Moonbox’s ‘COMPANY’ Is A Musical Treat (3.5 Stars)

Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth; Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Directed by Allison Olivia Choat; Musical Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Choreography by Rachel Bertone;¬†Presented by Moonbox Productions at the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston’s South End through March 1st.

Phone rings, door chimes, in comes COMPANY. Stephen Sondheim’s ground-breaking, Tony-award winning musical from 1970 is being given a musically rewarding revival by Moonbox Productions at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End. Performed by a cast of 14 actor/singers, this production’s biggest strength lies in the score.

An often revived piece, COMPANY was one of the first “concept musicals”. There is no plot. It’s centered on Robert (Bobby, Bobby-Baby, Bobby-bubie), an unmarried New Yorker facing his 35th birthday, and the friends who provide company in his life. These “good and crazy people,” Robert’s married friends, are mostly seen in 3-person scenes, vignettes in which Robert looks at their relationships and wonders: “What do you get by being married?”

The five couples present a cross-section of middle to upper-middle class New Yorkers, living in apartments with balconies, at the start of the “Me” decade of the 70s, and in many ways, COMPANY feels “married” to its time. The married friends grapple with issues of commitment, relationships, drugs and sex that reflect the zeitgeist of 1970. At a time when there were so few options in the frozen desserts department, just the mention of Sara Lee was enough to throw a dieting housewife into near orgasmic delight (and Anne Colpitts, as Sarah, is hysterical doing just that in a scene in which both she and Matthew Zahnzinger as her husband Harry, enable each other while secretly giving in to their own private addictions of food and booze). Much of the book feels dated, even though this script is one that was revised over the years, including an unreciprocated gay pass made by one of the husbands at Robert, who confesses to past homosexual experiences.

Which is so far off from when the show first appeared. Many critics and theatregoers theorized that Bobby was gay, and that was his problem with marriage and commitment, a theory that was shot down by Sondheim and his book writer, George Furth. Now it appears that Sondheim and director James Lapine are at work on another revision, this time making Bobby gay and changing the gender of some characters.

As performed now by Moonbox, the show seems to be set in “today”, though there isn’t a strong sense of time in either the costumes or the minimal set, which, while it does accommodate the large (by today’s standards) cast and provide enough distinct spaces, I wish it had a more sophisticated “New York” feel.

Director Alison Choate has chosen to put the music center stage, both figuratively and literally. The 9-person orchestra sits on a raised platform upstage, just above the central playing area. Some of these musicians play multiple instruments, giving a rich, full sound to the orchestrations and providing a solid base for the excellent singers in the ensemble. It’s rare that a small “fringe” company like Moonbox is able to provide more than a few pieces as accompaniment. With COMPANY, it seems they wisely chose to put the budget behind the music. Music Director Dan Rodriguez and Choate have done a wonderful job in casting singer/actors who blend well but also are able to shine on their own.

And that’s just right for Company, a complex Sondheim score, where all the individual performers are called on to perform solo, as well as blend well in an ensemble. From the opening number, with intricate harmonies, entrances and exits, changing times and repeats (introduced by a sound that some younger audience members may not recall: a telephone busy signal), I knew we were in good musical hands.The show has some great group numbers, but the character driven solos and duets are my favorites. Shonna Cirone is dizzyingly frantic and hysterical as Amy, the bride who’s (not) “Getting Married Today”.
Katie Clark, as April, and David Carney, as Robert, capture the pathos and humor in the “morning after” duet, “Barcelona”. And as Joanne, Leigh Barrett is caustic and brittle when needed, but brings a real, deeply felt self-effacing doubt to her crackling rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch”.

Moonbox Productions, with three years of producing under their belt, is still in the growing stages. With COMPANY, they’ve upped the ante and moved into a bigger venue, while still maintaining an intimacy with their audience and a commitment to their mission. For more info, go to: http://moonboxproductions.org/