note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Robert … Michael Mendiola
Sarah … Julie Jirousek
Harry … Jerry Bisantz
Susan … Merle Perkins
Peter … Ted Hewlett
Jenny … Kerry A. Dowling
David … Will McGarrahan
Amy … Elaine Theodore
Paul … David Krinitt
Joanne … Nancy E. Carroll
Larry … Sean McGuirk
Marta … Sara Chase
Kathy … Aimee Doherty
April … Stephanie Carlson
Conductor/Keyboard … Paul S. Katz
Keyboards … Beth Stafford
Percussion … Kevin Burke
Bass … John Styklunas
Reeds 1, 2, 3 … David Daquil; Maeve Lein; Jeff Leonard;
Wendy MacDonald; Jeri Sykes; Ray Taranto; Louis Toth
Trumpet … Steve Banzaert; Kevin Tracy
Trombone … Chris Baird; Todd Millen
SpeakEasy’s 35th anniversary production of Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY is of such surpassing excellence you soon forget you are at the new Stanford Calderwood Pavilion. You forget because SpeakEasy has been turning out cake for years even when the scripts themselves were ho-hum; with COMPANY, SpeakEasy simply sidesteps from the BCA into the Roberts Studio Theatre, its new home long-deserved and well-earned.
How did YOU first encounter COMPANY? If, like me, your introduction was through the original cast album (and I do mean “album”), no doubt you were mesmerized by its metallic, then-contemporary (1970) sound --- Burt Bacharach, served with lemon --- as distinct a New Sound as THE THREE PENNY OPERA must have been forty years earlier, in Berlin. When I first saw COMPANY performed (in summer stock), I thought it cold, disjointed and anti-marriage (the book is a collection of set pieces where Robert, still single at age 35, examines this not-so-sacred institution, couple by couple, girlfriend by girlfriend): Mr. Sondheim and librettist George Furth were saying some heavy-duty things about love and commitment in an era when America was letting the repression out and the sunshine in. Thirty-five years later, can the non-committal Robert and those “good-and-crazy-people” his married friends still hold up a mirror for today’s equally uncertain times? Yes, for the most part, as the book was revised over a decade ago; what is playing at the Pavilion is now the official version of COMPANY. In the original, Robert & Friends were the gray-flannel generation of New York’s Upper East Side, caught between throwing off generations of social conditioning yet not quite sure if they really want to (none of the wives seemed to have jobs), and Robert was a blank; a bachelor Everyman. The new version passes through John Cheever territory to the land of FRIENDS: Robert is now a party animal with drugs in his pocket and the couples, former Flower Children, have been there, done that, now what? Amazingly, COMPANY’s glare has turned warm and winking over the years though not all of the revisions are for the better: even with added lines about himself, Robert still remains a blank, and re-inserting his song “Marry Me a Little” (one of the first songs written for the show, then discarded) only dilutes the later impact of his breakthrough “Being Alive”. There is also an eye-opener for those who know only the original version: the newly-divorced Peter, choosing to still live with his ex-wife, propositions Robert which comes out of nowhere and quickly returns from whence it came --- Robert passes it off as a joke --- I gather Mr. Furth wants to say now what he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) say then but not cut across the original’s grain; thus, his insert plays as an insert. The Tick-Tock dance solo, symbolizing the coital thoughts of Robert and his bedmate April, has been swapped for a few reprises from the on-looking couples.
