Peggy Sue Dunigan
Review

Sondheim’s Company at Off the Wall Theatre

By - Sep 14th, 2009 12:31 pm
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The Best of Broadway presented as Company plays larger than life or its stage

companyposterShow: Company
Runs
: 9/10 – 9/20
Length
: Unlisted
Book by
: George Furth
Songs and Lyrics
: Stephen Sondheim
Director:
Dale Gutzman
Featuring
: Ben George, Marilyn White, Bob Hirschi, Sharon Rise, Kristin Pagenkopf, Lawrence Lukasavage

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If you are unable to fly to New York to see the best in Broadway musicals, Milwaukee proves again to offer an inviting alternative. The Off The Wall Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company proves its small stage can play larger than life in NYC. Filled with 14 cast members, plus an impressive four-piece band, the theater resounds with the dynamic energy that this musical deserves.

The Sondheim Review must agree, because an upcoming edition of the magazinewill feature an article on Artistic Director Dale Gutzman’s recent staging of the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, and now this one.

Originally written as a series of one-act plays by George Furth, Sondheim collaborated with Harold Prince to produce this multi-award winning hitin 1970. There have been numerous revivals; the 2006 Broadway production garnered even more honors. Gutzman channels these award-winning traditions by interpreting and infusing the dynamic score onto a limited stage space. This includes choreographing 17 musical numbers, cleverly performed to maximize the set and completely mesmerize the audience.

One of the first “concept” musicals to represent adult problems through song instead of a story, Company loosely relates the angst of the happily single Robert, who is celebrating his 35th birthday. Robert is unwilling to commit to a meaningful relationship, much less marriage. Surrounded by his five married pairs of friends, he can understand no reason to join them even as they all worry about his aloneness. Yet through each vignette and the satirical-but-poignant lyrics, he gains an appreciation for life and its few answers for finding, committing and maintaining even one enduring relationship.

The cast of Off the Wall's production of Company, courtesy its website

The cast of Off the Wall’s production of Company, courtesy its website

Off The Wall chose Ben George for Company’s main role of Robert (or Bobby, Robby, or Robbo as his friends call him). A slim, semi-sophisticated thirtysomething, he captures the character’s ambiguity and hesitancy with a believable warmth that contrasts the eccentric personalities seen in the intriguing married couples on stage.

Several other musical performances reveal a cast with ample talents. Marcee Doherty (Kathy), Liz Mistele (Marta) and Kristin Pagenkopf (April) present a formidable trio, all Bobby’s girlfriends comically deriding his fears in You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Heather Reynolds (Amy) superbly controls the quick, melodic pace in Getting Married Today while Marilyn White (Joanne) lifts her glass to a gutsy Ladies Who Lunch. The production also allows the men’s voices to support Bobby with a capable musical accompaniment.

Sondheim’s lyrics and themes showcasing the conflict of commitment carry even more relevance as society quickly approaches 2010. With millions of teens and twenty and thirtysomethings attached to cell phones, iPods and Blackberries, who has the time to sustain actual conversational relationships?

Yet, when confronted with this character’s overwhelming anxiety, Sondheim redeems Bobby as he sings the uplifting “Being Alive.” This finale signalsthat Bobby’s committed company, his friends who have “thoughts shared and souls bared,” confirm his yearning for that special one “who will care too much.” Sondheim memorably reiterates a hope for Bobby and the audience when he reprises, “Love is Company.”

Off the Wall Theatre presents Company now until September 20. For tickets, call 414-327-3552 or visit the website for more information. You can always find a wide range of theater listings across Wisconsin and Chicago by visiting Footlights Magazine.

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