Rockin’ a 70’s Vibe: COMPANY at Onstage in Bedford

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“Whaddya like? You like coming home to a kiss? 
Somebody with a smile at the door?
 Whaddya like? You like indescribable bliss?
 Then whaddya wanna get married for?
 Whaddya like? You like an excursion to Rome?
 Suddenly taking off to explore?
 Whaddya like? You like having meals cooked at home?
 Then whaddya wanna get married for?”

That final question encapsulates the overarching theme of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim/ George Furth musical Company. Dubbed a “concept musical”, the story of single guy Robert and his married friends (and three of his transitory girlfriends) unfolds in a series of vignettes. There’s no real plot, except for the will he/won’t he question lingering in the air, keeping the audience at bay. One almost expects a documentary voiceover to narrate the proceedings.

Firmly cemented in the 1970s, the show illustrates the fads, the hip culture to some of the quasi-deeper philosophies, of the era. There’s even a pot-smoking scene, pretty edgy for its time; today, we’ve seen it in a thousand movies and sitcoms. Robert (“Bobby”) struggles with his life as the eternal bachelor, forced to explore his “circumstance” through representative scenes with archetypes of the era, his married couple “friends”.

Some consider Company to be dated. Onstage in Bedford decided to give it a spin, keeping the ‘70s feel of the show. Costume designer Jessie Wallace seems to revel in the era, from the prints and fabrics to the wide collars (she’s also an actor in the show, wait for her fashion choices). Part of the fun is enjoying all of the get-ups “those good and crazy people” wear.

The whole cast is a hoot-and-a-half. Sarah and Harry (Angela Allen and Gregory Hullett) are the eternal bickerers. They’re constantly contradicting each other, but gosh-darn it…they really do love each other.

Susan and Peter (Jessie Wallace and Clint Gilbert) were never as happy as they are now, since they decided to get divorced.

Amy (Shannon Walsh) frets nervously about her pending marriage to Paul (Brad Justice), but her reasons, expressed in the show’s high energy “Not Getting Married Today” have little to do with her groom.

Jenny (Noelle Mason) is willing to try out new things in her marriage to David (John Wenzel), although she’s ultimately just fine with being “uptight”.

And then there’s Joanne (Christine Chambers) and Harry (Mike Hathaway). Harry is Hubby 3 (or is it 4?). It’s not clear if she puts up with him or he puts up with her. They’re both too set in their ways and steeped in booze to care, anyway.

These relational scenarios are the springboards for Sondheim’s signature cynicism. He doesn’t use as many of his famous “wand-rhymes” as he does in Into the Woods or A Little Night Music, but nobody gets underneath the skin of a song like the master. This is best showcased in Joanne’s eleven o’clock number, the iconic “Ladies Who Lunch”:

“And here’s to the girls who play wife–
Aren’t they too much?
 Keeping house but clutching a copy of LIFE,
 Just to keep in touch.”

Chambers gets saddled with the unenviable task of recreating one of Sondheim’s most familiar tunes, performed by everyone from Carol Burnett and Patti LuPone to Barbara Streisand and the definitive, baldly off key, original, Elaine Stritch. To her credit, Chambers doesn’t try to ape anyone who’s come before her. She makes the song her own and nails it.

The trio of girlfriends who claim “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” represent the clueless and malleable lump of clay (Allison Scheer), the sadder but wiser girl (Jacie Hood Wenzel) and the free spirit wild child (Katreeva Phillips). They all do fine with their respective numbers, with Phillips taking on one of two lightning fast patter songs in the show, “Another Hundred People”. She’s the brashest Marta I’ve ever seen, and she aims for the rafters, taking no prisoners.

And then there’s Bobby Baby (Bobby-bubbie, Robert darling). Aaron White has built a respectable resume over the past few years, and this is his first time at the forefront of a major musical at a non-collegiate venue. It’s a perfect role for him, and he does it real justice.

Company is worth seeing, first of all, because it’s relevant, esteemed musical theatre history. Kudos to Onstage in Bedford for having the guts to include it in their season. Production directed by Ashley H. White.

Company runs through October 25th at Onstage in Bedford, 2821 Forest Ridge Dr, Bedford, TX 76021. Tickets are available at http://www.onstageinbedford.com.

Reviewed by guest contributor Jason Kane

 

 

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