I am intrigued this evening finally to be able to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company virtually on my local doorstep at The Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton by Central Musical Theatre Company. Having been involved in many a local amateur theatre production, including musicals, I’ve certainly come across the late Stephen Sondheim’s works before in shows like Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, Follies and West Side Story.
However, this set of stories based in 1970’s New York about a handsome bachelor called Robert who has just turned thirty-five and looking for love and company has eluded me. It’s billed as a musical comedy and that’s what I am expecting – songs centred around dates, the ins and outs of romance, maybe a wedding and even a divorce but we could all do with a laugh or two right now and genius, Mr Sondheim, is well known for his clever wordplay and brilliant wit.
The opening number ‘Company’ is sung by all the cast and I admit to finding it quite confusing and even chaotic in nature. Clearly meant to be like this. The singing is good with several people leaving phone messages for Bobby.. and we’re about to find out why but not in a straight forward chronological story-telling way.
Two hours later and Sondheim and Furth’s Company, by this amateur company, has a new ardent fan in me. Part of me wants to go back and listen to that opening number again and pick up on the clever lyrics, the American wit, the hints at characters we meet along the way with all their quirky, some tender, relationship stories – the half-expected and unexpected situations that life and love throws at us. The way we are sure we are going down one solid romantic road only for it to open up and swallow us.
Firstly, I must say that this production is very funny – seriously -VERY funny. The highlights for me are the ‘Getting Married Today’ scene where Rachael Wyatt playing the reluctant bride Amy has the audience in hysterics. It’s not just the very well-articulated fast-paced song with amusing dialogue but also the top class acting from Wyatt & clever props.
Nigel Taylor has added plenty of individuality to this show to suggest times, places and happenings. One of the most amusing must be the integration of the mechanical duck and ducklings that waddle across the stage in the park scene. Musically, his show band are seamless in their accompaniment throughout, carefully MD’d by Morris Fischer while the set is cleverly simplistic with change of background scene to set each place in the storyline. Choreographer Abbi Burns brings some stylish choreography to the musical.
Our first ‘couple scene’ begins with Alison Hope, who gives us her Karate and wrestling comic best as Sarah and the smart freeze frame lighting effects add humour to the already broadly comical bout of rough and tumble activity involving Robert (Tom Stanley) and Sarah’s husband Harry (Dave Partridge). It’s very clever how, following this broad comedy comes the more sober Sorry/Grateful song. Sondheim certainly keeps his audiences on their toes by juxtaposing comedy with pathos.
In the central role as Robert – often referred to as Bobby – Tom Stanley shows us a tender and nuanced performance. His solo songs ‘Being Alive’, ‘Marry Me A Little’ and ‘Someone Is Waiting’ are handled with tenderness and confidence. I believe in his Bobby on stage as a rounded, confused and sophisticated character and the top-quality cast that support him are professionally good. I can hear clear vocals and dialogue, essential for Sondheim.
Robert’s crazy mixed up girl friends April, (Rachael Louisa Bray) Sarah (Alison Hope), Jenny (Laura Jones, portrayed this evening only, last minute and seamlessly by Abbi Burns), Susan (Helen Oldham), Kathy (Becky Pearcy), Amy (Rachael Wyatt) and Marta (Sarah Towle) are all a delight to watch and hear, bringing in each character skilfully to life. One of my favourites is Marta’s song ‘Another Hundred People’ as sung so brilliantly by Sarah Towle. As for Robert’s older lady friend Joanne (Lorna Kirkland) knocking back the cocktails and singing viciously about ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ whilst bellowing out her drunken demands – well – who’d want her as a friend? How does her husband Larry (Adrian Redfern) put up with her bitchy ways? She could certainly ‘Drive A Person Crazy’. I do like Joanne’s contribution to the song ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ and I am sure many people could privately relate to the suggestive lyrics. The male cast added to the nuances of each character in marriage with comedy and tenderness.
The whole cast of Company put in 110% commitment and talent into this show and it’s great to hear the guys, Paul (Craig Arme), Harry (Dave Partridge), Peter (Dean Osborn), David (Gary Heap), Larry (Adrian Redfern) all getting stuck into emotional and comical songs like ‘Sorry/Grateful’, ‘Have I Got A Girl For You?’ and the full company energetic second act ‘Side By Side’.
This cast should be highly commended for bringing Sondheim’s Company to life on the stage this week at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. Sondheim’s work is never easy to sing and the members of the Central Musical Theatre Company make the sophisticated harmonies, choral aspects and solo numbers seem effortless in this sweet urban tale of a thirty something guy looking for love. You’d love it. Do go and support this brilliant show that has, because of Covid, been a long time arriving but finally wowing its audience tonight and the rest of the week until Saturday 26th Feb.