Company (Bucks County Playhouse)

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I discovered Company in 1970, shortly after its Broadway premiere, and the show had a profound effect on me. Listening to  the original cast album, I heard a contemporary energy and immediacy in Stephen Sondheim’s score that was different from anything I knew. My impression was magnified when I finally saw the show, a few months later, on its national tour.

That was 45 years ago! Now, Company is the Sondheim show I teach most often – and I’m gratified to see today’s college-age students responding as enthusiastically as I did.

Gratified – but also a little surprised. Because looking at Company from my current perspective, I can see how much this show – a study of Bobby, a 35-year-old single man, surrounded by coupled friends who want him to join their ranks – really deals with the pangs of approaching middle age. Some of it is also very ‘70s to me – evolving definitions of relationships; early recognition of “commitment phobia.” And it’s very much about the glamour and challenges of living in Manhattan – which, of course, is not everybody’s world.

Maybe what knocks us all out – regardless of age or experience – is simply the show’s brilliance and insight, on view in pretty much every song and scene.

Brilliant Company was – and is. But it’s not an easy show to pull off. The musical numbers are complex, requiring substantial ensemble coordination. And the storytelling – not a linear narrative, but a series of vignettes – depends more than many musicals on the book scenes, which are written (by George Furth, who was also an actor) in a way that requires comedic skills.

The production at Bucks County Playhouse for the most part pulls it off masterfully, and with high style. That they’ve managed it with a two-week rehearsal period is astonishing.

I give a lot of credit to director Hunter Foster (himself an accomplished musical theatre performer). It’s a production filled with ideas – I don’t agree with all of them, but what’s remarkable is how much of the show – especially the acting – is nuanced and full of inner life. Listening to Company, I’m always dazzled by Sondheim’s lyrics – but here, I also really noticed how specifically they reflect character and situation.

Of course, the performers themselves help a lot, too! Here, an ensemble of 14 collectively and individually give honorable performances, and in some cases, exemplary ones. I’ll single out three particular favorites. Jennifer Cody (Sarah) has great comic panache, but at the same time finds something lovable and real. Kate Wetherhead (Amy) likewise has the right mix of sweet and funny, and absolutely nails one of the most difficult songs in Company (really, in all musical theatre), “Getting Married Today.”

Justin Guarini -- Pretty Much Perfect as Bobby in Company (photo by Mandee Kuenzle)

Justin Guarini — Pretty Much Perfect as Bobby in Company (photo by Mandee Kuenzle)

Company in many ways belongs to Bobby, and Justin Guarini is pretty much perfect – adorable, personable, appealing in every way to both men and woman; yet at the same time, we can also see the emptiness and pain that lies beneath. And his gorgeous tenor voice meets every challenge in the score.

These three actors would be at the top of any short list for a Company cast – but really, the whole show is immensely entertaining. If you’ve never seen it before, now is your chance. If you already know Company from other productions, you should go again – I think you’ll be very impressed with what the Bucks County Playhouse has pulled off.

Company at Bucks County Playhouse, through 21 June 2013.  Tickets and Information Here

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