Last night your indomitable HowWasTheShow.com reviewers, Janet Preus and John Olive, attended the Theater Latté Da opening of the masterwork Company (at the Ordway McKnight Theatre, through Nov 18). After the show they repaired to the bar at Kincaid’s for beverages, fries and pithy conversation, excerpted herewith:
Janet Preus: I liked the show.
John Olive: So did I. It’s Stephen Sondheim!
JP: It’s George Furth! His book for Company is smart, playable, impeccably timed and genuinely funny. And timeless: the show was written in 1970 and it’s still fresh. Well, pretty much.
JO: There isn’t a throwaway song in the show and some songs – “Another Hundred People,” “Being Alive” – are breathtaking, true classics. The music is deceptively simple, not nearly as easy to perform as it seems. Sondheim is hard on singers
JP: This is particularly true of the harmonies. They’re very complex. Sondheim often uses tritones. Tough to execute and he expects them to be crisp and immediate.
JO: There’s something about the music – especially the “Bobby’ theme that runs throughout. It gives the show a big-city jitteriness, an edge. A nice balance to the scenes, which often verge on comic schtick.
JP: This effect is enhanced by the show’s cinematic structure, the way characters impinge on scenes, coming in quickly, abruptly changing the location and atmosphere.
JO: In Company, New York [City] is a character onto itself.
JP: I adored [director Peter] Rothstein‘s occasionally overly structured but generally outstanding staging. It’s probably the best use of projections paired with lighting that I’ve ever seen. I presume that lighting slash scenic designer Tom Mays did these. He makes them seem effortless. The show will go from an interior, to a NYC street, to an abstract playing space quickly and completely. Boffo.
JO: What did you think of Dieter Bierbrauer as Robert?
JP: He can really sing. It’s a difficult role because Furth and Sondheim give us absolutely no information about Bobby: what job does he have, where is he from, what kind of family does he come from? Nothing. He’s an amiable presence and he sparks over-the-top emotions from the other characters. The three women he’s involved with – April, Marta and Kathy – are totally different and seem to not be “a fit,” so they provide us with no clue.
And then, within one song, the climactic “Being Alive”, Bobby Bubby changes; the reserved “someone to sit in my chair,” becomes a pleading, exuberantly and humanly needy, “somebody, sit in my chair.” It really works.
JO: Rothstein stages this beautifully. Bierbrauer doesn’t move, doesn’t even gesture. The lights and projections swirl but Robert remains motionless.
I was especially taken by Heidi Bakke as April. I found her funny, sexy, with an astonishing presence. She made “Barcelona” soar.
JP: We also need to mention the excellent work of Suzy Kohane. She performed the technically demanding “Getting Married Today” perfectly and managed to be screamingly funny at the same time.
JO: (Note: ignorable cranky criticism follows) Jody Briskey performed “The Ladies Who Lunch” beautifully, but this song seemed dated to me. Something about the smoking, the drinking seemed arch and calculated. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard this classic too much.
Everyone is good. Company is definitively recommended.
JP: Agreed. And I would also recommend these sweet potato fries.