Aaron Tveit stars in Barrington Stage Company's production of 'Company.' (Photo by Daniel Rader"
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Hugh Jackman has it. The young Robert Redford had it – that preternatural ability to exude charisma and magnetic sexiness even when standing stone still. Aaron Tveit has it, too, in addition to his impressive singing, dancing and acting skills.
Tveit is the star of Barrington Stage's "Company," one of Stephen Sondheim's biggest hits, and he is just the tip of the talent iceberg in this simply fantastic production. "Company" premiered in April of 1970, and while it's not quite as relevant today as it was back then – when marriage was more de rigueur – it still resonates with its humor and irony. Practically the whole show is built on irony.
"Company" doesn’t have much of a plot. As Sondheim sums it up in his book "Finishing The Hat," "a man with no emotional commitments reassesses his life on his 35th birthday by reviewing his relationships with his married acquaintances and his girlfriends."
The man, Bobby (Tveit), is very guarded among his friends. He's often just an observer. But when alone and talking directly to the audience, he opens up, letting us see his vulnerability and eventually his growth. The show uses several Sondheim songs rather than George Furth's book to convey his growth. Bobby is the character who ties several comedic skits about married couples, originally written as short plays by Furth, together.
Each couple has at least one skit to reveal their married relationship. One couple goes at each other with karate moves. Another gets divorced but still live together as lovers. One husband denies that he's gay but propositions Bobby. In one older couple's marriage, the wife drinks to excess while the husband indulgently takes care of her. None of the marriages Bobby witnesses is perfect, but still he learns from them, both negatively and positively. His girlfriends sing about how Bobby drives them crazy in the beautifully harmonized, tuneful (and famous) "You Could Drive A Person Crazy." But they return to him again and again.
The entire cast of this production of "Company" is extraordinary. To name just a few who had individual, knockout songs: Ellen Harvey brought just the right amount of intense, drunken self-loathing and sarcasm to "Ladies Who Lunch." Of course, she stopped the show. Nora Schell perfectly belted out the loneliness and frenetic pace of New York City in "Another Hundred People." Lauren Marcus had the difficult task of making Sondheim's lyrics intelligible in "Getting Married Today" all the while singing at breakneck speed and being hysterically funny. Another showstopper. Mara Davi was wonderful as the ditzy, intellectually-challenged girlfriend, April.
"Company" is obviously Stephen Sondheim: sumptuous melodies and, of course, brilliant, witty lyrics like this: "When a person's personality is personable, he shouldn't oughta sit like a lump. It's harder than a matador coercin' a bull to try to get you off of your rump."
Julianne Boyd directed with her usual Sondheim insight. She clearly brought out the best in each talented actor. And she never allowed the show to drag. Jeffrey Page, an Emmy-nominated choreographer for a Beyonce video, is responsible for the staging and choreography. The dancing is not fancy but it is appropriate for a group of singers who must move together. (Aaron Tveit is a very talented dancer but has few opportunities to show off his steps.) Kristen Robinson's multi-level set beautifully evoked New York City. Darren R. Cohen supervised the music and Dan Pardo directed the ten-person orchestra.
Those of us in the audience who knew the show eagerly awaited "Being Alive," Bobby's final song that sets his inner realization to music. As we all suspected he would, Tveit knocked this iconic musical song out of the ballpark.
To keep the baseball analogy going, Barrington Stage Company is batting 1,000 this year with its musicals. First "Ragtime" and now "Company." Lucky us. Ms. Boyd, you have once again done the Berkshires proud.
“Company" runs through Sept. 2. Don’t miss it. Extra performances before that date have been added. Visit the website for details.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth; Directed by Julieanne Boyd. Choreography by Jeffrey Page; Music Supervision by Darren R. Cohen; Musical Direction by Dan Pardo; Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson; Costume Design by Sara Jean Tosetti; Lighting Design by Brian Tovar; Sound Design by Ed Chapman. Starring Aaron Tveit with Ellen Harvey, Lawrence Street, Jeanette Bayardelle, Kate Loprest, Paul A. Schaefer, Jane Pfitsch, James Ludwig, Lauren Marcus, Joseph Spieldenner, Peter Reardon, Mara Davi, Nora Schell, and Rebecca Kuznick.
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