Old version or new, harsh or warm, COMPANY is still a marvel, retaining its breathless wonder for having wrestled on the mountain with conventional musicals and won. If newcomers begin with COMPANY, Mr. Sondheim’s canonization becomes understandable for he was poised on a Brave New World, then, and many followed him even when he took to wandering down darker, bleaker streets (the sardonic Joanne, toasting “The Ladies Who Lunch” would give way to Mrs. Lovett and her cannibal pies); COMPANY’s many highlights, all delightful, include “Sorry-Grateful” where the husbands voice the contradictions of being married (which Robert later echoes with “wait for me/hurry” to his ideal dream-woman in "Someone is Waiting"); “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, Mr. Sondheim’s own “Three Little Maids”, filtered through the Andrew Sisters; “Another Hundred People”, the foreshadowing of power ballads to come; the rat-a-tat “Getting Married Today”, in which a bride with cold feet reaches breakdown proportions; the vaudeville turn “Side By Side By Side” that leaves Robert as Odd Man Out; “Barcelona”, a beautiful, gliding duet of broken phrases that still come out musical; and, of course, “The Ladies Who Lunch”, which now seems less a summing up of the rotten age we live in than a portrait of Joanne herself, a mysteriously unhappy woman who drowns herself in drink whenever Robert is near; Mrs. Robinson would understand. Mr. Sondheim and I parted company after a few more musicals --- I need sunshine, now and then, which Mr. S. rarely gives, and I still say he is a better lyricist than composer --- though the brilliant North Shore production of PACIFIC OVERTURES did bring me back, briefly, to the fold. I’ve wandered off, again, but will always come running for COMPANY or FOLLIES.
Lyric Stage’s production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC showcased much of the finest local talent around leaving me to wonder who would be left for COMPANY; fear not, the SpeakEasy cast is just as impressive: Michael Mendiola, gives Robert a lean, laconic tone that marks him as a natural-born loner, and Kerry A. Dowling and Will McGarrahan are hilarious with Mr. Mendiola in their pot-smoking sequence. Nancy E. Carroll and Sean McGuirk return as Joanne and the ever-patient Larry --- Ms. Carroll going from drama to musicals with equal ease; after claiming Boston as Mrs. Lovett, her Joanne may seem rather tame but, then, doing COMPANY means going back to basics, and Mr. McGuirk combines his usual dash with a Fosse slinkiness. Julie Jirousek, one of our loveliest actresses, now becomes one of the sexiest with her orgasmic writhings over descriptions of food, and there is an enchanting, pop-eyed little peanut named Stephanie Carlson whose April quietly walks off with the evening in her stewardess, uh, flight attendant overnight bag. Two actors not usually associated with musical theatre --- Jerry Bisantz, an endearing mug, and Elaine Theodore, known for her babes born on hot pavements --- hold their own as Ms. Jirousek’s martial arts target and the jittery bride “slipping down the drain” which prompts me to declare, with Ms. Carroll as proof, that there should be more actor-crossovers between plays and musicals which would certainly stretch an actor’s repertoire (and castability) and provide some nice surprises in the bargain. An actor should shed an occasional skin, for artistic health alone, even if it means a break in a steady paycheck.
As a team, director Paul Daigneault and choreographer David Connolly continue to bring out the best in students (WONDERFUL TOWN, last March) and professionals, alike, with Mr. Daigneault breaking down the skit-like quality of Mr. Furth’s libretto into scenes from the Human Comedy --- there’s OUR TOWN; this could be OUR CITY --- and Mr. Daigneault nimbly maneuvering a non-dancing ensemble in and out, up and down Eric Levenson’s blue/gray steel-and-glass playground (pity he didn’t retain the Tick-Tock number but who in the current cast could have danced it?). Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes can be easily overlooked in all the kaleidoscoping, but take the time to study how each of the characters are dressed: Mr. Furth’s observations are sharp but remain on the surface; Ms. Buckley subtly furnishes whole backgrounds for his characters with a tie loosened around an unbuttoned collar, or a polyester zip-up shirt, or an all-black cocktail outfit (notice how Robert tends to wear cool colors to blend in with the stark, perfect setting while the others each have his or her own unique, “human” look).
I'm still waiting for THE GOLDEN APPLE to fall from the SpeakEasy branch; both musical and scribbler turned 50, this year, and are both ripe for it.
HELP SAVE BOSTON'S HISTORIC GAIETY THEATRE!