Thursday, January 22, 2009

Worthy of your 'Company'

M&D presents Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy on relationships

Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” which opens today at M&D Production’s Your Theatre in Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. is a musical about relationships in modern day New York. A musical about love sounds like nothing special, but it is the author who is special, not the subject.

“Company” first appeared on Broadway in 1970 with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by George Furth. Originally conceived by Furth as 11 one-act plays, Sondheim transformed the material into a musical.

Sondheim has composed and/or written the lyrics for such musical standards as “A Funny Thing Happen on the Way to the Forum,” “Into the Woods,” “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “Sweeney Todd.”

“Company,” like much of Sondheim’s work, has an irreverent, even dark sense of humor. The humor in this piece is very much a reflection of the 1970s era in which it was written. Think Woody Allen or Neil Simon. This is a mix of situational with observational humor that is often cutting in what it has to say about relationships.

The show centers on the single Robert (T.J. Herlihy) who, as the show open, is thrown a surprise party on his 35th birthday by his friends, five sets of married couples. What follows is a series of scenes with Robert interacting with each couple as he contemplates the prospect of marriage and juggles three possible candidates (Janette Kondrat, Amy Smullen and Nikki Martinez).

Even someone with no musical training will notice that Sondheim does something a bit different than most composers and lyricists. He crams more words and syllables into a lyric than seems lyrically possible. Often his songs move at such a fast pace it is a wonder the singers even keep up.

Sondheim is also fond of utilizing complex harmonies and overlapping lyrics. All of this makes performing a Sondheim show a difficult task. The cast of M&D’s production, under music director Mary Bastoni-Rebmann and director Ken Martin, prove to be up to it.

Watching the cast take on this challenging material is like watching a tightrope walker perform without a net. There may be a couple wobbles here and there, but, commendably, no one falls.

There is a large cast of characters in “Company,” but each actor gets at least one scene to shine. I direct this next sentence specifically to the actors: You were all wonderful, and I’m not just blowing smoke up your you-know-what, so don’t take it personally if I don’t name check you in the list of highlights below.

Herlihy is the show’s focal point, and he makes for a strong lead. Although he is in every scene, he doesn’t have the flashiest role. He often has to play straight man to the antics around him. He also carries the show's more emotional scenes as he weighs the positives and negatives of being single.

Much of the musical’s humor is earned by placing songs in juxtaposition to the scenes' content. When Robert discusses the three girls he is pursuing they pop out girl group style and sing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

Amy Smullen as Marta, one of Robert’s more free-spirited love interests, gets one of the show's biggest laughs by describing how you can learn a lot about a New Yorker based upon the size of a certain part of a person’s anatomy. Janette Kondrat has a hilarious scene as April, a dim flight attendant who Robert sweet talks into bed.

Kevin O’Neil and Pat McCabe shine as Harry and Sarah, a bickering couple who needle each other about the respective vices they’ve supposedly given up. When Robert requests Sarah demonstrate a move she learned at karate lessons, this leads to an amusing sparring match between Harry and Sarah that is made all the more ironically funny by Joanne (Shana Myers) singing “The Little Things You Do Together.”

Rae McCarey, in full on neurotic mode, steals the show late in the first act as Amy, who is having a really bad case of cold feet on her wedding day. “Getting Married Today” is one of the show’s funniest songs, and McCarey nails it.

For more information about “Company” call 662-7591.

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