It’s been over a decade since Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Tony-winning Best Musical of 1970, Company, has had an L.A. (or L.A.-adjacent) big-stage revival, making its arrival at Thousand Oaks’ Cabrillo Music Theater big news indeed, particularly as directed with abundant inspiration and flair by Nick DeGruccio and performed by an all-around fabulous cast, with Cate Caplin’s imaginative choreography giving the show an added dash of pizzazz.
“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 bachelor leading man Robert, aka Bobby, aka Bob, aka Bobbo, aka Robby, aka Bobby Baby, aka Robert Darling, aka Bobby Honey.
Groundbreaking back in the early 1970s in its ruminations on the plusses and minuses of married life, Company remains a heady treat even forty-five years after its Broadway debut, and director DeGruccio opts wisely to keep Company in its original time frame, a decision in tune with Furth’s book and Sondheim’s lyrics, each of them a nostalgic refection on the era’s “swinging” mores.
Soap-star handsome L.A. musical theater newcomer Alxander Jon stars as Bobby, just turning thirty-five and the only remaining 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.
First up is the self-proclaimedly on-the-wagon Harry (Michael Andrew Baker) and his ever-dieting wife Sarah (Elissa Wagner), whose martial arts demonstration reveals considerably marital strain (and elicits considerable audience laughter in the bargain).
Next we meet Peter and Susan (James Padilla and Elizabeth Eden), a flamboyantly-scarved New Yorker and his Southern belle wife who, Bobby learns with considerable surprise, are about to be happily divorced.
Company next introduces us to alpha male David (Kevin F. Story) and straight-laced Jenny (Heather Dudenbostel), who 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.
Speaking of which, Amy (Shelley Regner) may or may not be getting married today to her Jewish fiancé Paul (Nick Tubbs), her doubts and fears revealed in the appropriately titled “Getting Married Today,” quite possibly the lickety-splittest song in the history of American musical theater.
Completing Bobby’s circle of married friends are 50something Joanne (Tracy Lore) and hubby number three Larry (Paul Babb), who take Bobby out for a night on the town only to have a steadily more sloshed Joanne launch into Sondheim’s justly famed toast to “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
Then there are Bobby’s latest three girlfriends: warm-hearted Kathy (Aly French), on her way out of the big city and into married life in the country; spacey flight attendant April (Jane Papageorge); and quintessential New Yorker Marta (Chelsea Emma Franko), who celebrates “a city of strangers, some come to stare, some to stay” in the Sondheim classic “Another Hundred People.”
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.”
The silky-voiced Jon gives us an initially beautiful-but-blank canvas onto which each couple begins adding strokes of color, all of which add up to a still young man whose thrillingly performed “Being Alive” is the identity proclamation of a work-in-progress about to begin the next phase of life in living color. (Expect to be seeing much more of the charismatic Jon in musicals to come.)
First and foremost among supporting players is Lore’s sensational Joanne (the role originated by Elaine Stritch), whose steely, sardonic exterior masks considerable heart—if you just dig deep enough. As for the justly famed “The Ladies Who Lunch,” Lore once again proves that absolutely nobody does it better, from the song’s deceptively quiet start to its devastating, gut-punching finish.
Husbands Babb, Baker, and Story harmonize to perfection in one of Sondheim’s most affecting songs ever, “Sorry/Grateful.” Smoky-voiced stunner Franko belts out a show-stopping “Another Hundred People,” then joins voices with French and Regner in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” for the most infectious three-part harmony within driving distance of downtown L.A. French is a poignant charmer, even without Kathy’s dance showcase “Tick-Tock,” cut here as it so often is in Company revivals. As for the breathtaking Papageorge, the on-a-roll recent UCLA grad not only aces April’s dumb-blonde butterfly monolog, her duet of “Barcelona” with Jon is as sweet and touching and funny as duets get.
The equally on-the-rise Regner gives us a hilariously manic, rocket-speed “Getting Married Today” that may well score the evening’s loudest cheers, with Dudenbostel’s glorious soprano, Tubbs’ velvet tenor, and a quartet of upstairs bridesmaids (one of the show’s many DeGruccio inspirations) adding to the mix.
Completing Company’s cast alongside the terrific Dudenbostel and Tubbs are the equally marvelous Eden, Padilla, and Wagner, each with his or her own moments to shine.
Caplin integrates some imaginative musical staging (and snappy girl-group moves) into Company’s first act, saving her dance fireworks for Act Two’s “Side by Side by Side” and “What Would We Do Without You?”, a one-two punch that allows the SoCal choreographic treasure to really strut her stuff in a razzmatazzy booze-and-cocaine-induced dream sequence (another bit of DeGruccio genius) that provokes audience cheers and wows.
Cabrillo Music Theatre’s decision to stage Company in Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Scherr Forum Theatre gives the production an intimacy it would have lacked in the larger Fred Kavli Theatre, with DeGruccio making imaginative use of scenic designer Tom Buderwitz’s snazzy multilevel Manhattan-skyline-backed set, impressively lit by Jean-Yves Tessier.
Sound designer Jonathan Burke insures a pitch-perfect blend of the splendid upstage nine-piece orchestra under the baton of musical director-conductor-keyboard whiz Cassie Nickols and the cast’s crisply amplified vocals.
Credit goes also to Alex Choate for his nifty properties design and to production stage manager Vernon Willet, technical director Gary Mintz, and crew captain Char Brister.
With Nick DeGruccio doing his accustomed brilliant work alongside as topnotch as cast as any Company lover could wish for, Cabrillo Music Theatre’s revival of one of Stephen Sondheim’s more rarely produced gems is an all-around winner that no Sondheim buff (or just about anyone else who loves great musical theater) will want to miss.
Janet and Roy Scherr Forum, Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.
January 23, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger