Moonbox's "Company": Not Sorry, Grateful

"Side by Side by Side"
(Photo: Sharman Altshuler)
When the musical “Company” opened on Broadway in 1970, it was heralded as a breakthrough landmark “concept” musical, and so it was. Nothing before (or since) has had the impact of this cynical view of modern marriage, in the form of vignettes rather than a typical book. The vignettes by George Furth and the lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim were revelations to audiences used to attending more traditional musical comedies. Nominated for a record fourteen Tony Awards, it won six (including Best Musical, Book, Music and Lyrics) among its many other awards. Moonbox Productions’ version is yet another golden opportunity for theatergoers to relish this unique work. As most Sondheim lovers will already know, it centers around the very eligible but not quite available bachelor Bobby (David Carney) as his circle of closest friends, five very different couples, are about to celebrate his 35th birthday. They consist of the world-weary Joanne (Leigh Barrett) and Larry (Rick Sherburne), the marriage-approaching--avoiding Amy (Shonna Cirone) and Paul (Peter Mill), the perpetually dieting and recovering, karate-kicking Sarah (Anne Colpitts) and Harry (Matthew Zahnzinger), the pot-smoking squares Jenny (Teresa Winner Blume) and David (Daniel Forest Sullivan), and the loving but amicably divorced Susan (Catherine Lee Christie) and possibly closeted Peter (Brian Bakofen). The play also features Robert’s current trio of girlfriends, Marta (Megan Alicia), Kathy (Lisa Dempsey), and April (Katie Clark), none of whom manages to hold his undivided attention.

Robert is unwilling and unable to commit to a serious relationship, never mind marriage. His girlfriends are unaware of one another’s existence, and the various couples he’s befriended don’t know one another either. Robert juggles a multitude of relationships, standing back to critique each of them in a different way. Most of this is presented in terrific songs, many of them real zingers, with witty lyrics worthy of Porter, Coward, or…well, Sondheim. They include serious songs such as “The Little Things You Do Together” (“children you destroy together”), “Sorry/Grateful” (“you‘ll always be what you always were, which has nothing to do with, all to do with her“), “Another Hundred People”, and the title song; there are also hilarious numbers such as “Getting Married Today”, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, and “Barcelona”. And then there’s the quintessential Sondheim of “The Ladies Who Lunch”. And the finale by Robert, “Being Alive” (which replaced two other dropped songs, “A Multitude of Amys” and “Happily Ever After”), in which he’s urged to love somebody, but not some body.

The performances are all wonderful, starting with the central character of Robert/Robby/Bobby-Bubby. Carney’s interpretation is the most human and touching in a considerable number of productions seen over the past several decades, here much more involved than he is too often portrayed, and at the epicenter of all the angst, while still an onlooker, still an outsider. As Joanne observes, the story of his life is that he “always meant to” get married. Barrett, despite the memories of beloved past divas in the role, makes Joanne her own, notably of course in her tribute to those lunching ladies “planning a brunch on their own behalf”. She remains in character even when not at the center of things, an acting lesson in itself. Cirone, in the zany, impossibly complex phobia-ridden rant (“let us pray…that I’m not getting married”) also shines. Even the less showy roles, such as Sherburne’s Larry and Zahnzinger’s Harry, are more developed under the insightful, detailed guidance by Director Allison Olivia Choat, who has things very much in hand.

Moonbox’s technical crew has never been better, or more on evidence, than in the Roberts Theatre in the Calderwood complex, a much larger venue than the company has utilized in the past. Musical Director Dan Rodriguez (leading a nine piece orchestra upstage center) makes the most of the performance space. So does the Choreography by Rachel Bertone (in several numbers by the full cast, but especially in the terrific dance solo by Dempsey),which is amazingly creative and strikingly original. The Scenic Design by Dale Conklin, on six levels, is effective in both its simplicity and versatility for a show with so many scenes. The Lighting Design by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Costume Design by Susanne Miller and Sound Design by Don Costello (although with some mike glitches, easily fixable), are all great examples of their respective crafts.

The dialogue by Firth and the lyrics by Sondheim never cease to amaze; the stories told in this work continue to fascinate with each exposure to the material. We watch Bobby watching life’s “company”, via his friendships, love affairs, and eventual longing for marriage. As the lyrics to the title song announce, what this is really about is love, isn‘t it? “Life is company, love is company”. Especially as exemplified by this talented company, loving is truly “being alive”. This is a wonderful show in a ceaselessly entertaining production. Happily ever after or not, over the space of some two and a half enthralling hours, Moonbox is moonstruck, and so are we, not sorry but surely grateful.

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