Since opening in 1970 Company has won a swag of Tony awards and been reinvented by directors all over the world. The contemporary, middle class themes and the fast pace of the show make it accessible to a wide audience, but especially to the traditional “theatre-going” demographic.
Company is the story of a New York bachelor named Bobby who, on his 35 birthday, starts to seriously contemplate his relationship status. Through a series of vignettes the musical exposes the fears and freedoms Bobby faces as a single man, his mindset sometimes being further complicated by the opinions of his five closest friends, who are all couples. Each character presents Bobby with an alternative view on love and each couple gives him a glimpse of how his future may look. Brendan Hanson (Bobby) adapted smoothly to the quick changes between settings and his performance was relaxed and natural in his various interactions with the couples.
The hilarious quirks of his “good and crazy, married friends” balance the sadness and drama surrounding Bobby’s circumstance. Chandon Haslam (Sarah) and David Wallace (Harry) got the show off to an energetic start with their committed display of karate, and Emma Shaw’s portrayal of the manic, hysterical Amy on her wedding day was another highlight of the first act.
Other standout acting performances were given by Heather Michele Lawler as the vacant but adorable April and Elethea Sartorelli who played Bobby’s other girlfriend, the free-spirited and assertive Marta. Credit should be given across the board to the (mostly Australian) cast and directors who had obviously worked hard on getting their variety of American accents correct.
The music and lyrics by the inimitable Stephen Sondheim were of course a feature of the production. The cast of accomplished singers nailed the majority of the intricate harmonies. My only grumble was that, occasionally, the way the ensemble was arranged on the stage meant that I could only hear the harmony line of one or two singers (those who were facing outwards and singing in my direction) which unbalanced the dynamic of the group as a whole. The highlight was perhaps “Side by Side” which got the second act off to an animated start.
The musical direction by Jangoo Chapkhana included a masterful re-working of the original orchestral arrangement to create an effective trio of piano, double bass and drums. In the relatively small theatre, and with the cast not using microphones, a larger orchestra may have been quite overpowering. The musicians shared the stage with the actors but remained inconspicuous.
With an intense rehearsal period leading up to opening night, some singers appeared to be stretched to their vocal limits. However, most handled the pressure with the utmost professionalism.
The set design was very basic and, from my perspective on the side section of the audience, the lighting left the characters looking somewhat two-dimensional. The light bulbs hanging down at the back of the stage attempted to capture the vibrancy of the New York skyline, but the various pieces of furniture in black and white design served the main purpose of allowing fluid action. There is no credit in the program for costume design which was very basic with no changes. The greyscale theme left most of the cast looking quite similar, with only a few characters expressing an individual style.
Co-directors Mark Barford and Brendan Hanson kept the staging fairly open and abstract so that the space remained flexible. The advantage to this is that there were no scene changes. Further assisting the snappy pace was the choice to have the actors littered around the stage until they were required in the main action. The props were a combination of real and imagined, for example the actors held glasses and mimed drinking, but there was no liquid, which is a shame because I feel sure that there were moments the singers would have been grateful for some water. The sound design was also quite selective. When so much else was being imagined, it was quite a jolt to have the intrusive thunderclaps echoing Amy’s declaration of rain before the wedding.
The opening night crowd certainly enjoyed the excellent script and music and appreciated the efforts and talents of the cast and crew.
Surplus funds from this Pro-Am production will be donated to the Ian Charles Westrip Performing Arts Association (Inc.) which assists youth and especially persons with a disability.