Sondheim’s Company an almost standing ovation at San Francisco Playhouse

Cast of COMPANY at San Francisco Playhouse, Keith Pinto, foreground, as Bobby.

COMPANY: Musical. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Susi Damilano. Music Director: Dave Dobrusky. Choreographer: Kimberly Richards. San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, 2nd Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel, San Francisco, CA.  415-677-9596, or  www.sfplayhouse.org. July 7th to September 12th

Sondheim’s Company an almost standing ovation at San Francisco Playhouse. Rating: ★★★★☆

Be assured that The San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Sondheim’s problematic musical Company should (will?) have a successful run in what has become their annual summer musical to entice visitors to The City as well as pleasing the locals. It has all the trappings of success. A great book/score, sterling cast, fantastic staging/direction and a set that that uses every inch of the stage including the fly area with twin pianos on stage right and left providing all of the music.

The play is almost half a century old receiving many awards for the initial production and for the two Broadway revivals (1995 and 2006). During the intervening years it has been revised with additions and deletions. It is a series of vignettes based on George Furth’s short stories. There is no set order for the individual story lines and there is no mention in the program of director Susi Damilano’s choice for this presentation but she has certainly has put her stamp on the staging that occasionally trumps the words or music. However the evening is vibrant, entertaining and excruciating true to the exigencies of marriage.

It starts as surprise party for uncommitted bachelor Robert’s 35th birthday arranged by his friends that include five couples, four who are married and the fifth getting married.  Although there are universal truths about marriage the emphasis is on New York City and the “me generation” reflected in the lyrics.

After the opening number “Company” by Robert (Keith Pinto) and the company, Sarah (Velina Brown)and Harry (Christopher Reber)take center stage in a very physical scene that sets the tone for the remainder of the evening. She is into karate, food and dieting. He has a drinking problem. The other couples include Joanne (Stephanie Prentice)  and Larry (Richard Frederick: she an acerbic older woman (once played by Elaine Stritch) and he a gentle pliant soul. Their introduction brings on the satiric “The Little Things You Do Together” with the company as backup.

Then there are Susan (Nicole Weber), a Southern belle is divorced from possibly gay Peter (Michael Scott Wells) who is proud of his Ivy League background. Rather naïve Jenny (Abby Sammons ) who is willing to experiment is married to compliant but controlling David (Ryan Drummond).  The soon to be married couple are Amy (Monique Hafen) a neurotic Catholic and Jewish Paul (John Paul Gonzalez ) resilient to her rounds of manic behavior.

The single women are “dumb” flight attendant April (Morgan Dayley), hip and vulgar Marta (Teresa Attridge) who loves New York City and Robert’s long-time on-off girlfriend Kathy (Michelle Drexler) who yearns for marriage and the proverbial white picket fence.

The cast is mostly superlative and handle Sondheim’s tricky words and music extremely well with a few missteps. Pinto is an excellent choice for the role of Robert. He takes control of the stage with his tenor voice enunciating Sondheim’s words perfectly. He demonstrates his dancing skills in the rousing “Side by Side” opening the second act. His solos are memorable including “Someone is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and the finale “Being Alive.”

Monique Hafen returns to the Playhouse stage with a show stopper in “Getting Married Today” today and Stephanie Prentice has her turn in the spotlight with “The Ladies Who Lunch.” The words to “Another Hundred People” (got off the bus) are lost in Teresa Attridge’s rendition.

The staging (set by Bill English and Jacquelyn) and direction almost overpower the music and lyrics but it is a production of Company that should not be missed. It is a five level set with individual areas rising on stage left and right with gorgeous projections of New York City on the entire rear stage wall. Damilano has taken a page from Jon Tracy keeping most of the actors on stage in tableau form on the various levels and bringing them forward downstage for their respective actions. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes including an intermission.

Recommendation: Must see.

CAST: Teresa Attridge, Marta; Velina Brown, Sarah; Morgan Dayley, April; Michelle Drexler,  Kathy, (Understudy – Jenny); Ryan Drummond, David; Richard Frederick,  Larry; John Paul Gonzalez, Paul (Understudy – Robert); Monique Hafen, Amy; Keith Pinto, Robert; Stephanie Prentice, Joanne; Christopher Reber, Harry; Abby Sammons, Jenny (Understudy – Joanne/Marta); Nicole Weber, Susan (Understudy – Amy); Michael Scott Wells, Peter, (Understudy – Paul).

CREATIVE-TEAM: Director, Susi Damilano; Music Director, Dave Dobrusky; Choreographer, Kimberly Richards; Set Design, Bill English & Jacquelyn Scott;  Casting/Artistic Associate, Lauren English;  Costume Designer, Shannon Sigman;  Production Manager, Maggie Koch;  Stage Manager, Tatjana Genser;  Lighting Designer, Michael Oesch; Projection Design, Micah Stieglitz;  Props Design, Jacquelyn Scott;  Technical Theatre Manager, Zach Sigman;  Projection Design, Micah Stieglitz.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com