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Yet “Company” was regarded as groundbreaking for its relatively frank discussion of adult relationships and sexuality when it premiered in 1970, going on to be nominated for 14 Tony Awards and winning six for its first Broadway run. Now it seems very much like a period piece, even if the program for the production that opens Town Hall Theatre’s 70th season lists the setting as “present-day New York.” The way people talk and their attitudes are very much of the late 1960s, even if you insert a smartphone into the staging here and there.
With a libretto by George Furth, the musical is a scattered collection of vignettes orbiting around a swinging single guy who’s turning 35, his three types of dance shoes girlfriends and the five married couples that are his closest friends, Most of the scenes are Bobby visiting with one or another of the couples, who are always onstage in the subdued but generally solid staging by director Joel Roster, a longtime comedic actor with the company who took over as its artistic director in April, Bobby’s girlfriends only enter every once in a while, which says a lot about their place in his life..
Amiable and charming as played by Derek Travis Collard, Bobby likes the idea of getting married but not to anyone in particular. He’s not especially serious about any of his girlfriends: the quirky and endearingly awkward stewardess, April (Jade Shojaee); the self-professed ultimate New Yorker, Marta (Giana Gambardella); or Kathy (Alexis Rogers), the one with whom he’s settled into being just friends. The large cast of 14 comfortably lounges on Martin Flynn’s spacious set of scattered white love seats against a silhouetted city skyline.
Meghan Ihle’s Sarah and Vince Perry’s Harry can’t stop contradicting and undermining each other, even as they smile lovingly at each other, The unnervingly grinning couple Susan and Peter (Michelle Ianiro and Dennis Markam) couldn’t be happier about getting a divorce, while Amy (Suzie Shepard, hysterical in both senses of the word) is in such a panic about getting married to the serenely adoring Paul (Paul Plain) that she seems ready to jump out a window, Bobby gets stoned and giggly with the usually straight-laced types of dance shoes Jenny (Megan Stetson, with a lovely operatic voice) and her freedom-missing husband, David (Alex Moore), and he gets sloppy drunk with the jaded and mean-spirited Joanne (Jill Gould) and her long-suffering third husband, Larry (Craig Eychner)..
“Company” doesn’t have the polished songcraft of some of Sondheim’s subsequent works — his lyrics would become more clever and his tunes both more infectious and more intricate — but there are a few memorable numbers that come off well under the musical direction of Margaret Halbig. Gambardella’s love letter to the city, “Another Hundred People,” lacks energy to match its tempo, but Shepard delivers a fast-paced and funny “Getting Married Today,” and Gould packs some power into the bitter toast “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Collard does a charming old-fashioned song-and-dance number with “Side by Side by Side,” about the comfort of being in a crowd of three, and he also throws plenty of passion into the desperate lament “Being Alive.” The only problem is that the more anguished Bobby acts about just needing someone to love, the less believable it is because he’s so unserious about any given romance and just doesn’t seem like the settling-down type. Bobby loves everybody and nobody at all.
But Morris also has a musical visualization mood, Dancers can enact lines of an opera chorus to drive home a plot detail, They can pantomime trees, They can pull at their pockets when the song line is about being broke and begin a dance phrase on the count of 1 and end on the count of 8 so that we know that the dance isn’t going to tread on the music, The music is sacred, This is part of Morris’ wizardry, It’s also his Achilles’ heel, Thursday night in the first of a four concert, two-program run at Cal Performances, his Achilles was on full display, Movement and music were so predictable in the night’s opening works, “The Muir” and “A Wooden Tree” on Program A, that the dances shrank and types of dance shoes looked dwarfed by the stage..
“The Muir” was a dance of charming parts that together were ill-fitting, even confounding. Morris chose Beethoven’s rendering of 10 Irish and Scottish folk songs for his music, which was beautifully sung by soprano Angela Arnold, tenor Jonathan Smucker and baritone Daniel Pickens-Jones. Three women — feisty Rita Donahue, strong Michelle Yard and willowy Laurel Lynch — were decked out in galumphing dresses that resembled a 1950’s mash-up of “La Sylphide” and “Lilac Garden,” here with dark tuille skirts and cocktail-style bodices that flattered no one. By contrast, the men were dressed in silky poet shirts and looked elegant.
Costumes and scale aside, Morris’ choreography was packed with untethered gestures, delivered as musical accents and offered as irony, seemingly about the impossibility of male-female romance, The female trio looked unpleasantly awkward in types of dance shoes their leaping, by-the-beat phrases while the sprightly men (Dallas McMurray, Billy Smith and Noah Vinson) seemed overwhelmed by these larger and stronger female partners, The picture emerged of women crashing the men’s more musically refined entanglements..