Herbert Wolff Reviews Barrington Stage's Production of "Company"

Aug 24, 2017

Yes…a few of us ventured to New York City in our mid-30s to seek careers, friendships, and come what may on our road to age 40.  Never mind how we survived three or so decades of back-woods living.  This was New York!  So, our first approach was to seek comrades, companions… company – making it easy to relate to the title of the truly wonderful production now at Barrington Stage.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Company displays Sondheim’s unique ability to focus on – and bring out the depth of – each character interacting within the story.

Think back to his other prize-winning shows: Gypsy, where the main character is not Gypsy Rose Lee, but a mother engineering her daughters’ success.  There’s A Little Night Music, of course, with the memorable “Send in the Clowns.”  And, Sondheim’s exploration of a French painting depicting dozens of people strolling in a public park, and voilà…the delightful Sunday in the Park with George.

It is Sondheim’s talent to see what others see, hear, and emotionally feel…capture that moment in time…and create a musical story and score that it is brilliant.

This production of Company takes place on a set of exposed brick walls, windows with views of other buildings, beanbag chairs – very New York, 1970s.  The opening number gets us ready for Robert’s birthday – with the full cast of 14 singing, jabbering and milling around.  Robert (or “Bobby,” as he’s known to many) is a bachelor about to turn 35.

The friends trying to arrange his surprise party are all couples: married, almost married, about to divorce. Bobby is everyone’s pal, occasionally a lover, and godfather to seven.  He enjoys groups of three people – “company,” he calls them “…so safe.”  As it happens, this popular bachelor isn’t afraid of marriage: he’s afraid of NOT getting married.

Perhaps the show’s best-known song – a trio teasing Robert for remaining single – is “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”  It is presented with sass and fine articulation by Rebecca Kuznick, Nora Schell, and Mara Davi.  Ms. Schell shines again later, with just the right touch of sardonic verve in her song, “Another Hundred People,” observing the throngs getting off morning trains in Manhattan.  Another outstanding solo performance is Ellen Harvey’s powerful delivery of “Ladies Who Lunch.”

Company is one of those shows, however, that cannot succeed without the lead role of Robert being sensitively interpreted – including his two musical show-stoppers: “Someone is Waiting,” and “Being Alive.”  The leading man must be charming, dashing, vulnerable, disarming, wistful.  This production has such a star in Aaron Tveit, who proves up to the task from opening to closing curtain.

All this – with Julianne Boyd’s expert direction and Music Director Darren Cohen balanced orchestral accompaniment – add up to many reasons for attending a performance of Company…now on stage through September 2nd at Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on live television. He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For over 25 years he has been an on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.  

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