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Review: A Well-Cast ‘Company’ at Barrington Stage

By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, August 16, 2017

One of the best places to see top-quality theater outside of New York City has got to be the Berkshires. From the Williamstown Theater Festival to the Berkshire Theatre Group to Shakespeare & Company, Western Massachusetts has plenty for the discerning theatergoer to choose from. These organizations have sufficiently burnished reputations to attract first-class talent, both on and off the stage.

Case in point: the current Barrington Stage Company production of Company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s masterful exploration of marriage, its acolytes, and its malcontents. Heads turned when the Barrington announced that the central role of Bobby would be played by none other than Broadway golden boy, Aaron Tveit. Not only that, but Tveit would be appearing alongside a cast of some of New York theater’s finest, including Mara Davi, Kate Loprest, and the redoubtable Ellen Harvey.

Directed by Barrington Stage Artistic Director Julianne Boyd, this Company gets off to a slightly sluggish start, but starts to kick into gear around the middle of the first act. There is sometimes an uneven feel to the production, with various cast members at different levels of animation, as though the characters are existing in a number of different worlds, and not enough of them in Bobby’s. And Boyd seemed to be allowing for certain comic business to upstage the intent and distort the tone of some of the scenes.

(l. to r.) Paul Schaefer, Aaron Tveit, and Lauren Marcus, in ‘Company;’ photo: Daniel Rader.

Thankfully, there’s enough cohesion among the cast to gloss over the transgressions. Tveit, in particular, turns out to be an inspired choice for Bobby. Tveit has a chiseled everyman look, pretty but not ethically specific, which actually works well for Bobby, who’s meant to be a sort of cipher. Tveit has a powerful voice, great scene presence, and a terrific, focused way with interpreting a song.

Tveit appears to have come a long way since his homogeneously bland take on Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Broadway’s Catch Me If You Can. Plus, he’s so damned good-looking, he can even make a ‘70s leisure suit look hot. Tveit wisely sings most of the songs pretty straight, although he couldn’t seem to help himself during “Being Alive,” during which he threw in a few vocal flourishes and Elphaba riffs.

Ellen Harvey in ‘Company;’ photo: Daniel Rader.

The other major standout in the universally strong cast was Ellen Harvey as Joanne, a dynamite role originated by the legendary Elaine Stritch. Harvey wisely doesn’t try to one-up Stritch’s dry humor and ballsiness, and instead takes Joanne into far more vulnerable territory. Her heart-stopping “Ladies Who Lunch” was fierce and raw, and moving in ways that I’ve never before seen with that iconic number. Harvey took Joanne on a journey from casual inebriation to emotional devastation. Honestly, it’s one of the best performances of a song I’ve ever seen. Simply chilling.

Also of note was director Boyd’s decision to bring more people of color into Sondheim and Furth’s panoply of marital dysfunction. Sarah and Harry, the couple who act out their thinly veiled aggressions in an onstage karate match, are played here by African-American performers Jeannette Bayardelle and Lawrence Street, who added a great deal of comic vibrancy to characters who otherwise have a tendency of fading into the ensemble. Furth’s dialogue didn’t always feel authentic for a ‘70s black couple, but one had to admire the intention.

One rather odd note in the production came from choreographer Jeffrey Page, who seemed to be going out of his way to avoid recognizable steps and patterns, and whose movements seemed overly busy and dependent on the beats and dynamics of the music. Particularly jarring was the decision to stage “Side by Side by Side” as a tag football game. What does football have to do with the meaning of this song? We’re supposed to see how isolated and left-out Bobby is feeling, and how he’s living vicariously through his friends, but making him the quarterback of a pickup game would seem to move in the opposite direction.

Aaron Tveit in ‘Company;’ photo: Daniel Rader.

Company runs at Barrington Stage through September 2nd, and is well worth the drive north from the city — or west if, like me, you’re coming from the Boston area. Overall, Boyd’s production is strong, funny, moving, and features one of the strongest casts you’re likely to see outside of New York City.

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Company presented by Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA through September 2, 2017. Book by George Furth; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; originally directed by Harold Prince. Directed by Julianne Boyd; choreographed by Jeffrey Page; scenic design by Kristen Robinson; costume design by Sara Jean Tosetti; lighting design by Brian Tovar; sound design by Ed Chapman; hair and wig design by Liz Printz; musical supervision by Darren R. Cohen; musical direction by Dan Pardo. Cast: Aaron Tveit (Robert), Lawrence Street (Harry), Kate Loprest (Susan), Jeannette Bayardelle (Sarah), Paul A. Schaefer (Peter), Jane Pfitsch (Jenny), James Ludwig (David), Lauren Marcus (Amy), Joseph Spieldenner (Paul), Ellen Harvey (Joanne), Peter Reardon (Larry), Mara Davi (April), Nora Schell (Marta), and Rebecca Kuznick (Kathy).

 

Cover: Aaron Tveit (far right as “Bobby”) and the cast of ‘Company;’ photo: Daniel Rader.


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