A new ‘Company’ visits S.F. Playhouse
COMPANY in 1970 redefined the new era of the adult musical. Dealing with relationships and hook ups way before Sondheim would ever think their could be a world of Tinder or Grindr. Last summer the San Francisco Playhouse had a sell out run of INTO THE WOODS, directed by Susi Damilano she brings her second Sondheim round and it is a summer gin and tonic. Stephen Sondheim is one of the great figures in musical theatre, but COMPANY is a dated show about marriage that perpetuates essentialist gender stereotypes.
It seems that SF Playhouse attempted to reinterpret the show to include a male lover for the protagonist Robert, and show him struggling with his sexual identity. This plan was unfortunately rejected by MTI, the licensing company that handles the performance rights to the piece. That change would have definitely updated the play and brought it closer to 21st century relevance. Director John Doyle did a strip down version of COMPANY in 2007 that was broadcast on PBS, that hinted of our lead Bobbies bisexual subtext. But the SF Playhouse at this time has produced the “straight” forward classic take with dueling pianos.
Director Susie Damilano clever staging of the show moves and is visual. Kimberly Richards choreography effectively uses the multi levels of the set. The women and men are divided into groups with distinctly different mindsets. The men are jealous of Bobby’s freedom and envy his ability to sleep around. The women talk about how sad and lonely he must be, and how they are the only tenderness he’s known. Some of the outdated gender norms can be very 1970’s. But the strength of the performers and the humor and depth of some of the material still holds strong.
The talent of the “married friends” in the cast is remarkable. Monique Hafen as the deranged bride Amy is extraordinary, as is her patient fiancé Paul, played by John Paul Gonzalez. Abby Sammons and local favorite Ryan Drummond have an incredibly intricate dynamic playing the stoned couple Jenny and David. His pot smoking bit is a scene stealer. Morgan Dayley is irrepressibly quirky as April, the flight attendant girlfriend of Robert. The songs all staged well include the opening number “Company” with the cast moves well on the multi level set. Gonzalez and Monique Hafen sing “Getting Married Today” and are a perfect match on stage. The women sing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” with some light choreography from Kimberly Richards works well. The sassy “Another Hundred People” is a highlight by Teresa Attridge as Marta.
The male cast spend more time with monologues and script arcs with their women, but Drummond, Richard Frederick and Reber are wonderful in “Sorry- Grateful”. COMPANY also includes Velina Brown, Nicole Weber, and Michelle Drexler. The end of the show belongs to Stephanie Prentice as the wonderfully cynical Joanne and the showstopping number “The Ladies Who Lunch”. The late great Elaine Stritch made the song an icon, she originated the role in 1970. The finale song “Being Alive” is performed with power and depth by Keith Pinto, who plays the central character Bobby the classic bachelor. The set is minimalist and industrial, with each couple getting their own platform to stay on for pretty much the entirety of the show.
It’s a good-looking dynamic set with background projections designed by artistic director Bill English, and Jacquelyn Scott. It gives Damilano a lot of levels to work with. The staging is done well, the opening scene and the vaudeville-inspired Side by Side by Side is a highlight. The design includes two baby grand pianos under the musical direction of Dave Dobrusky. On the Grands Dobrusky, Eryn Allen and Ben Price give the style of the show that New York piano bar comfort. The Grands give a rich sound to the show. The costume design by Shannon Sigman pairs perfectly with both the actors and the characters they portray.
The show is funny and touching, with excellent singers and actors, but it’s become almost a period piece about an outdated depiction of marriage and the relations between men and women. Its would a nice touch in the future if MTI considered the proposed casting changes, because that is a show I would like to have seen. Sondheim is historically not open to script changes, but as his film version of WOODS had some light changes, one day he could add a bit of the rainbow to COMPANY. But in anycase its always a great couples night to join this COMPANY on a summer night through Sept 12th, and stay after and have a cocktail with the cast.
San Francisco Playhouse Presents
by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth
Directed by Susi Damilano - Music Director Dave Dobrusky
450 Post St., S.F.
Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Sept. 12
$20 to $120
Tickets (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org