Produced by: Los Altos Stage Company
Featuring: Adam Cotugno as Robert, Melissa Reinertson as Sarah, Michael Rhone as Harry, Skye Wilson as Jenny, Andy Rotchadl as David, Kristin Walter as Amy, Aaron Vanderbeek as Paul, Mary Gibboney as Joanne, Scott Stanley as Larry, Kate Leyva as Susan, Vanessa Alvarez as Petey, Maureen O'Neil as April, Alexis Rogers as Marta, Jennifer Mitchell as Kathy, and Clara Walker as Kathy swing/understudy
Directed by: Carol Fischer
When: May 29-June 28, 2014. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays
Where: Bus Barn Theatre, 97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos, California
Tickets:$18-$36. Visit www.losaltosstage.org, call 650-941-0551 or email email@example.com.
"Company," historically, has always been musical that was either loved or hated although the lovers must have held considerable sway back in 1970, when it debuted on Broadway and received 14 Tony nominations, winning six of them.
I finally saw it, for the first time, on the second night of its run at Los Altos Stage Company, and I can say that I neither hate it nor love it. But I doubt I will ever bother to see the show again; especially not this particular production.
That despite the fact that I very much enjoyed the intricacies of Stephen Sondheim's Tony-winning music, and several of the performances of a mostly excellent cast.
Sondheim seems to be reveling in composition with this show, playing with counterpoint and harmony in ways that are not only musically impressive, they help tell this cynical, sad story about the relationship problems of upper-middle-class New Yorkers.
Director Carol Fischer may not have done everything exactly right with this production, but she did gather a lot of very good performers, Bay Area stage stalwarts who know how to sing and who handled the challenges of Sondheim getting them all on stage at the same time for certain songs, singing a whole bunch of different melody lines at the same time, and making it work.
This production puts a three-piece band at the back of the stage, partly hidden by a black box, and pianist Katie Coleman was an absolute knock-out. The Sondheim score makes big demands of the pianist, and Coleman was great.
The trouble with the show begins with how it's constructed. Robert is a likable guy with a lot of married friends who show up to celebrate his 35th birthday. They all think he should find someone and get married. There is a birthday scene, then the show breaks into vignettes, as Bobby visits with each of his couple friends. A return to the birthday party, then more vignettes.
The show actually needs actors with major chops for all those parts, but that means having major actors with not much to do when it's not their vignette.
Michael Rhone and Melissa Reinertson, for instance, are delightful in their vignette, which involves karate (in dialogue, anyway; the action was more like judo, if that). Kristin Walter was fabulous as Amy, singing the almost impossibly fast "Getting Married Today" and totally nailing it. And Adam Cotugno was charming and likable as Robert throughout, with the unenviable task of stitching it all together.
All of the cast was fun to watch in one way or the other. I was tickled by Andy Rotchadl's baldness pattern as David; he has a nice smile, plays stoned well and seems at home in that suburban milieau. Maureen O'Neill was adorable as the vacant-brained flight attendant, April.
But the entire Sondheim show smacks of insufferable, self-congratulatory pseudointellectualism. Aren't we clever for picking apart all these desperate marriages and finding why they don't work, but carry on anyway? More than 40 years ago, when this show debuted, it probably helped some people become more self-aware.
But this production doesn't carry the urban, upper-middle class personification "Company" needs. The clothes are not those of Manhattan sophisticates, but those of suburban Californians. True, even suburbanites can have the same marital troubles, but the wit of "Company" needs urbanites.
The set has very little to communicate, and is unpleasantly dark and forbidding toward the back of the stage. It's unappealing, overall. The blocking of the vignettes was scattered and not helpful.
And the song "Company" is performed too many times. The original show calls for it twice (if my research is correct*), but this production throws it at us at least three times. " Bobby... Bobby... Bobby baby... Bobby bubbi... Robby... Robert darling... Bobby... Bobby..." Really, once is more than enough for that song, even though we can admire the talent required to sing it. Contrapuntal melody lines, overlapping harmonies. Very impressive. But the song is annoying.
(*Note: Michael Rhone tweeted on June 10, 2014, linking to this review: "This is the 2nd reviewer who thinks we added reprises to our show. We did it as written. Frustrating." I believe him. But still think the song is annoying. It's Sondheim's fault.)
And it didn't help that there seemed to a soccer riot going on just outside the theater's doors.
Los Altos Stage Company would do well to at least invest in some netting or something to stop the soccer balls before they slam into the big sliding door with a resounding "Boom!"
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org