I wasn’t always a Sondheim fan.
Until recently, I had only seen a couple of productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals, and wasn’t extremely impressed with either one. This led me to conclude that Sondheim musicals were pretentious and boring, not knowing that I hadn’t seen one of his shows done well. That changed after enjoying a production of Follies in Chicago — which I now count as among the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. It may have taken a while, but I’m Sondheim convert.
Because of this recent change of heart, I was very excited to see the Station Theatre’s production of Sondheim’s Company, directed by Karma Ibsen and playing now through February 18. While the production wasn’t perfect, it features a very talented cast and several standout performances.
Company doesn’t follow a linear narrative; rather, it’s composed of short vignettes that are tied together by the 35th birthday party of the main character, Bobby (played by Dallas Street). Bobby is single, while all of his best friends are married and wondering when Bobby will finally settle down and tie the knot. What follows are Bobby’s, his friends’, and his girlfriends’ musings on marriage, love, friendship, and life itself.
Street’s performance is extremely strong — he has the kind of voice that can completely engage the audience, especially on songs like “Someone is Waiting” and “Being Alive.” He seamlessly ties the show and the characters together, and makes the audience empathize with Bobby, even when his actions aren’t exactly commendable.
While Bobby is the central character, each person in the show is given the opportunity to shine. And while everyone in the cast (which is small for a musical — only 14 actors) performs well, several of the supporting characters are standouts. Marah Sotelo, who plays one of Bobby’s girlfriends (wild and eccentric Marta), does an amazing job with the song “Another Hundred People,” which observes the comings and goings of New Yorkers and their relationships. Another standout is Madeline Knight as Amy, who has a nervous breakdown before her wedding to Paul (Corbin Dixon). Her song, “Getting Married Today,” is fast-paced and nerve-wracking, and Knight pulls it off well.
Another great song in the show is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” sung with conviction by Debra Myers Dobbs. In addition, one of my favorite vignettes was one in which Bobby and his friends Jenny (Julia Megan Sullivan) and David (Chris Abbott) get high and muse on relationships, but not before cracking up laughing and forgetting what they’re talking about.
The strongest aspect of this production of Company is the individual performances and songs. Its weaker points, however, come during the group numbers. Part of this is due to the Station’s small space, made even smaller by the stairs on the set and the band at the back of the stage. Because of this, there isn’t a lot of room for the actors to move around. The staging and choreography seem a bit awkward during these group numbers, since everyone appears to be trying not to run into one another. In addition, a few actors clearly made mistakes during these numbers. When a show is in such a small space, these mistakes become much more obvious, and perhaps a reworking of the staging of group numbers to fit the size of the theater would help with this.
Along the same lines, the vocals, while strong during most of the solo or small group songs, aren’t as strong during the group numbers. Sondheim music is pretty complicated and difficult, and the voices don’t always blend well together. The difficulty of the musical arrangements is also apparent several times during the show; I could hear some of the actors straining to hit a note or sing very quick lines of lyrics.
The weaknesses of the show, however, don’t negate the very strong and poignant moments it delivers. Whether you’re a huge Stephen Sondheim fan, a newcomer to his music, or have never seen one of his musicals before, I recommend this production at the Station. As for me, Company reaffirmed that I was mistaken in my impression that Sondheim musicals are overrated, and I definitely want to see more.
Company’s run continues from February 8–12 and 15–18.
All shows are at 8:00 p.m.
To reserve tickets, call the Station Theatre at (217) 384-4000 or visit their website.