Amazingly talented & deep cast, production team uphold this Sondheim classic
By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Critic
Currently, Cygnet Theatre and Artistic Director Sean Murray are engaged in what they do best. That is musical theater, and more specifically, the work of Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim and George Furth’s bittersweet 1970 “Company,” in its original run a recipient of six Tony Awards, is the fourth in a string of Cygnet-Sondheim productions that include “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music” and “Assassins.” Originally staged by Hal Prince, “Company” opened Cygnet’s 11th season Sunday, July 13 at the comfy Old Town Theater.
The loosely strung story concerns Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor whose birthday is celebrated by numerous married friends. Bobby has three girlfriends (played by Mary Joe Duggan, Ashlee Mayer and Katie Whalley) and a huge aversion to one-on-one commitment.
Whether the deliciously clever content is more bitter than sweet is in the eye and ear of the beholder. The fact remains that for a Sondheim lover, the score is rife with such favorites as “Marry Me a Little,” “The Ladies Who Lunch” and the penultimate “Being Alive,” in which Bobby comes to terms with who and where he is.
As played by Andrew Wells Ryder, a graduate of University of North Carolina School of the Arts (Murray’s alma mater), Bobby is not a narcissist or a homosexual. He is merely reassessing life on the brink of middle age. Though Ryder’s vocal quality can be beautiful, he tends to overstress in the big emotional moments; however, his appeal is great, a good match of man to role.
Standout performances abound, especially that of riotously funny, impeccably timed Eileen Bowman, who plays Amy, the longtime live-in girlfriend of Paul (winning San Diego newcomer Matthew Naegeli). When it comes to the white dress and the ceremony, Amy declares in her big Act One number, “I’m not getting married today.”
Linda Libby, über sophisticated as the much-married Joanne, brings the house down in “The Ladies Who Lunch.” She’s paired with the long-suffering Larry (David Kirk Grant). As Jenny, Athena Espinoza displays fine vocal and comedic gifts in a scene in which her husband David (Andy Collins, hirsute for the role) and Bobby are smoking pot. She claims not to be affected by her tokes but shows all the signs.
As Marta, the most idiosyncratic of Bobby’s girlfriends, Mayer makes an indelible impression with “Another Hundred People.” Melissa Fernandes also scores with vocals, karate throws, cartwheels and brownie sneaking as Sarah, married to Harry (Andrew Oswald), who purports to be on the wagon. Likewise, Wendy Waddell beautifully realizes Susan, married to the latent homosexual and father of her children, Peter (Kürt Norby).
It’s an amazingly talented and deep assembly. In addition to Murray’s adept and sensitive text- and character-derived direction, the company is upheld by Music Director Patrick Marion’s unseen, five-piece band, the choreography of David Brannen, the immaculate set design of Ryan Grossheim, Jeanne Reith’s costumes, Peter Herman’s wigs, Chris Rynne’s lighting, and Ross Goldman and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design. George Yé is fight director.
Sondheim fans will want to book return tickets. The uninitiated yet curious must purchase now before tickets become extraordinarily scarce. Sondheim, born in 1930, is the greatest American lyricist-composer of the century.
WHERE: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. (Old Town)
WHEN: Wednesdays through Sundays through August 25