Above: The ensemble. Right: Ileana Pipitone and Brendan Paul. Photos by Clare Hawley
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed By Julie Baz
A Depot Theatre Production
Limelight On Oxford
231 Oxford Street,
Season: 14 November – 1 December. Bookings: http://www.limelightonoxford.com.au
If you think that the old saying ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’ is still apt, you may need to think again once you have seen Company, currently playing at the quaint bar and theatre Limelight on Oxford. Described as a “trailblazer of the dark comedy musical”, this production is one of the most enjoyable musicals I’ve seen lately.
Company is all about Robert, who at his 35th birthday party, begins to question his bachelorhood as all his friends (apart from three female steadies) are married. They all endeavour to help him determine what he wants in relationships; but ultimately, he seems content with the status quo.
With a big opening number coincidentally called Company with full cast, the story is then presented as a series of short passages, each focussing on one or two characters at a time. Each passage is not directly related to another so there is little sequential development needed. As a result, it makes this musical quite different and passages are linked by catchy songs and dance routines.
In the lead role as Robert is Brendan Paul. This is perfect casting, as Brendan brings to the role the right balance of confidence, smugness, and ambivalence that you’d expect a New York yuppy to exude. Fortunately, Brendan can also carry a good tune. Whilst Robert is intrigued and entertained by his friends’ desire for him to settle down and join them in married life, he doesn’t really care. In the end, he is complacent and unruffled by his single man reputation.
Robert’s friends are all upper middle class, with men in suits and women in cocktail dresses. This adds some glamour to the production but limits any discussion about the pros and cons of marriage to this particular social class only.
There is an array of characters among Robert’s friends.
Sarah (Jacqui Greenfield) is married to Harry (Richard Woodhouse). Each with vices, they verbally joust and end up in a very funny karate scene. Peter (Alexander Morgan) and Susan (Bridget Patterson) are having troubles and tell Robert of their divorce plans. He is then spending time with contented couple, David (Lincoln Elliott) and Jenny (Maree Cole). They are asking lots of questions as to why he has not settled down. This is exacerbated when Robert gets them to share a joint.
We then meet Robert’s three ‘steadies’. Marta (Grace Driscoll) is a child of New York City, with the brashness that goes with that. April (Ileana Pipitone) is a dizzy flight attendant, in tune with nature. We later see Robert seduce April which shows his ambivalence to real commitment. And then there is Kathy (Emily Dreyer), a country girl who probably can read Robert the best. She decides to marry someone less averse to commitment.
Next, it’s the wedding day of Amy (Heather Campbell) and Paul (Michael McPhee) and Robert is the best man. Amy is ridden with doubt and calls the wedding off. Strangely, Robert makes an impromptu proposal himself which jolts some sense back into Amy, and the wedding is fortunately back on.
In a nightclub scene, Robert is with Joanne (Michele Lansdown) and her third husband Larry (Marcus Rivera). Joanne is the experienced one and, as she and Robert drink more, she offers herself to Robert for a non-committal affair. Although shallow, Robert is level-headed and declines the offer. Joanne and Larry then leave, arm-in-arm.
Director Julie Baz and her creative team have done something wonderful at Limelight on Oxford. The theatre is intimate and small without much staging area. She has ingeniously used the limited space available to house an orchestra of six and a cast of fourteen, plus left room for choreographer Tracey Blankenship to create terrific dance routines. With the small stage, scene changes were brilliantly orchestrated using lighting techniques (Mehran Mortezaei) and many cast members had their ‘spotlight‘ moment.
Antonio Fernandez, the Musical Director, ran a tight score which did not drown out the vocals. Great acoustics for a small theatre. There were many songs but notable were Company, Another Hundred People, Side by Side, The Ladies Who Lunch, and Being Alive.
Also noteworthy were the managers and staff of the theatre who, faced with a complete power blackout 20 minutes before the show started, adopted an impressive ‘the show must go on’ attitude. Power was restored about an hour later and the show started with much vigour and enthusiasm.
Written in 1970, Company may seem a little dated to some people. Think of how the definition of marriage has changed in the meantime and how singledom is not an unusual lifestyle choice. However, its central themes about relationships, dating, romance, love and friendship are enduring.
This is a first-class production which successfully overcomes interesting production challenges. I recommend it for an all-round theatre experience. And as Robert sings:
“One’s impossible, two is dreary,
Three is company, safe and cheery”.