Review: ‘Company’ at SF Playhouse (*****)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Bobby (Keith Pinto) is put on the spot by the rest of the cast of
Bobby (Keith Pinto) is put on the spot by the rest of the cast of “Company.” Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

The late ’60s and early ’70s were times of revolutionary cultural change in the USA, and it was reflected in our theatre. In 1969, the tribal love rock musical “Hair” was cause for celebration, but it was Sondheim’s “Company” that brought psychological sophistication and close analysis of the feelings of regular folk (not “hippies”) into the musical theatre mainstream. Prior to “Company,” musicals did not strive for sophisticated drama on a level comparable to other contemporary plays. With “Company,” for the first time, the words mattered as much as  the music. And what words! With amazing wit and psychological insight, Sondheim explored the doubts, dreams, hopes, and resentments of contemporary urbanites. Songs like, “The Little Things You Do Together” (about marriage), “Another Hundred People” (about urban alienation), and, most famously,”The Ladies Who Lunch” (about the quiet desperation of ladies of a certain age and class) explored themes new to musical comedy, and nothing has been the same since.

Forty-five years later, “Company” is  still fresh, still funny, still insightful, still Sondheim! Director Susi Damilano, an excellent production team, and a stellar cast demonstrate these facts in a lovely production, full of insight and joy.

Bobby, the ladies sing, could drive a person crazy. He’s charming, attractive, good in bed, straight, successful, but, somehow broken. He just won’t commit and nobody knows why. What’s so scary about marriage? In a wonderful series of scenes and songs, Bobby goes to parties large and intimate with his various married friends, and, boy, does he get an earful! Gradually, he begins to grasp both the dangers and rewards of married life, and, by play’s end, is ready to take on the risks of intimacy.

As Bobby, Keith Pinto is the heart of “Company,” and he is quite marvelous. Always sympathetic, always kind, always attentive, he makes us fall in love with Bobby just as he does everybody else. But Pinto also reveals the deep loneliness and fear that is behind Bobby’s impressive bon homie. He makes us care. Pinto brings down the house leading the entire cast in the delightfully choreographed “Side By Side By Side,” achieving a fine balance between pathos and panache. Pinto’s vulnerability and generosity as an actor are striking. (He demonstrated similar qualities as The Baker in last year’s SF Playhouse production of “Into The Woods.”)

In addition to Pinto’s gem of a performance,  excellent musical direction by Dave Dobrusky, and charming choreography by Kimberly Richards, this production of “Company” benefits from brilliantly considered casting decisions by Director Susie Damilano and Casting Director Lauren English. All the married couples are completely believeable but unexpected. The couples are mixed by temperament, race, physicality, age, and personality but are clearly, unmistakably married. The superb casting and performances of the supporting actors puts this “Company” over the top.

Among the highlights: Monique Hafen as Amy tearing into “[Not] Getting Married Today;” Teresa Attridge’s passionate “Another Hundred People,” and subtle, fully realized characterizations by Velina Brown as Sarah and Stephanie Prentice as Joanne. Prentice also does well with the challenging, “Ladies Who Lunch.”

“Company” plays at SF Playhouse through September 12, 2015. For further information, click here.

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“Company” by Stephen Sondheim with book by George Furth. Director: Susi Damilano. Music Director: Dave Dobrusky. Choreographer: Kimberly Richards. Set Design: Bill English + Jacquelyn Scott. Costume Design: Shannon Sigman. Projection Design: Micah Stieglitz. Lighting Design: Michael Oesch. 

Cast: 

Marta: Teresa Attridge. Sarah: Velina Brown. April: Morgan Dayley. Kathy: Michelle Drexler. David: Ryan Drummond. Larry: Richard Frederick. Paul: John Paul Gonzalez. Amy: Monique Hafen. Robert: Keith Pinto. Joanne: Stephanie Prentice. Harry: Christopher Reber. Jenny:  Abby Sammons. Susan: Nicole Weber. Peter: Michael Scott Wells. 

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