The Opening Night audience at Montgomery College was unaware of it, but the brave star of the show (Stephan Bollum as Robert) had been ill in the hospital until just the night before the premiere. For director, Ellen Ketchum, this would be truly an exercise in “the show must go on!” Sadly, Bollum would get no help from the theater sound system which took every opportunity to sabatoge the valiant efforts of the cast. College administrators would do well to invest in an upgrade to a first-class audio system for this otherwise lovely theater.
Having said that, we move on now to the issue of the show itself, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. One of the dear friends I see when at the Lambs Club in New York is veteran Broadway musical actress, Sheila Smith. Smith has described the show as ”…probably one of the more difficult scores ever written,” and featuring music ”…not easily taught to non-singers.” Those factors would have made this a bold undertaking at the college level, even without the aforementioned difficulties. And then, of course, those who are exposed to Sondheim’s sometimes cynical view of the world, and his unusual and often brooding musical style, tend to fall into two camps – they either love him or hate him. To win over those who might be in the middle, the work must be very well performed. Thus, the disadvantages at this performance overwhelmed the players.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it revolves about the various relationships of Robert and his numerous sophisticated big-city friends who gather from year to year in celebration of his birthday (black-tie, if you please). In the process we are treated to a peek at the participant’s problems with sex, drugs, alcohol, over-eating, divorce, etc. Nobody seems particularly happy, and that mood may have infected the audience, as it did this critic. I shamelessly admit I would prefer the kind of mood Rodgers & Hammerstein left us at the end of ”Oklahoma.” Of course, art will always want to examine the seamier sides of life that dominate the evening news, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Am I lecturing? Oh, dear!
In the opening title song, Bollum sang courageously, but beyond his vocal range — at least for the moment. Music Director, Lee Barrow, presided skillfully on piano. With bright and infectious enthusiasm, the ensemble cast handled the counterpoints and sharp edges of this song well, and moved smoothly about the austere metal gridwork set (designer Chase Waites) which was well lit by lighting designer, Justin Woods. As for the sound designs of David Kerr, we may never know, as the equipment he was saddled with was so sub-standard!
In ”The Little Things You Do Together,” and with more great ensemble support, there is a stand-out performance from Donna Hatfield as Joanne. In Act II, Hatfield repeats her success with a searing, tour-de-force performance of ”The Ladies Who Lunch.” Travis Bryant (Harry), Nick Petrillo (David) and Ben Ketcherside (Larry), harmonize well in ”Sorry-Grateful,” as the song examines aspects of marriage. Those gentlemen would later join John Thees (Peter) and Nick Estep (Paul) for the gusto of ”Have I Got a Girl for You.” There was also a pleasing rendition of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from the talented trio of Sofia Mendez (April), Morgan Warren (Kathy) and Lorryn LaDean (Marta). Bollum has one of his best moments with a powerful, ”Someone Is Waiting,” and Dean followed with an impressive vocal in “Another Hundred People.” With a bit of help from Sara Melvin (Jenny), Estep and the full cast, Amanda Broomas (Amy) conquers the Sondheim tongue-twister, ”Getting Married Today” in fine style. The staging here seemed much too static however, with the immobilized cast staring numbly into space for extended periods.
In Act II, Joanne, Amy and Jenny are joined by Sarah (Kim Bryant), and Susan (Sherry Melvin), for ”Poor Baby.” Perhaps that could be a sub-title for this troubled production. But then again, with hats and canes in hand, there was the pleasant, full cast soft-shoe (choreographer, Kim Bryant) of ”Side by Side by Side.” So you see, with a recovering star, and hopefully improved sound, it might be worth a trip to see ”Company,” if you love Sondheim and the evening news.
Company will be performed tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information call (936) 273-7000 or visit http://www.montgomery-college.com.
(The Courier 4.7.06)