Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” presented by Avon Players, Rochester MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Avon Players
Avon Players Keeping Fabulous “Company”
The dedicated volunteers that form the Avon Players, so generous with their time and talent, have done it again. Way up there in the hinterlands of Rochester, they have crafted another professional-quality show from one of the most challenging works in musical theatre – Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant musical comedy “Company”. These people truly love theatre, and it shows.
At its Broadway premiere in 1970, “Company” was the first of its kind – a so-called Concept Musical. Rather than following a linear storyline, the narrative emerges like the spokes of a wheel, fanning out from a central event – in this case, a birthday – and forming separate vignettes, almost like sketch comedy. If done right, the effect is electrifying, with ever-changing scenes and a dazzling array of sharp-witted, innovative songs that makes the time fly. The 1970 production of “Company”, with music and lyrics by Sondheim, book by George Furth and direction by Hal Prince, received a record 14 Tony nominations, reaping a total of six awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Lyrics. Later, Sondheim, Furth and Prince collaborated on a revised script to better align the subject matter with the changing times. The show saw many successful productions worldwide, and a number of revivals, one as recent as October 2018.
The setting is Manhattan in 1970. Robert, a likeable guy, is at a crossroads on his 35th birthday. He’s had lots of romances, but can’t get close enough to make the commitment he seems to long for. To make matters worse, all of his friends are couples, and they all have something to say, but no solutions. Meeting them all scene by scene, powered by musical numbers laced with acidic wit, humor and perception, makes this show a great pleasure.
Robert (“Bobby” to his friends) comes home and plays back messages from his answering machine, launching the show with one of its most entertaining moments and also gives a clever introduction to Robert and his friends. (Now, anyone over a certain age is bound to be thinking “Wait a minute! They didn’t have answering machines in 1970!” and they’d be right. That’s because the Avon Players appear to be using a script revision from 1996, not the original 1970 script).
Before you know it, Bobby (Matt Cason) finds himself surrounded by his friends at a surprise birthday party complete with a cake and candles that won’t blow out. Cason is superb as Bobby, the average guy battling indecision and fear of commitment, with strong vocals and stage presence.
The fun begins to unfold in a series of disjointed vignettes. Highlights include a visit with Sarah (Johanna Steinbrecher-Booker) and Harry (Clayton Hargrave), who clearly have unresolved issues with food and booze and end up on the floor in a comical karate battle. Next up is Susan (Kirsten Renas) and Peter (Eric Rodman), who adore each other and can’t wait to get a divorce so they can be together; not exactly an inspiration for their friend Bobby. On the other hand, Jenny (Odera Office) and David (Patrick Daniels) are so mismatched they’re perfect together, and end up hilariously stoned with Bobby. In the next sketch, it’s the wedding day of Amy (Jenna Russel) and Paul (Nicholas Frederick), and in one of the best performances in the show, Russell’s frantic, machine-gun delivery of “Getting Married Today” brings down the house.
Other impressive performers include Veronica Dean as Marta, one of Bobby’s girlfriends, in “Another Hundred People”. She has a rich, powerful voice in this song describing life in the City of New York. Making wry observations from the sidelines is Joanne (Joy Oetjens), a cynical “woman of a certain age” on her third husband, the easy-going and very rich Larry (Jamie Maurer). Oetjens delivers a blistering tour-de-force turn in “The Ladies Who Lunch”.
There’s a notable ensemble piece by Bobby’s three current lady friends: hipster Marta (Dean), small-town girl Kathy (Cheyenne Johnson) and stewardess April (Sarah Milano). They perform “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, a show-stopping number that combines excellent choreography and vocals by all three. The standout, however, is Milano, who proves to be a real triple-threat artist with professional polish in every scene she’s in.
Lively direction by Ryan Moore ensures there’s never a dull moment, with the pacing fast and the energy high. Each vignette is crystal-clear, each character is vividly drawn. There is not one weak performance from the 15-member cast, not a flat note from the nine-piece orchestra led by conductor Matt Horn. Costumes (Tracy Murrell), set design (JD Deierlein, Brad Holoday) and lighting (also JD Deierlein) are all top-notch.
This show is a must-see, but it has a short run and there are only a couple of performances left, so don’t miss it!
When: Now through June 1, 2019
8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $20 to $22
Where: Avon Playhouse
1185 Washington Rd
Rochester, MI 48306