Musical 'Company' stays relevant at Colonial Players

Stephen Sondheim's first major success is an inspired choice

March 31, 2011|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

For its annual musical this season, Colonial Players chose the award-winning "Company," which runs through April 16 at its theater at 108 East St. in Annapolis.

An inspired choice and Stephen Sondheim's first major success, "Company" first appeared in 1970 to change the Broadway musical from a standard integrated book format to an episodic structure. The production was based on a collection of one-act plays by George Furth.

It seems appropriate that this new twist in the Broadway musical was devised by Sondheim, who is the legitimate successor to giants Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein in his ability to create haunting melodies wedded to brilliant lyrics.

Despite the social upheavals over the past 40 years, "Company" remains relevant primarily because it reflects some basic truths about social pressure and conformity, as examined through protagonist Robert's journey.

Robert, who is often called Bobby, is still single as he prepares to celebrate his 35th birthday at a surprise party given by 10 friends pressuring him to marry. He later discovers that they are sending mixed messages about their own marriages. In addition to these couples, which include soon-to-wed and soon-to-divorce partners, are Robert's three current girlfriends — perhaps offering him a way out of his solitude.

At Colonial Players' in-the-round setting, the pianist and cellist are at the center to create the music that tells the story. The cast forms an outer circle around the musical duo to articulate Bobby's search through the complexities of friends' relationships.

Director Joe Thompson has used the venue to bring a simple elegance to this show that, most importantly, has music at its center. He has also assembled a talented ensemble of 14 actor/singers to tell their stories seamlessly in a series of vignettes — sometimes circling in pairs, often in ensemble giving voice to the incomparable score.

Musical director Ryan Shookman has transcribed the score to fit piano and cello. Together, Shookman and cellist Kate Chambers bring consummate justice to this challenging music. Shookman has also done a stellar job in coaching each singer to clearly elucidate Sondheim's timeless lyrics.

"Company" needs a cast capable of delivering the many lively chorus pieces, which are fully realized here from the opening "Company" number to a rousing "Side by Side by Side" that marks the high point of the show.

Singer/actor John Halmi plays the leading role of Robert, singing brilliantly and capturing every facet of this complex, confused, tortured, compliant and charming man.

Jamie Miller delivers a bravura performance of the demanding patter song "Getting Married Today" as Amy, who panics on her wedding day after living happily for years with partner Paul — played by Trent Goldsmith — who joins her in navigating the brisk-paced duet.

An outstanding CP debut performance is given by Emily Sergo, who not only reveals an operatic voice as Sarah but displays some karate proficiency and fierce competitiveness with husband Harry, played by a first-time CP performer ,Rick Long.

Shannon Benil gives another excellent performance here as Jennie, who is married to David, played by another CP first-timer, James Schwallenburg, who reveals an impressive tenor voice.

Tobias Young makes a memorable CP debut as Peter, whose wife, Susan, is played by Susannah Hurlburt in her second CP show.

Bobby's girlfriends — flight attendant April (Bridget Creel), free-spirited New Yorker Marta (Laurie Lawrence) and sweet Kathy (Monica Garcia) — together do justice to their anthem, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." Creel, who is a senior at Archbishop Spalding High School, provides high comedy as ditzy April, leaving Bobby's bed to fly off to Spain. Lawrence gives a stunning performance of Marta's quintessential ode to Manhattan, "Another Hundred People."

Margaret Allman plays much-married Joanne who is divorcing current husband Larry, well played by Vince van Joolen. Allman delivers Joanne's famed acerbic song "The Ladies Who Lunch" — one of the few songs that might have lost some punch over the years, although it may need famed actress Elaine Stritch to interpret.

All who recognize and revere the wit and truth of these words should call Colonial Players Box Office at 410-268-7373 (CQ) to reserve seats or go to thecolonialplayers.org. to catch a performance before April 16.

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