Sondheim's Company pleases the crowd
On Jan. 23, a chilly night in downtown Pittsburgh, the city’s Cultural District was bustling with enthusiastic theater patrons. Musical Wicked satisfied expectations with a sold out Benedum Center, musical comedy Judge Jackie Justice played at the CLO Cabaret, and, at the O’Reilly Theater, locals gathered for the premiere of the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s (PPT) latest production: Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
A musical comedy as colorful as its advertisement campaign, which currently paints the Pittsburgh skyline, Company is a staple of musical theater and a masterpiece of the Sondheim repertoire. The story features three single girls, five married couples, and their 35-year-old single friend, Robert, who has some inhibitions about marriage. Throughout the show, the married couples teach Robert everything they think he should know about married life. In essence, the show is a commentary on marriage and how it affects people, told by quirky characters as they make their journey through everyday life. Company is an experience that leaves each member of the audience with something different to take away. Perhaps this fact is the essence of the show’s genius.
The PPT, as usual, has produced a stellar piece of theater. With this production of Company, Ted Pappas, PPT’s producing artistic director, and the creative team have captured Sondheim’s vision in a complete and satisfying package.
From the moment the audience enters the charming O’Reilly Theater, the show’s exciting atmosphere is evident. The set, designed by James Noone, is a modern two-story Manhattan apartment with a few sofas and a liquor cart. The set is simple and intimate, yet enticing and theatrical. The stage has a symmetrical layout, with two hallways leading backstage and two staircases adjacent to the hallways, which converge seamlessly to form the second-story balcony. Above this balcony, a series of stylized windows and rectangular screens that extend far above the stage floor and stare down at the audience.
One exciting feature of this production is the graphics and videos projected on the screens above the stage. Short clips of bustling Manhattan streets and images of the famous New York City skyline appear at different points of the performance. These graphics and videos bring an ingenious addition to the scenic design and ensure that the show’s setting is always alive.
Throughout the performance, new set pieces enter the space through a large door center stage or through the hallways. The seamless set changes and extra details add to the atmosphere of the show.
Hidden below the stage is the orchestra, directed by F. Wade Russo. Sondheim’s music is a major aspect of this production and requires an all-star orchestra. Thankfully, the orchestra delivers Sondheim’s score in all its zany splendor.
Of course, the acting and singing in this production is fantastic. The cast, assembled by casting company Cindi Rush Casting, could not be a better-suited band of actors. Each scene introduces a new character with amusing quirks and an infectious personality. Robert is played by Carnegie Mellon alumnus Jim Stanek (CFA ‘94), and his fine acting and lovely singing voice carry the show successfully. Sarah (Nancy Anderson) is one of this production’s most memorable characters. In one of the earliest scenes, her comedic banter with Harry (Benjamin Howes) had the audience roaring with laughter.
Courtney Balan’s rendition of “Getting Married Today” is one major highlight. Darren Eliker (CFA, ‘92) gives a colorful portrayal of Larry in his scene with Joanne, played by Judy Blazer. Blazer’s performance of the iconic tune, “Ladies Who Lunch,” does not disappoint.
Company lives and breathes through its large cast of characters. The PPT has assembled a stellar cast of actors in every respect. Each actor brings something unique to this production and contributes to its overall success.
The characters are completed by their costumes, designed by Martha Bromelmeier. The men wear business-style attire and many of the women wear floral dresses and skirts, but each costume is accented in some way with pastels. This subtle addition of color adds to the life of the piece.
At the end of Thursday’s performance, the audience rose to its feet with applause. The diverse crowd of patrons ranged from theater-going elderly couples to lyric-mouthing teenagers, yet all seemed to be moved by this production. Company offers something for everyone.
The PPT’s production of Company is a true success. Coherent artistic design, an unmatched cast, and an extremely well-communicated version of Sondheim’s musical represents another win for the PPT.
Company runs through Feb. 23 at the O’Reilly Theater. To learn more about the show, visit ppt.org.