Company’s dropped by Candlelight Pavilion to celebrate Bobby’s 35th birthday as Inland Valley Repertory Theatre debuts its marvelously performed midweek revival of Company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Tony-winning Best Musical of 1970.
Hear the words “Phone rings, door chimes, in comes company!” and if you’re any kind of Sondheim buff, you’ll know in an instant that the person whose phone is ringing (and whose door is chiming and who is welcoming friends 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.
Allen Everman stars as our birthday boy, halfway to seventy 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 celebrating a midlife milestone with nothing to show for it in the relationship department.
In what must have been a 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 (Ron Hastings) and his ever-dieting wife Sarah (Julie Kirkpatrick), whose martial arts demonstration reveals considerably marital strain in addition to eliciting considerable audience laughter.
Next we meet Peter and Susan (Christopher Diehl and Sandra Rice), a gayish 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 (Peter Schulz) and straight-laced Jenny (Tracy Cox Pedretti), 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 (Rachel Addington) may or may not be getting married today to her Jewish fiancé Paul (Shane Litchfield), 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 50ish Joanne (Tracy Ray Reynolds) and hubby number three Larry (Corky Loupé), 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 (Ashley Grether), on her way out of the big city and into married life in the country; spacey flight attendant April (Kylie Molnar); and quintessential New Yorker Marta (Stella Kim), 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.
Groundbreaking back in the early 1970s in its depiction of adult relationships, Company seems scarcely to have aged a day in forty-five years, though updating the musical to the year 2015 does have a few flaws. (An awkward scene of attempted “homosexual” seduction seems dated in an age of marriage equality while some generation gap references and casual mentions of 40s/’50s MGM hoofer Ann Miller and lunching ladies “clutching a copy of Life just to keep in touch” also feel rooted in the ‘70s.)
Still, these are minor complaints in a production in which director Jason James and his all-around terrific cast do just about everything else right.
First and foremost, there is Everman’s anchoring performance as Bobby, a man whose transformation we witness from colorless cipher to someone about to begin the next phase of his life in living color, a change revealed in Everman’s particularly moving rendition of Company’s now iconic “Being Alive.”
And speaking of iconic, is there any Sondheim song more deserving of that adjective than Joanne’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” performed here by Reynolds in the role originated by Elaine Stritch. Best known for her broad Lucy-meets-Carol-style comedic turns, Reynolds’ powerful yet grounded Joanne reveals a woman’s steely, sardonic exterior and her hidden heart. As for “Ladies,” Reynolds makes it very much her own, from its deceptively quiet start to its devastating, gut-punching finish.
All in all, there’s not a weak link in the splendid IVRT cast.
Husbands Hastings, Loupé, and Shultz harmonize beautifully in one of Sondheim’s most affecting songs ever, “Sorry/Grateful,” and they are joined by Diehl and Litchfield for a bouncy “Have I Got A Girl For You.”
A stellar Kim sings a show-stopping “Another Hundred People” in a soprano that goes effortlessly from chest to head, then joins voices with Grether and Molnar in the infectious three-part harmony “You Could Drive A Person Crazy.”
Molnar does a fine job with April’s dumb-blonde butterfly monolog before dueting “Barcelona” with Everman to charming effect.
As for Kathy, despite getting less to do than her fellow girlfriends minus the dance showcase “Tick-Tock” (cut here as from most productions), Grether makes a strong impression nonetheless.
Addington’s Amy is a particular standout, her rocket-speed “Getting Married Today” a bona fide show stopper, aided and abetted by Rice’s crystal-clear soprano and Litchfield’s equally fine tenor.
Non-singing scenes reveal the dramatic-comedic chops of Addington, Diehl, Hastings, Kirkpatrick, Loupé, Pedretti, Rice, and Schulz in equal measure, with ensemble members Colin Campbell and Erin Reeves completing the cast.
Though not a dancy show per se, IVRT’s Company benefits considerably from Kim Eberhardt’s lively choreography, from the musical chairs of the title song to the girl-group moves of “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” to the disco dancing that provides a backdrop for “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Best of all are Act Two’s “Side by Side by Side” (showcasing Everman in Gene Kelly mode) and “What Would We Do Without You?”, which gives everyone a chance to strut their A Chorus Line stuff plus some nifty circus moves).
Once again, an IVRT musical benefits from live music (no prerecorded tracks here) with musical director/conductor Ronda Rubio once again doing her accustomed bang-up job.
Linda Vick scores high marks for her many character-appropriate costumes. Daniel Moorefield’s lighting and Nick Galvan’s sound design get high marks as well despite a smidgen of opening night unevenness. Mark Mackenzie’s set modification (Company is performed on the concurrently running West Side Story stage) works mostly quite well, though if there’s any show that cries out for a New York City skyline backdrop, it’s Company.
Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Kyle Buenaseda is stage manager. Frank Minano is producing artistic director. Kaufman and Bobby Collins are associate artistic directors. Donna Marie Minano is executive director.
With Grease, Gypsy, Hairspray, Cabaret, and now Company, IVRT has been on quite a roll with its one-word-titled musicals. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Tuesday or Wednesday evening than in the presence of such excellent Company.
Inland Valley Repertory Theatre, Candlelight Pavilion, 455 West Foothill Boulevard, Claremont.
October 28, 2015