09 December 2011

Company's way more than just three....

Having cut my musical-theatre teeth on Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers and Hart and the lyricist Stephen Sondheim, I have come to the official Stephen Sondheim oeuvre quite late, thanks in part to Playhouse on Park’s previous Side by Side by Sondheim and the New Britain High School 2011 production of Into the Woods, in which my daughter played Cinderella.  (Add your own sarcastic theatre-dad comment here.) 

My aversion to Sondheim’s material, I know, stems directly from a bad experience of turning on PBS years ago and seeing Mandy Patinkin’s dabbing paint on a scrim as he sang (seemingly endlessly and seemingly without melody)  something like “Blue, Red, Red, Blue, Yellow, Blue, Blue, White, Blue, Green, Green Yellow, White…” in Sunday in the Park with George.  Where, I thought, was the poetic wit of this guy’s lyrics for Gypsy and West Side Story wedded perfectly to the music of Styne and Bernstein, respectively?  Thanks, but no thanks, I said.

Playhouse on Park’s current production of Sondheim’s now classic Company (from 1970?!?) has pretty much got me on the Sondheim bandwagon…and, yes, I’m sure Stephen has been waiting breathlessly for this declaration!

As tightly directed and choreographed by Leslie Unger, with the usual excellent musical direction of Colin Britt and performed by a very talented cast, the musical examines Bobby (Ryan Speakman) on his 35th birthday as he ponders his own lack of commitment, in light of the “commitments” of several of his couple friends.  Many of the songs are now standards, like “Being Alive,” “Another Hundred People,” and “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” and are powerful statements on the lives we lead, for better or worse.
As we’ve come to expect from POP, the ensemble of professional performers (Speakman, along with Amanda Bruton, Jennifer Lauren Brown, Kevin Barlowski, Hillary Ekwall, Erik Agle, Ben Beckley, Brian Detlefs, and Victoria Thornsbury), and the students from the Hartt School (Scott Caron, Alexandra Cutler, Keisha Gilles, Lea Nardi, and Meredith Swanson) sparkle throughout.  I enjoyed all the performances, each contributing to our understanding why Bobby, that thirty-something, is the way he is.  

And the show’s dramatic and immediate intimacy is highlighted by the sparse set and the proximity of the audience, which allows each of us to feel the tension, the love, the heartbreak, and that sense of, well, “being alive” the characters are so eagerly want.

The show runs through December 18th.  So, give yourself a holiday gift, and enjoy the Company!

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