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COMPANY presented The Carnegie through Aug. 30. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
The Carnegie kicks off their 2015-2016 with a solid and entertaining production of Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY.
On the musical side of things, I found the orchestra and vocals of the show, directed by Erin McCamley, to be a highlight. A balance issue, between the two, was quickly corrected at the beginning of the show. Solo performances by Aiden Marie Sims as Marta and Sara Kenny as Amy were personal favorites.
The scene where Robert (Zachary Huffman) visits married friends David and Jenny (Jeremy Montana Long and Mary Kate Vanegas) felt the most honest and real to me. Opening night, the remaining pairs had not yet gelled into believable couples. While Huffman looks and sounds great in the role, he has a tendency to disappear into the ensemble and not anchor the show as the lead. I would have like to have seen him stand tall and move with purpose and energy.
Selling solos to the audience is not easy and several of the performers seemed to be “winging it.” This caused the delivery to be unfocused in eye contact and movement. In gesturing, numerous variations of “the shoulder shrug while raising hands palms up” peppered the show. I’m not saying the numbers needed to be choreographed by any means, but some rehearsed, personal blocking choices would give the numbers a better sense of focus.
The decision to update the time-period to 2015 was a mixed bag for me. It’s true the show’s themes about relationships and marriage still hold weight today. However, since the book has not been updated since the ’70s, I found the dated dialogue to be distracting.
Another alteration switched the sex of Harry to a woman, giving the show a same-sex relationship. While I appreciate the idea, it seemed that the couple was being forced into hetero-traditional male/female gender roles. Also, in the scene where Peter (Will Reed) lightly propositions Robert about a sexual encounter between the two, I found Robert’s tone to be a bit too gay-panic-y, implying that the idea of a sexual encounter between two men to be wrong (1970), instead of it simply not something Robert was interested in pursuing (2015).
The fact that ’70s fashions are back gave costumer designer Dean Walz a bit of leeway in mixing the time periods. And for the most part I enjoyed the looks. I thought Marta’s ensemble was unique and perfect for the character. The costumes for the lesbian couple didn’t work for me. Harry was dressed in jeans with a jacket over a button-down shirt (“the male”) while Sarah looked frumpy in a loose-fitting top and flowered stretch pants. Considering how well-dress the rest of the party-goers were, the pair looked out of place.
The multi-level scenic design by Ron Shaw worked well within the space and I thought it had a nice contemporary feel to it. The placement of the bed was a smart surprise. The only hiccup I noticed is that the stage right steps, being so close to the curtain line, made for some traffic issues on entrances and exits. Also nicely down was the lighting design by Alan Kleesattel.
Not truly a dance show, choreographer Jennifer Martin does a nice job with the dance solo performed by Kathryn Miller. For “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” it would have been nice to see a more contemporary take on the choreography. Even though the sound of the song has an Andrew Sisters sound, the decision was made to set the show in 2015. The 1940s were 70 years ago.
Director Corrie Danieley does well in her Carnegie debut. I would have liked to have seen a stronger hand in some of the book scenes and solos. I felt that the night club scene leading into “The Ladies Who Lunch” where the “friends ensemble” were playing different characters would have been more successful with the other play areas in silhouette. As performed, I found their presence distracting to the scene work. Honesty, the ensemble was unnecessary as Joanne’s comments could have been directed to the action happening off stage.
Don’t get me wrong, COMPANY is an entertaining evening of theater, I just found the modern updates to the show more cosmetic than actually thought through and impactful.
My rating: 4.0 out of 5
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