“Phone rings, door chimes, in comes company!”

As any musical theater buff can tell you, the person whose phone is ringing and whose door is chiming and who is welcoming company into his Manhattan pad is none other than Robert, aka Bobby, aka Bob, aka Bobbo, aka Robby, aka Bobby Baby, aka Robert Darling, aka Bobby Honey, the bachelor lead of Company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Tony-winning Best Musical of 1970, now getting its first L.A. production in what seems like eons—and a pretty darned terrific one at that—at North Hollywood’s Crown City Theatre.

Company2 Groundbreaking back in the early 1970s in its depiction of adult relationships, Company seems scarcely to have aged a day in forty-three years. That’s why director Albert Alarr’s decision to set the musical in the year 2013 works quite nicely indeed, with Bobby’s closest friends now greeting his thirty-fifth birthday with a series of text messages, Facebook posts, tweets, and voice mails. In fact, only a scene of attempted same-sex seduction, some generation gap references, and a mention of 1940s/’50s MGM movie musical star Ann Miller seem firmly rooted in the ‘70s.

Bobby1 A perfectly cast Ben Rovner stars as Bobby, the only bachelor in a circle of friends that includes married couples Joanne and Larry, Peter and Susan, Harry and Sarah, David and Jenny, and Paul and Amy, none of whom can figure out why Bobby remains so resolutely single. Then again Bobby himself might not be able to answer that one, especially now that he finds himself halfway on the road to seventy with nothing to show for it relationship-wise.

In what was a fairly revolutionary approach for its day, Company introduces us to Bobby’s buddies, couple by couple, in a series of disconnected sequences taking the place of a more linear plotline.

BobbySarahHarry First up is the self-proclaimedly on-the-wagon Harry (James Calvert) and his always-on-a-diet wife Sarah (Libby Baker), whose martial arts demonstration reveals considerably marital strain (and elicits considerable audience laughter in the bargain).

Next we meet soon-to-be-happily-divorced Peter and Susan (Zeffin Quinn Hollis and Lena Gwendolyn Hill), a Southern belle and her … well let’s just say that learning Peter is married to a woman comes as a bit of a surprise.

Then, in a particularly funny sequence, alpha male David (Jon Hand) and straight-laced Jenny (Beatrice Crosbie) do their best to get Bobby stoned in an attempt to loosen him up enough to find out why he’s so darned resistant to walking down the aisle.

NotGettingMarried Speaking of which, Amy (Amy Albert) may or may not be getting married today to her Jewish fiancé Paul (Christopher Davis Carlisle), her doubts and fears revealed in the appropriately titled “Getting Married Today,” quite possibly the fastest sung song in the history of American musical theater.

Completing Bobby’s circle of married friends are 50something Joanne (Sonja Alarr) and hubby number three Larry (Mike Hagiwara), who take Bobby out for a night on the town only to have a steadily drunker Joanne launch into Sondheim’s iconic toast to “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Then there are Bobby’s latest three girlfriends: April (Emma Degerstedt), an IQ-point-challenged flight attendant; Kathy (Katy O’Donnell), on her way out of the big city and into married life in the country; and quintessential New Yorker Marta (Julia Black), who celebrates “a city of strangers, some come to stare, some to stay” in the Sondheim classic “Another Hundred People.”

SideBySide All of these characters exert their influence over Bobby, the result of which he expresses in the wistful “Someone Is Waiting,” the conflicted “Marry Me A Little,” and the acidic but ultimately celebratory “Being Alive,” songs featuring some of Sondheim’s most evocative lyrics: “Someone is waiting, warm as Susan, frantic and touching as Amy.” “Marry me a little. Love me just enough. Cry, but not too often. Play, but not too rough.” “Someone to crowd you with love. Someone to force you to care. Someone to make you come through, who’ll always be there as frightened as you of being alive.”

Director Alarr knows well the city Bobby and his friends call home, and his incisive, imaginative handling of George Furth’s book and Sondheim’s music and lyrics helps make this Crown City Theatre revival such a winner, that and an all-around smashing cast headed by Rovner, who delves deeply into Bobby’s complexities to create a character we may not admire, but one we can’t help caring about.

Bobby_April_Rain There are no weak links in the excellent Crown City cast, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning a few standouts—Alarr’s Joanne, who manages to make “The Ladies Who Lunch” her ballsy own, no small task considering she’s following in Elaine Stritch’s footsteps; Albert, whose tour-de-force rendition of “Getting Married Today” is but part of an irresistibly quirky performance; and the stunning Degerstedt, brilliantly defying dumb blonde stereotypes in a star turn that includes an exquisitely performed monolog about an ill-fated butterfly, and “Barcelona,” charmingly duetted with Rover, with whom she shares great chemistry and a hot seduction scene.

223442_10100478083738371_1594854041_n Company’s secret weapon is choreographer John Todd, who has taken a musical not particularly known for its dance sequences and created one pizzazzy ensemble number after another, from the show opener “Company,” to the basketball moves which accompany the men’s “Have I Got A Girl For You,” to the razzmatazzy one-two punch of “Side By Side By Side” and “What Would We Do Without You?” … and more.

William A. Reilly gets top marks as musical director, in addition to providing live piano accompaniment backed by instrumental tracks prerecorded expressly for this production.

Scenic designer Jack Forrestal has created a spiffy-looking Manhattan apartment set, with projection designer Hollis taking us on a visual tour of the Big Apple. Other design elements are equally first rate, including Anna Cecilia Martín’s expert lighting, Tanya Apuya’s character-appropriate costumes and Mark Duggar’s first-rate sound design. Only the decision to feature invisible alcohol and cookies doesn’t work, the mimed filling of glasses and eating of said cookies contrasting with some very real burnt toast in the toaster and equally real-looking pot in the baggie.

Joanne McGee does triple duty (assistant director, props, and scenic painter). Kimberly Bullock is production stage manager. Gary Lamb is executive producer.

At last night’s Opening Night reception, someone wondered aloud why Company doesn’t get revived all that often. Since I can’t recall a local production since Reprise staged it almost ten years ago, the rarity of Company revivals should be reason enough not to miss this one. That it is done so very right by the folks at Crown City makes it a must-see for Sondheim lovers and newbies alike.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
February 14, 2013
Photos: Tim Polzin

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