Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Company" by Shoot the Glass Theater at New Century Theatre

"Company! Lots of company! Years of company! Love is company! Company!" So ends my favorite Stephen Sondheim musical, the 1970 multiple Tony winner Company. A new theater company in town called Shoot the Glass Theater has kindly chosen to do this, my favorite Sondheim, on this, my birthday weekend, as just their second show as a company. They're presenting a fairly simple staging and a fairly straight-forward and traditional production at the New Century Theatre, with a talented young cast, some new to me, some familiar. I was thrilled to begin my birthday celebration with Bobby and his crazy married friends. If you're a Sondheim fan, act fast, because they're only doing six shows (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

I first experienced Company in 2011 when a filmed concert version starring Neil Patrick Harris was released to movie theaters. I immediately fell in love with it, even more so when I saw Theater Latte Da's production the next year (twice). Company began as a series of short plays about married couples written by George Furth. When Stephen Sondheim came on board, it was turned into a musical and the character of Bobby was added as a central character tying all of the couples together. There's not much of a plot to it; it's more of a character study and an exploration of the ideas of marriage, friendship, and connection through a series of vignettes. Bobby is single and turning 35 amidst a bunch of married couples (something I can relate to, although I am celebrating my 9th 35th birthday this weekend), and he spends time with each of them in turn, trying to figure out what it's all about. In typical Sondheim fashion, the songs are clever and witty and fast, with unexpected and beautiful melodies.*

The New Century Theater can sometimes be an awkward space, but it's well used here. The platform stage is built out into a thrust, and the six-piece onstage band (led by Randy Buikema) serves as the backdrop. The simple staging (just a few benches and chairs in shades of cool gray) serves the piece well; when you've got 14 people moving in and out (and often onstage at the same time) you don't want a lot of set cluttering up the small space. The appearance is sleek and modern, and the addition of smart phone use lets us know we're in 2016 and not the 1970s (although that point would be furthered by seeing a more diverse set of couples - a non-white couple, an interracial couple, and/or a same-sex couple).

Bobby (Ryan Nielson) with all of his good and crazy
married friends (photo courtesy of Shoot the Glass Theater)
One of the wonderful things about Sondheim, and also one of the challenging things, is that he writes songs not just for a few leads but for many of the ensemble characters. That means you need a deep pool of talent, and they've got that here (even if most of them are a bit too young to be playing "old married people" in their 30s). To name but a few, we have Daniel Greco (a relative newcomer to the #TCTheater scene of whom I'm hoping we will see more in the coming months and years - I need more of that voice please!) and Dorothy Owen as the on the wagon karate couple; Kaitlin Klemencic as Amy, who handles the fastest and wordiest song ("Getting Married Today") with aplomb and appropriate frenetic energy; Emily Jansen as the world-weary Joanne, toasting to "The Ladies Who Lunch;" Karissa Lade as the self-described dumb (but charming) ditsy blond; and Quinn Shadko as the "square" enjoying pot for the first time. And tying all of these individual performances together is Ryan Nielson (STG's Artistic Director) as a charming and affable Bobby.

Having been written in the '70s, Company is a bit dated in terms of gender roles (the commitment phobic man and the women who are frustrated with him because of it), but perhaps not as much as one might think, and still relatable as it explores different kinds of relationships and marriages (a happily divorced couple, a runaway bride). Still, I would love to see a production of Company with all of the gender roles reversed - a 35 year old woman named Roberta who's reluctant to get married, three men singing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," etc. I think it would be an even more interesting exploration of relationships (if any theater company is willing to take that on I will give you the idea for free!).

This was my first look at Shoot the Glass Theater, and I like what I see. I look forward to seeing what else they've got up their sleeves. In the meantime, this entirely satisfactory production of one of Sondheim's best musicals continues for just five more shows (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about the Theater Latte Da production in 2012.