Review by Charles Roetting of Company: Carnegie Theatre
Director Corrie Danieley kicks off The Carnegie‘s 2015-2016 season with the musical COMPANY, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth. I attended the opening Saturday performance.
The story revolves around the married friends, girlfriends, and 35th birthday of the highly likable and highly single Robert, played by Zachary Huffman. Unlike traditional musicals, there is no linear story-line here; we are instead treated to a series of non-chronological songs and scenes in which Robert learns about himself whilst learning about the relationships of his friends. Danieley makes a number of brilliant choices with this show. One outstanding decision is recasting one of the couples as two females. This is particularly effective and gives us one of the most touching, albeit brief, moments in the show (a single kiss) that may not have been quite so impacting otherwise.
A convention Danieley establishes is having characters fade on and off stage independent of the scene taking place. This works well with the non-linear plot of the show as well as keeping the stage free of excess bodies. This keeps distractions minimal and aids the overall production. Music Director Erin McCamley has done outstanding work creating a vocally powerful ensemble that sounds phenomenal. The result is full and clear, evidenced by the titular opening song, “Company”. Fortunately, this is as true in smaller parts. Huffman in particular has an ease and effervescence about his voice that is showcased wonderfully throughout but never better than late in the show with “Being Alive”.
The 6-piece orchestra must also be mentioned for their expert work on the score. Choreography, by Jennifer Martin, is fun and energetic. The choreography never feels out of place, nor is it ever truly showcased, until a gorgeous solo performer by Kathryn Miller in Act Two. Dean Walz’ costume design is simple yet nuanced and highly effective. Each costume brilliantly captures and supplements the personalities of the characters in the show. Whether it’s a suit, a black graphics t-shirt, a stewardess jacket, or vest and tie, everything creates a distinctive look that perfectly suits the wearer. Ron Shaw’s set design is superb and like the costumes, simple. We are given a two-tiered stage, an upstage wall of square shapes resembling the city skyline, and a few mobile set pieces when needed. This design frames every scene in a way that makes the world feel very large but the action feel very intimate. While the production looks great and sounds phenomenal, all of the actors at one time or another fall into a presentational style of performing that lacks authenticity. These moments make the performances feel put on, emotionally detached, and unaffected. This leaves several of the married couples with what appears to be sterile or completely loveless relationships. It gives them the sense of being strangers saying rehearsed lines, not a couple who have built a life together.
Fortunately, several performances shine through. In particular, Sara Kenny delights as Amy. Her portrayal of a woman with cold feet driven mad on her wedding day is worth the price of admission. Megan Ainsley Callahan is adorable as the good-hearted but naive April. John Langley in the role of Larry, gives the most emotionally believable performance in the show. Also strong are Marta Backman Hyland as Sarah, Kathryn Zajac as Harry, and Aiden Marie Sims as Marta.
The single greatest challenge faced by the show is Zachary Huffman’s portrayal of Robert. Robert is supposed to be well-liked, adored by all of his female friends (five of whom spend an entire song calling him “Poor Baby”), and the character that the audience roots for while he finds his way through, and even to, love. Unfortunately, Huffman’s take on the character is smug, emotionally detached, and largely unlikable. His performance is so ironic that the audience never gets to know him and therefor can never really cheer for him. It’s never made clear why he is so popular, so fawned over. This revelation is present in neither the text nor in the performance. Overall, Director Corrie Danieley and Music Director Erin McCamley have created a show that is a joy to look at and wonderful to listen to. But a powerhouse ensemble, even as good as this one, can’t rescue an unsympathetic lead.