Josh O’Brien (front) and the cast of Company.
Photo courtesy of As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company.
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Gary Tipton
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2015, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
When Company premiered on Broadway in 1970, it was an attempt by composer Stephen Sondheim and librettist George Furth to present typical Broadway audiences something they hadn’t seen before; namely, themselves. Traditional musicals, and for that matter, most mainstream plays, primarily consisted of characters of the less-than-rich, middle-American varieties. Typical Broadway audiences tended to be more of the upper-middle-class or downright wealthy, and it’s these types of people that Company’s narrative concerns itself with. It was a daring idea in the early seventies, and while that aspect may seem quaint by today’s standards, the show’s commentary on the love lives among the New York elite have held up quite well.
In a new production at The Mex Theater by one of Louisville’s community theater mainstays The As Yet Unnamed Theater Company, the show and its rich characters are bright to life again. It’s not a perfect production, but the material shines through and some really terrific performances make this one worth seeing.
The show is not so much a story with a clearly delineated plot, as much as a series of vignettes, in no particular chronological order, surrounding the 35th birthday of our central character, Robert (Josh O’Brien), and concerning relationships with his three girlfriends, and his closest friends (five married couples). Everything centers on Robert’s inability to commit to a relationship, let alone marriage, even as everyone around him seems to be pushing him to do so.
That’s really all there is as far as plot. The joy in the show is in George Furth’s very funny script, and this entire cast has the comic timing to really sell the humor along with the moments of gravity. As far as the music goes, some of the performers did struggle with the demands of Stephen Sondheim’s score, but there are some truly knockout moments as well.
As Robert, Josh O’Brien for the most part really disappears into the role and has you rooting for the character even when he makes questionable decisions. As Joanne, a “mature” woman navigating her third marriage and harboring lascivious notions about Robert, Sandy Richens Cohrs gives it her all and delivers some of the best one-liners in the show.
There is also some nice work by Heidi Platt as Marta, the most buxom of Robert’s girlfriends. Her “Another Hundred People” number is a show highlight, and she and Robert’s other two romantic interests April (Haylie Rebilas) and Kathy (Emily Grimany) stop the show with “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Jenna Ryan, Daniel Smith, Jeremy O’Brien, and Jessica Saucedo also deserve some kudos for some great comedic moments.
It’s becoming increasingly common for local theater groups to opt for recorded music tracks instead of live musicians, but this can be a mixed bag. Sometimes it works seamlessly well, and other times it sounds canned and computerized. Unfortunately that’s the place this production has it’s biggest problem. The recorded tracks frequently sound very flat and lifeless, and at one point it sounded so computerized it was like listening to the soundtrack to an eighties sci-fi film. It seemed that the performers had trouble following it at times, and it did create a distraction.
But even with that issue, there were several numbers that really came off well; the title number, “Company”, for example, was rousing; Josh O’Brien really sold “Side by Side”; and Cohrs did a very interesting interpretation of “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Also, the three husbands (Derrick Palmer, Daniel Smith and John Youngblood) who sing the plaintive “Sorry – Grateful,” truly make you feel the melancholy behind the humor of the song. I’d have to say, though, the best performance of the night was Jenna Ryan’s dead-on rat-a-tat delivery of “Getting Married Today”, arguably the most difficult song Sondheim has ever created, and she made it look effortless!
If you are familiar with the show or a fan of Sondheim, it’s worth seeking out this production. For the most part it overcomes its shortcomings and does what all theater should strive to do – entertain the audience and give them something to think about.
Starring Jesse Brown, Cathy Butler-Weathersby, Sandy Richens Cohrs, Emily Grimany, Jeremy O’Brien, Josh O’Brien, Derrick Palmer, Heidi Platt, Haylie Rebilas, Jenna Ryan, Jessica Saucedo, Daniel Smith, Meredith Stack, and John Youngblood.
December 4-13, 2015
As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company
The Mex Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.