See SRO’s Magic Look at Loneliness in ‘Company’ Through June 3
SRO Theatre Company ends their 2017-2018 season strong with a biting, visceral take on Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and George Furth’s (book) groundbreaking 1970 musical Company, directed by Kristofer Green.
“That’s what it’s all about – isn’t it?” A question that never needs to be asked if someone’s confident of the answer, and the question at the center of The title of the show is the “it” at the heart of that sentence and answering the question hasn’t gotten any easier in the almost 50 ensuing years. The evergreen trying to stay connected with our friends and our partners, and the search for meaning as we sort connection from distraction – along with the tricky earworm songs – keep this play relevant even as parts of the book creak with the attitudes of an earlier time. SRO’s production does justice to the tunefulness and the thematic material.
Company orbits around Bobby (William Macke), always turning 35 in New York. Green’s production does a great job of playing with the ambiguity as we see three different surprise birthday parties with candles that say 35 but never makes it clear if that’s a running joke, we see the same birthday as it may have played out, or we’re in some fabulist time-loop. Bobby’s four groups of coupled friends (two married, one about to be married, and one dissolving their marriage) use him as a locus, and a project as his fear of growing up curdles into a horror of not growing up.
William Macke – doing double duty as the choreographer – is a masterful choice as a preeminent cipher of American theater. He understands the darkness underneath the bobbing buoy of the character’s charm, but he approaches the other characters with genuine affection and amusement. His incessant asking of questions is deflection, but also earnest interest – he makes it easy to believe these ostensible adults would jockey for his approval and want to take care of him at the same time.
The cast and direction excel at highlighting the cast of Bobby’s “crazy married friends” and making them individuals even for only a few scenes. Often Harry (Caleb Baker) and Sarah (Rachel Hertenstein) are cringey comic-relief, just down the hall from Maggie and Jiggs. But Hertenstein and Baker communicate a deep affection for one another and real erotic heat in their needling about his drinking and her newfound study of karate so when Baker’s Harry leads the other two husbands, David (Andrew Levan) and Larry (Ryan Kopycinski), in a complicated defense of marriage, “Sorry-Grateful” it falls into place like a puzzle piece landing. Helped by the honeyed tones and expert meshing of the three voices.
A great joy of this Company revival is its dynamism. Green keeps all the balls in the air, and his cast is game for subtle connections between the pieces. Marta (Jordan Shafer), one of Bobby’s girlfriends, nails the tricky quick-change ode to the exhilaration and exhaustion of New York, “Another Hundred People,” with one of my favorite exchanges in all Sondheim: “Did you get my message? ‘Cause I looked in vain. Can we see each other Tuesday if it doesn’t rain? Look, I’ll call you in the morning, or my service will explain.” And she does it while acting as an omniscient audience for the heartbreaking exchange as Bobby’s old friend Kathy (Lauren Murphey) tells Bobby she’s leaving New York to return home as a wife.
Eli Brickey’s Amy is hysterical as the center, instigator, and victim of a slapstick hurricane of neurosis in “Getting Married Today.” Growing ever faster and more frantic on the verses with Jenny’s (Skye Johnson) crystalline vocals and sharp wit providing texture and counterpoint on the chorus. There are prizes and magic all around here, with particular credit given to how seamlessly the cast fits together. The whole-ensemble numbers are jaw-dropping.
The high point in any production of Company is its closing knock-out combination of two of the finest songs in the Broadway canon. This production does as good a job as any I’ve seen of understanding that Jesika Lehner’s Joanne is the end-game to Bobby’s glib, dancing on the surface, life. She tears into the character’s indictment of the world, “Ladies Who Lunch,” with a physical, drink-splashing intensity that drives sends blue-hot sparks off every note and breaks hearts like slammed-down shot glasses as she turns that unsparing gaze on herself: “Look in their eyes and you’ll see what they know: everybody dies.” The most significant singers in musical theater and cabaret have taken on this song, but I’ll remember Lehner’s version for a long time.
Lehner slides easily into an uncommon stillness in this kinetic production as we watch her alley-oop to Macke for “Being Alive.” A magical standard that finds hope glowing like the sun through a chemical haze selling none of the earlier cynicism or sharpness short. Macke’s take on this – also done by every great singer you could name – feels well-earned and his performance of it soars as he discovers how much he needs, “Somebody crowd me with love, somebody, force me to care. Somebody make me come through, I’ll always be there, frightened as you, to help us survive being alive.” Those two words repeated like a benediction are always a needed catharsis at the end of Company, but the muggy Sunday afternoon I saw this production they were what I needed.
Kristofer Green and company have given us a superlative production of one of the very greatest modern American musicals. It might be a chilly way to say hello to your summer, but the sunshine will feel even sweeter when you walk out.
Company runs through June 3 with performances at 10:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Friday, 8:00 p.m. Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit srotheatre.org/company.