The musical theatre world may be abuzz about last year’s gender-swap revival of Company in London and its transfer to Broadway next year. In the Raincity Theatre production currently playing at a storefront in Mount Plesant though, they tackle the Sondheim musical as initially written. They do so with some spectacular results.
Set in 1960’s Manhattan, Company tells the story of Robert, contemplating his unmarried state on his 35th birthday. Through a series of disconnected vignettes, Robert navigates three girlfriends while his coupled friends explain the pros and cons of being married.
While a product of time and place – wholly embraced by director Chris Adams, set designer Nicol Spinola, and costume designer Christina Sinosich – there is a surprising timelessness to Company almost fifty years later.
Ahead of its time when it first appeared on Broadway in 1970, perhaps it has taken the intervening years for the rest of us to catch up with Sondheim. Forgoing the formula of the big, brash musicals, which were the mainstay of Broadway at the time, Sondheim took a much different approach. Not only setting the stage for Sondheim’s future work, but it also helped pave the way for other musicals to explore more adult themes.
During our recent interview with director Chris Adams and choreographer Nicol Spinola, both pointed to Company‘s appeal for theatre artists. With Sondheim’s complex music and unparalleled skills as a lyricist, there is an inherent challenge in performing a show like Company. Fortunately, Adams has assembled an ensemble more than up to the task, having the time of their lives with the material.
Though many will look at the role of Bobby as its star vehicle, expertly played here by Jonathan Winsby, Company is an ensemble piece. Allowing each of its cast of thirteen to shine at various points, it is a joy to watch the talent assembled in one place.
While there is no weak link among its cast, there are a few performances that stand-out.
Among them is Katey Wright as Robert’s cynical and acerbic older friend Joanne. In her platinum blonde wig, Wright is at first a bit of an enigma. Her performance in “The Ladies Who Lunch,” though, is one of the show’s greatest pleasures among a sea of delights.
Alex Gullason has a great deal of fun in “Getting Married Today,” with crisp frenetic energy. Madeleine Suddaby, Jennie Neumann, and Lindsay Ann Warnock effortlessly channel their inner Andrews Sisters as the trio of girlfriends for “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”
And while Caitlin Clugston and Graham Coffeng are no wallflowers in the music department, they simply shine in an oddly relatable and hilarious scene about diets, alcoholism, and karate.
Individually this cast may be at the top of their game, but when they come together, it blows the roof off of this unconventional venue. With few of the trappings of a more traditional musical, the act two blockbuster “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?” is a revelation.
Speaking of the venue, this may be the show’s only slight downside with sometimes tricky sightlines. With the delights of any play or musical coming from the reactions as much as the action, it was sometimes difficult to see the character’s responses.
One supposes it comes with the territory when you decide to stage musicals, like last year’s Sweeney Todd, in non-traditional venues. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking down the proscenium barrier and it is but a tiny criticism for a show where its greatest pleasures come from its players.
With limited seating and tickets going fast, you’ll want to RSVP for Bobby’s birthday party soon as you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more talented group gathered on a single stage.
Company with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth. A Raincity Theatre production on stage at “Bobby’s Apartment” (2531 Ontario St, Vancouver) until October 26. Visit raincitytheatre.com for tickets and information.