COMPANY

Director Kristin Towers-Rowles makes Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 Broadway classic Company seem fresh and new in the terrifically performed and choreographed revival it’s now being given at Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre.

 As party guests await the arrival of just-turning-35 birthday boy Robert (Paul Luoma), Furth’s revolutionary book introduces us to our resolutely single hero’s best friends, 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 (Craig Sherman) and his ever-dieting wife Sarah (Suzanne Mayes), whose martial arts demonstration reveals considerably marital strain amidst audience laughs.

Next we meet Peter and Susan (Spencer Johnson and Amanda Greig), a big, burly gent who can’t keep his fingers off Bobby and his oblivious Southern belle wife, about to be happily divorced.

 Company then introduces us to alpha male David (Brian O’Sullivan) and straight-laced Jenny (Devon Davidson), the couple doing 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 (Amy Coles) may or may not be getting married today to her Jewish fiancé Paul (Brayden Hade), 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 (Janet Krajeski) and hubby number three Larry (Larry Gesling), 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 (Krystal Jasmin Combs), on her way out of the big city and into married life in the country; spacey flight attendant April (Emilia Sotelo); and quintessential New Yorker Marta (Alicia Reynolds-Luoma), who celebrates “a city of strangers, some come to stare, some to stay” in the Sondheim classic “Another Hundred People.” (The trio’s harmonizing in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” proves as delightful as ever.)

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.

Making an auspicious Morgan-Wixson debut, Towers-Rowles’s original touches are evident throughout this “director’s musical,” from the early freeze-frame that tells us much about each couple in Bobby’s life, to the care she has taken to elicit multi-dimensional performances, to her imaginative use of William Wilday’s multilevel set throughout.

 Working side-by-side-by-side with her triple-threat cast and choreographer Jamie Pierce, Towers-Rowles treats audiences to quite possibly the danciest Company of the many I’ve seen, and not only in the guaranteed Act Two-opening show-stopper “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?” that builds from surreal to circus (hula hoops, jugglers, baton-twirlers) to straw-hat chorus-line kicks.

 There are also the karate-stylized moves of Harry and Susan’s martial arts demo, the five-couples waltz of “Someone Is Waiting,” and above all the full-ensemble umbrella ballet of “Getting Married Today.”

Add to that a sizzling Combs’ Cassie-eque “Tick Tock,” designed in the Broadway original to showcase a pre-A Chorus Line Donna McKechnie, cut from most contemporary Companies, but gratifying included here and you’ve got one Company worth seeing if only for its choreography.

 A less adventurous director than Towers-Rowles might have cast a more traditional leading-man type than baby-faced charmer Luoma, but the Equity guest artist proves an inspired choice for work-in-progress Bobby, a role Luoma invests with passion, depth, and pipes powerful enough to make the emotional most of “Marry Me A Little” and “Being Alive.”

 Coles not only sings the daylights out of the high-velocity tongue-twister “Getting Married Today,” she reveals comedic chops to do Carol Burnett proud.

 Combs, Davidson, Gesling, Greig, Hade, Johnson, Mayes, O’Sullivan, Reynolds-Luoma, Sherman, and Sotelo all do standout work as well, with special snaps to Davidson’s glorious soprano in “Getting Married Today,” Reynolds-Luoma’s dynamic “Another Hundred People,” and raven-haired Sotelo’s contralto April, a whole new (and thoroughly delightful) take on the usual dumb-blonde bunny.

 As for the sensational Krajeski, not only does her explosive “The Ladies Who Lunch” give us Joanne’s anger and bitterness, the oceans of pain it reveals make it one to rival Elaine Stritch’s Broadway original.

On a slightly critical note, adding two performers we’ve not yet seen to “Getting Married Today” proves distracting (“Where did they come from?”), and keeping Bobby in shirt and tie during sex with April seems an odd choice.

Still these are minor quibbles in a production that benefits enormously from Daniel Koh’s expert musical direction, Bob Marino, Anne Gesling, and Koh’s fine sound design, and Morgan-Wixson acoustics that make even unmiked voices soar out over prerecorded tracks.

Michael Mullen’s late-60s/early-‘70s costumes are colorful, nostalgic winners too, and lit with flair by Donnie Jackson.

Company is produced by Anne and Larry Gesling. Assistant director Biaca “Binky” Vanderhorst doubles as stage manager. Combs is assistant choreographer. Jessie Harrison and Koh are swings.

I’ve seen a dozen-and-a-half Companies so far, and Towers-Rowles’ is both one of the finest and one of the most original. A terrific introduction to the Broadway classic for Company newbies and a memorable return visit to those who’ve enjoyed it before, this Company is the venerable Morgan-Wixson at its contemporary best.

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Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica. Through April 1. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 310 828-7519
www.morgan-wixson.org

–Steven Stanley
March 4, 2017
Photos: jdcphotography.zenfolio.com

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