Company was onstage March 2-11, 2023 at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre.
So . . . how long has it been since you’ve seen a local theatre company mount the 1970 Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical comedy Company? If you recall hearing songs from the show more recently than seeing a full-length production of it, join the club (or, rather, “The Ladies Who Lunch”).
SLO REP, for example, hasn’t included it in its season since the late ’80s. Of course, the show has seen a few national and even international revivals since the 1990s, particularly in the latter 2010s with the main character, Robert, re-imagined as female instead of male. A recent Broadway production won the 2022 Tony for Best Musical Revival. It seems taking a turn at modernizing its themes of dating, marriage, and divorce, along with recognizing Sondheim’s contribution to non-linear musical theatre storytelling (i.e. the “concept” musical) is a respectable and respectful thing to do—especially in light of Sondheim’s recent passing.
And so we come to Cal Poly Theatre & Dance’s updated version, with Maddie Webb courageously taking on the lead role of Bobbie. Thanks to the imaginative direction of Karin Hendricks-Bolen, we readily experience Bobbie’s confusion about long-term relationships and longing for connection as she interacts with five couples and three paramours, looking for answers.
Webb brings an innocence, an urgency, and a vivacious voice to her role. Bobbie is sympathetic to her friends but independent in her thinking, and Webb embraces the empathy required of the character.
The individuals who make up the couples—some happy, some not, some stoned, some aggrieved—are distinct personalities once you get past the opening number that, if you don’t know the show, can be a bit disorienting with its intensity and repetition.
An early vignette, featuring a married couple exuberantly played by Sarah Smith and Carson Roman, sets the stage for Hendricks-Bolen’s focus on physical comedy and the noticeable energy she extracts from all the actors throughout the show. Subsequent vignettes feature couples giving Bobbie relationship advice in prose and song.
Anusha Sowda and Enrique Ordinola, playing the “beautiful couple” who turn out to be divorcing, bring wit and style to their lines in quite an amusing way. Gigi Bjork-Nelson is a laugh riot as the bride undecided on her wedding day whether to marry husband-to-be Neil Slavick, whose reaction is genuine and touching. Liza Holmes, Colin Elman, Benjamin Walker, and Jacquelyn Morales each bring an individual maturity to their characters, especially Morales, whose gravelly rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the second act is noteworthy as well as her leading “The Little Things You Do Together” in the first act.
Bobbie’s love interests—Advaitha Bhavanasi, Joshua Schneider, and a very funny Gibson Witz, all likeable and quite talented—provide many of the highlights of the show, starting with the trio merrily singing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” through Bhavanasi’s homage to New York City (“Another Hundred People”), to Schneider’s expressive solo dance (“Tick-Tock”).
Kudos to the production team that Hendricks-Bolen has assembled. Their work together obviously streamlined much of the staging and musical numbers. Stage manager Layli Veach and crew keep things moving on the multi-use set (designed by Clint Bryson); music & vocal director Sarah Wussow and choreographer Hannah Drechsel wisely take advantage of the cast’s abilities; and the sound by Rachel Kupfer-Weinstein and lighting by Madison Noyes and Brian Healy are impeccable, with their crews skillfully hitting multiple cues every time.
Costume design by Aldo Rominger is in keeping with the set design, but interestingly the overall effect is not one of “modern times,” where Hendricks-Bolen says she has set this version of the show. The clothes, the use of multiple framing devices on set, and some of the scenic backdrops recall the last quarter of the 20th century, perhaps reminding us that Company, while “updated,” remains the product of an era that questioned the relevance of marriage and what it means to self-hood and identity.