Lyric Stage's "Company": Singular Sensation

John Ambrosino and the Cast of "Company"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a half century since the musical Company burst upon the theater scene, and it would be difficult to overstate the significance, historical importance and indelible impact of this first “concept musical”. With Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and Book by George Furth, it tried out in Boston in 1970, going on to Broadway to mixed responses, though it earned fourteen Tony Award nominations and won six of them, including Best Musical. It was subsequently revived and revised in 1995 and 2006. It covers a wide range of mid-life crises from growing up to aging, loving and hating, adoration and ridicule, fear of commitment and fear of not committing, and basic survival. It was heralded by some as a true breakthrough from typical “book musicals”, while others criticized it for a coldness, brittleness and cynicism that had a bunch of stereotypical New Yorkers revolving around a central cypher. Despite its initial controversial reception, it has endured, steadily gaining in acceptance and respect by those who recognize that at its core it's not about cynicism but irony.

Perhaps the most ironic facet of the work is that, nearly five decades later, it seems even more relevant today, as relationships have become much more complex. While the basic frame of the musical remains the same, it has taken on remarkable resonance. The core of the work is still the character of Robert (John Ambrosino), who has non-related, non-chronological encounters with five couples who are friends of his (but not, seemingly, of one another): dieter Sara (Kerri Wilson) and her supposedly on-the-wagon husband Harry (Davron S. Monroe); the older and more cynical Joanne (Leigh Barrett) and her latest long-suffering hubby, Larry (Will McGarrahan); Susan (Elise Arsenault) and Peter (Matthew Zahnzinger), going through an amicable divorce; the ultra-square Jenny (Teresa Winner Blume) and her controlling husband David (Todd Yard); and Amy (Erica Spyres), approaching and avoiding marriage to Paul (Tyler Simahk). Also orbiting are three of Robert's girlfriends: Marta (Carla Martinez), hipster lover of NYC, Kathy (Maria LaRossa), small town girl, and April (Adrianne Hick), a flight attendant. As Sondheim himself has described it, it's about “a man with no emotional commitments (who) reassesses his life on his thirty-fifth birthday by reviewing his relationships with his married acquaintances and his girlfriends; that is the entire plot”. He further notes that it “does have a story, the story of what happens inside Robert; it just doesn't have a chronological linear plot”.

What it does have are several stand-out showstoppers that excite and enthrall even as they elicit provocative thought. The most brilliant of these is the paean to the “Ladies Who Lunch” and their basically empty busy lives, never performed more effectively than here by Barrett; no one in memory has sung it more beautifully while simultaneously delivering its vodka-stinging barbs with such stunning acting chops. Then there's the hilarious (and impossibly tongue-twisting) “Getting Married Today” enacted by another local treasure, Spyres, with (unusual for this role) beautiful vocal support by Blume. There are also two terrific dance numbers, “Tick-Tock” by LaRossa, and almost the entire company in the rousing (and ringing) “Side by Side by Side”, with its audio-visual expression of Robert's aloneness. The ensemble is filled with great turns by some very familiar faces (such as those consummate professionals, McGarrahan and Zahnzinger) and some relatively new ones. But any Company rises or falls on the shoulders of its central character, and in this production, Ambrosino (very fondly remembered for his Lyric Stage roles in Avenue Q, Into the Woods, and especially On the Town) shows how much he has matured as a performer. As the role requires, his is a tightly wound bachelor who finally blossoms in the finale, Being Alive. It's a courageous choice to portray the show's central character as essentially reactive, making his eventual outburst a singular sensation.

The creative team is all-around what one would expect from this company. Superbly Directed by Spiro Veloudos, Producing Artistic Director of the company, with expert Music Direction by Catherine Stornetta and Choreography by Rachel Bertone, it boasts evocative Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland, apt Costume Design by Rafael Jaen, effective Lighting Design by Frank Meissner, Jr. and Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will.

All this said, it's the team of Sondheim and Furth who are always the stars of Company, from the wit of Sondheim's lyrical internal rhythms (“perhaps collapse in the apse”) and thoughtful asides ('being the kid as well as the sitter”) to Furth's city-wise observations (“he's a New Yorker; nothing interests him”). At the most crucial point toward the end of the show, when Joanne offers to take care of him, Robert asks somewhat rhetorically, “but who will I take care of?”. Ah, irony.

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