Little Things, Done Together
Jubilee Theatre scores a win with its production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. We’ll drink to that.
by Kris Noteboom
It seems like every week there’s a new article proclaiming that today’s younger generation is waiting longer to start their life, given the general lack of jobs and money. But that delay only lasts so long, and as we enter the fourth decade of our lives, eventually most people get going with it, get married, have kids, settle down. Which leaves a precious few that hold out for whatever reason.
Bobby (Lloyd Harvey) is one of the precious few who, on his 35th birthday, is still single in a world of married people. This is the set up for Stephen Sondheim’s and George Furth’s Company, getting a new treatment at Jubilee Theatre.
Bobby, or Robert, or Bob, or Robby and other nicknames he’s called, is the “single friend” to a colorful cast of married friends, all of who have a strong opinion on the state, or lack thereof, of his settling down with someone. For his part, Bobby waffles back and forth on the issue before finally reaching a cathartic conclusion.
The show is non-linear, taking place in a series of vignettes, not necessarily connected chronologically, and bracketed by the surprise birthday party thrown for Bobby by his friends, comprised of five married, or otherwise attached, couples. It’s one of Sondheim’s greatest musical accomplishments featuring well-known songs like “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the title song, and the climactic “Being Alive.” It’s worth a viewing regardless of where it is.
Jubilee’s group, led by director Harry Parker, performs admirably, with the bulk of the memorable performances coming from the supporting cast.
Harvey is fine as Bobby. His characterization is right on and his relative unease with the women in his life elicits that sadly familiar awkward feeling everyone can relate to. Where he struggles at times is with the singing. It’s not exactly the easiest part to belt, most notably accomplished by Raul Esparza in the 2006 revival in which even he resorts to yelling a few of his higher parts. And for the most part, Harvey is on top of it, but the occasional glitch in his singing stings the ears and breaks down the illusion a little. A nitpick, maybe, but noticeable enough to note.
The supporting cast is tremendous, led by Michele Rene who plays the acerbic matronly role of Joanne, originated by the indomitable Elaine Stritch on Broadway. Rene nails the cynical, thrice-married socialite attitude, her confidence oozing off the stage. And yet, when the time comes for her character-defining moment, and a major turn, she lands it with great emotional precision.
Tracy Nachelle Davis and Ben Phillips as married couple Sarah and Harry, and the real introduction to the character vignettes, use their fun, if not slightly aggravating, back-and-forth to set the stage for the parallel to Robert’s problems. Namely, none of the couples ever appear to be outwardly happy. Harry and Sarah show this through a haphazardly hilarious karate match. Comedy and chemistry aside though, both are talented singers and when the time comes to give their piece, both impress.
Alison Hodgson plays April, one of Bobby’s girlfriends. She gets the most stage time of the three and doesn’t waste the opportunity. What could easily be a more minor role she imbues with heart and agency. Hodgson makes the audience care more about April than Bobby does.
While this article could wax poetic about the strong cast, it’s probably best to point out a couple of specific numbers that stood out. “Sorry-Grateful” is a heart-wrenching song sung by the men that highlights the two-headed monster that is love. Harvey and Phillips are joined by William Massey (David), Marcus M. Mauldin (Larry), Brad Stephens (Paul) and Scott Sutton (Peter) in the sweetly comic number, and it’s pleasing.
Also, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” sung by the girlfriends, Hodgson, Whitney LaTrice Coulter (Marta) and Katreeva Phillips (Kathy). It’s one of the more lively and fun numbers, with an undercurrent of frustration that combines to create a funny piece of theater.
Parker and the team at Jubilee have succeeded in what is no small undertaking. They’ve taken a challenging, non-linear show, filled it with a non-traditional cast – it’s usually presented as a bunch of upper middle class white New Yorkers – and come out the other end with something that feels personal and driven by passion.
And finding that passion is really what it’s all about. For all of Robert’s struggles and ups and downs and twists and turns, what he’s essentially looking for is something to get passionate about, something that makes him want to embrace an ideal, one way or the other.
And that’s exactly what Jubilee does. The cast and crews passion for this show permeates every note and every word until Bobby isn’t the only one finding inspiration in Company.