Marriage is a song and dance in ‘Company’
What do you do when all your friends are married and you’re perpetually single? Inspired Productions (with Slackwood Productions) explores this dilemma in their inaugural show, Company, at The Spire this week. First produced in 1970, Company is a concept musical about marriage, dating, and divorce by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and librettist George Furth. Produced by Mae Whalen with stage direction by Susan Del Mei and Matthew Davis and vocal direction by Jessica Duchaine, Company features poignant humour and some of the cleverest lyrics in musical theatre.
Sef Wood stars as Robert, a.k.a Bobby, the 35-year-old birthday boy and eternal bachelor whose friends are throwing him a surprise party. Bobby third-wheels his way through a series of loosely connected scenes featuring five married couples who adore spending time with him. There are giddy moments—David (Jake Deodato) and Jenny (Jessica Duchaine) getting high on the couch after their kids go to bed—and stressful ones—Amy (Susan Del Mei) getting cold feet before her wedding to Paul (Michael Donnelly). The show is full of energetic songs and comical banter grounded in the small details of the couples’ day-to-day interactions.
While Bobby is the central character, the focus is on, as he puts it, the “good and crazy people” around him, and the cast delivers on both the good and the crazy. Del Mei’s portrayal of frantic bride-to-be Amy is fantastic, running the gamut of wedding-day emotions while keeping up the frenetic pace of “Getting Married Today”. There are many wonderful vocal performances in this production—Harry (Jacob Denofreo)’s tone is beautiful in “Sorry-Grateful”, and Joanne (April Johnson DiRinaldo) steals the show with “The Ladies Who Lunch”, building the song’s intensity from a snide, silky beginning to a guttural finish.
Singing Sondheim is never easy, let alone getting fast-paced lyrics across in a large, resonant space like The Spire. At Wednesday night’s performance some of the early ensemble numbers felt a little muddled, but as the show continued, the sound mix became more balanced, and the diction became clearer. As challenging as the venue is, it pays off on long notes, which ring beautifully through the sanctuary. The show has more carrying it than its words and music—the sharply executed and delightfully kooky ensemble choreography in “Side By Side By Side”/“What Would We Do Without You” makes for a memorable opening to Act II. I also loved the momentum of Larry’s (Matthew Davis) dancing at the bar when Bobby sits down for a conversation with Joanne.
Bobby is entangled in everybody’s lives but maintains some degree of separation from it all. It’s a tough role to play—still, I would have liked to see more of Bobby’s inner life, especially his loneliness, come through in Wood’s performance. In addition to time spent with his couple friends, we watch Bobby navigate hookups and failed relationships with three women: Marta (Jessica Rosales), Kathy (Sophie Waldman Vollick), and April (Marta McDonald). All three perform with warmth and charisma, bringing personality to their slightly cookie-cutter characters. I was particularly fond of McDonald’s interpretation of April, the flight attendant Bobby sleeps with who brings out more tenderness than Bobby bargained for in “Barcelona”.
Going in, I was curious to see whether this production would take cues from recent revivals in updating the show’s tone and material. In 2018 and 2021, West End and Broadway revivals of Company featured some gender-swapping (most significantly, casting a woman as Bobby), giving the show more of a 21st-century feel. Inspired Productions’ version plays it straight for the most part. Some visual details are modernized—a cellphone in Bobby’s hand, his quintessentially millennial cuffed jeans and tied-up hair—but the language remains distinctly 70s, with phrases like “on the wagon” and “sauced” and ample talk of busy signals and analysts, not to mention a couple of rather orientalist lines in “Have I Got A Girl For You”. This mishmash of aesthetics and values feels distracting at times. It would have been nice to see Company either get a more thorough update or to have the production lean into the idea of it being a period piece.
The music, on the other hand, bridges the gap between 1970 and 2023 with ease. Music director Sammy Johnston leads the seven-piece band through a delightful interpretation of the score (orchestration by Jonathan Tunick), featuring some crisp trumpet playing by Grace Bowry in the entr’acte—my friend Jill, who sat next to me, described it as “like biting into a Macintosh apple”. The band is tight and delivers the music’s rhythmic complexity and aesthetic with great precision. I especially enjoyed the distinctly 70s-sounding keyboard effect on “Another Hundred People”.
Seeing Company this week has inspired me to revisit the cast albums I love (perhaps for a “Side By Side By Side” comparison?), and give a rewatch to the classic making-of documentary. I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with this old flame again, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Inspired Productions. In the meantime, I encourage anyone who’s been married, not been married, or knows anyone who’s been married—which is to say, anyone—to see Company at The Spire.