Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Patrick Nims
Musical direction by Andrew Klein
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
Novato Theater Company
Novato, CA

RUN: March 23 to April 16, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(March 26, 2017)

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Company is a surprising show by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. Written in 1970, the Broadway production won 6 Tony Awards in that year, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lyrics and Best Score.

Although this is not my favorite Sondheim show, the quality of this amateur production surprised me. The actors were well defined and their relationships made sense, sometimes all too painfully. This show is the one to see at the Novato Theatre Company this year.

Director Nims sets his sights on telling it like it is, at least as far as the playwright allows. He does not pull many punches with his characterizations, and draws the appropriate emotions out of his cast to add depth to the roles. Sometimes strong and boisterous, sometimes shy and hidden, the couples and singles emerge through the show to break out in the final scenes as people I might know.

The set is simple and functional, but never dull or boring. The background lighting expands the mood shared by the characters in transparent shades of blue through pink. Choreographer Kenyon moves her characters in different groups and ensemble dances smoothly and carefully to really define the space; I appreciate the effective simplicity of her work with these people who are not really dancers, but are actors and singers.

What to do about Robert? Robert Nelson plays the part in understated ways, alternately merging with his friends and pulling out to see what he has become in the process. He is the focus of Company, but rather than being outspoken, he is the counterpoint to other actors to bring out their characters. Perhaps this is why he is the friend to all, while still defining himself. Nelson plays the part well.

Stephen Beecroft and Paula Gianetti become the essence of “blood spilled” on the stage (metaphorically, of course!). They are both experienced actors who can retain their characters in this explosive relationship. They are memorable to watch and enjoy, even if the underlying message has cynical undertones. Gianetti’s rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” is complete and accurate to the writer’s intent: ironic and hopeless. Beecroft also did an outstanding job with fight choreography.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Did I say I was surprised by this production? Nicole Thordsen was one major reason. Her rendition of “Getting Married Today” (subtitled “I’m not getting married today”) was just amazing. The staccato words flowed like a Tommy gun over the audience, loud and clear, thanking everyone in the scene but no thanks. I got the picture!

Amanda Morando and Gillian Eichenberger stand out for the quality of their singing and the roles they play. As totally different competitors for Robert’s affections, they show the soft and hard sides of love; could it be that they embody the theme of the story here?

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. The cast did a wonderful job presenting the music, but the songs did not stand out to stay with me. Sondheim tries to be unique with his music, writing for each of the many situations that the actors experienced on stage. No musical theme for the show emerged from this variety.

Overall, Company at Novato Theater Company is well done and energetic, with a good cast that is able to develop the many personalities in the script. I can certainly identify with Robert’s reaction to his well-meaning friends at the conclusion.