Poor Robert, the protagonist of Company, just can’t catch a break. A successful professional turning 35 in the posh social scene of New York City, surrounded by a cheerful and colorful mix of supportive married friends, and casually involved with three lovely young women, Robert is content, but not exactly happy.
Trustus is currently producing the multiple-Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, and at a recent performance at Trustus Theatre, Walter Graham gave Robert a naive child-like quality. He portrayed him as something of a blank slate, allowing life and romance to happen to him, rather than taking definitive action.
As his friends alternately nagged him about his perennial bachelorhood and offered to play matchmaker, Robert — often the third wheel as “company” at dinner — examined and learned from the examples of their marriages, some more successful than others.
Kevin Bush and Robin Gottlieb were delightful as adorable “squares,” sharing a quick joint after the children were asleep, content in their geekiness and traditional relationship. Christopher Cockrell and Katrina Blanding were outrageously expressive as a competitive couple whose playful banter skirted the borders of bickering and worse; yet Cockrell conveyed sincerity on “Sorry-Grateful,” as he explained the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in loving and sharing one’s life with another.
As a jaded, martini-swilling veteran of multiple marriages and divorces, Sheldon Paschal successfully played significantly older and less glamorous than previous star turns in musicals (such as the slinky Morticia in The Addams Family and the lithe Esmerelda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame ) and oozed sarcasm through every note in the ironic “The Little Things You Do Together” and in “The Ladies Who Lunch,” an homage to/indictment of society matrons. Brittany Hammock proved to be an audience favorite with her rapid-fire delivery of a skittish bride’s wedding day fears in “Getting Married Today.”
The ensemble of Bobby’s friends was rounded out by Stann Gwynn, Charlie Goodrich, Jocelyn Walters-Brannon, and Craig Allen. One of this production’s most appealing features was seeing favorite local performers — many with decades of experience in lead roles ranging from Evita and Sweeney Todd to Buddy Holly and Jean Valjean — fleshing out quirky character roles, in vocal and romantic pairings that one might not normally expect.
Hillary Scales-Lewis, Gaby Walker and Rachael Mitchum portrayed Robert’s three love interests. Mitchum was endearingly ditzy yet still appealing as stewardess April (whom Robert accidentally calls June as she’s getting dressed in the morning). Their duet “Barcelona” was partially sung and partially spoken in recicative, and was perhaps my favorite song of the evening.
In the ballad “Someone is Waiting,” Graham wistfully imagined the ideal lover as “a Susan sort of Sarah, a Jennyish Joann” and wondered, “Would I know her, even if I met her? Have I missed her? Did I let her go?” It’s no spoiler to reveal that Robert gradually begins to define his own aspirations in life and love, and reaches a certain level of enlightenment in choosing the quality of romantic “company” that he keeps.
While Company debuted in 1970, there were virtually no references that might date the material, apart from constant phone calls and messages, which director Dewey Scott-Wiley and scenic designer Chad Henderson embraced by incorporating countless appearances of cell phones. Henderson’s minimalist set, comprised of white steps, levels, platforms, tables, chairs and doorways, featured lighting effects by Marc Hurst that caused the portals to glow in pastel shades just like cellphones, while images of often goofy selfies taken by the various characters were projected onto display screens overhead.
A live band, led by music director Tom Beard on piano, played at stage left, and Beard appeared positively gleeful and overjoyed to be performing Sondheim’s complex score. Tim Leahy’s accompaniment on trumpet was also notable, as he provided subtle yet significant fills and musical punctuation at key moments. Jessica Bornick’s costumes were bright and lively, if a bit chaotic, and Terrance Henderson’s choreography included some vibrant moments in a show that focuses more on song than dance.
Sondheim is generally agreed to be one of the most important composers of the latter half of the 20th century, and Company is one of his biggest hits. Sure, the performance ran nearly 2.5 hours plus intermission. And perhaps Sondheim belabors his theme longer than necessary. Perhaps a few of the songs weren’t necessary to the non-linear, vignette-style plot, and seemed as if they were inserted by the composer just because they were catchy.
But they’re awfully catchy. The universality of the themes as presented in the eloquent lyrics, as well as the inescapable appeal of Sondheim’s melodies, explain the show’s enduring popularity. This current Trustus production provides added allure with some of the best voices in the Midlands, combined in attractive and unexpected combinations, resulting in a satisfying whole.
Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
When: Through Oct. 26
More: 803-254-9732, trustus.org