention of marrying.
The couples include Sarah and Harry (Melissa Fernandes and Andrew Oswald), Susan and Peter (Wendy Waddell and Kürt Norby), Amy and Paul (Eileen Bowman and Matthew Naegeli), Joanne and Larry (Linda Libby and David Kirk Grant) and Jenny and David (Athena Epinoza and Andy Collins). His girlfriends are April, (Kate Whalley), Kathy (Mary Joe Duggan) and Marta (Ashlee Mayer). All talented, the show works better when the company works together in the bigger production numbers.
“Company” opened on Broadway in 1970 and ran for 705 performances. In 1971 it picked up a Tony’s for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Lyrics, Michael Bennett’s Choreography, Leading Actress, Scenic Designer, Producer, Lighting Design and Book. It’s had over three revivals and there is also a CD available if you’re interested.
Some shout out’s are in order here. Linda Libby, who played Joanne in Starlight’s production some moons ago, is taking another shot at her. She is simply spot on perfect as the cynical, barbed and hard core Joanne (“I’ve been introduced to him but forgot his name”), twice or thrice times married, now to Larry. Her show stopper “The Ladies Who Lunch” actually stops the show. She is terrific!
Melissa Fernandes and Andrew Oswald are Sarah and Harry. Both in denial addicts, his for drinking and hers, food; chocolate in particular but each will tell you that they don’t drink/eat. We know better. In a tell tale confession, Sarah lets us know that she is the last to turn off the lights. Been there, done that. But it is her Karate moves that bring the house down and if you need to solve a problem with Sarah/Melissa I suggest you not try it with a Karate challenge.
Eileen Bowman is hysterical as the female half of Amy and Paul the soon to be, maybe to be, almost to be married couple. Her take on “I’m Getting Married Today” was at her best on opening night. A natural comedian, Bowman has done some of her finest work at Lamb’s Theatre in “Guys And Dolls” “The Music Man” and just recently “Pete N’ Keeley”. Now she can add this goofy take to her credits. The patter of this number is no easy fete. Hat’s off to her.
Andrew Wells Ryder has the looks, the moves, the build and the look, the style and the grace as the leading man, Bobby. His rendering of “Being Alive”, a heartbreaker from the get go is emotionally on target, his delivery sound. Ryder, however well he drifts in and out of his friend’s lives and however much of a cad he is to his girlfriends is a bit out of his element in the singing department.
Ryan Grossheim’s multi level set is bachelor proof stark with drop down Murphy bed made up in red satins with, what is alluded to, a ceiling mirror, and a beautiful picture window shot of a Manhattan skyline. Chris Rynne’s lighting and Ross Goldman and Matt Lescault-Woods sound give director Sean Murray another shot at adding an additional Sondheim winner to his already winning repertoire.
One thing that kept running through my warped mind on opening night after listening to the company sing “Marry Me A Little” was, is being a little married’ the same as being a little pregnant? Ouch!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 25th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Ticket Prices: $24.00-$59.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town