If you, like me, find yourself thinking part-way through this fabulous production that the scenic design looks like a gladiatorial arena, don’t dismiss the idea out of hand: Kristen Robinson’s three-tiered set is a perfect locale for what goes on in the life of Bobby (Aaron Tveit), a man struggling with the Social Norm of Marriage.
The crowd yells at him to alternately slay the construct or fall on his own sword. At 35 Bobby, too, feels that he has to make some decision, so he studies the married couples in the stands and finally — well, no pat ending here. It’s a Stephen Sondheim musical, after all.
Set in New York City in 1970 (delightful period costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti), “Company” is a very funny and wise exploration of romantic relationships, starting with the question of whether to have one in the first place. What happens when you get hitched? You’re “Sorry/Grateful,” the title of one of Sondheim’s witty takes on intimacy.
And George Furth has fashioned a script that keeps pace with Sondheim’s ironic songs, amusing here and touching there. The work of both men won Tonys in 1970.
The success of a show starts with the casting, of course, and director Julianne Boyd and music supervisor Darren R. Cohen and choreographer Jeffrey Page chose wisely. Each of the show’s vignettes delivers Bobby a lesson, and the players are stellar actors, dancers and singers who can do just that. As Bobby’s girlfriends, Mara Davi, Rebecca Kuznick, and Nora Schell take the measure of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” a chipper tune that belies the frustration in the words: brilliant. Schell scores in “Another Hundred People,” and Lauren Marcus knocks out the patter-song-on-steroids “Getting Married Today.” And Ellen Harvey delivers the “boozy” nova-flavored “Ladies Who Lunch” with hellfire and heartache.
The cast romps through the Act II opener, “Side by Side by Side,” in a superb treatment by Page and Boyd, celebrating Bobby’s third-wheel status in each couple even as he begins to have doubts about this arrangement. Indeed, the entire production (backed by Dan Pardo’s super pit orchestra) works splendidly in the nooks and crannies of Sondheim’s musical and literary imagination. If Bobby is going to fall on his figurative sword, you’d better believe it will be double-edged.
The show’s glue is Aaron Tveit. Boyd rightly sets him down stage center on “Someone is Waiting,” “Marry Me a Little,” and “Being Alive” because he’s such a great communicator. Listen to the phrasing. Read his body language. In these songs and elsewhere, Tveit convincingly reveals why people like Bobby and why what they like may not be what he wants.
My nephew will be 35 in September and a married man in October. He and his bride-to-be might get a knowing chuckle out of this show — as did Mark and I and every other couple at Sunday’s matinee.
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 2
HOW MUCH: $72-$15
MORE INFO: 413-997-6115 or barringtonstageco.org
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