Several decades ago, an actor named George Furth wrote 11 one-acts for actress Kim Stanley. Anthony Perkins, who was thinking about directing them, asked Stephen Sondheim for his opinion. Sondheim asked director Hal Prince what he thought ... and Prince surprised everyone by saying it should be a musical. It was Prince's idea to boil down the scripts to the story of five married couples as seen through the eyes of their friend, the persistently single Bobby. And that's how the Sondheim/Furth musical Company came into being in 1970.
From the start, it was a problematic show. (Variety said "it's for ladies' matinees, homos and misogynists.") Bobby, originally conceived as a cipher, became the show's focus ... but how do you create a musical with an unknowable central character? If the show didn't feature such an amazing, powerhouse Sondheim score, I doubt anyone would have tried very hard to answer that question.
But it is Sondheim, so people will keep trying. Ted Pappas is the latest to scale the mountain, with his production at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Pappas' goal, I'd say, has been to direct and choreograph as accessible a version as possible. The characters are chummy and charming people with quirky problems who, every now and again, sing a gorgeous song.
The problem is that Company is, in fact, a deeply cynical work about stunted, compartmentalized and/or dysfunctional emotion. Famous for being Broadway's first plotless musical, the show is a nonlinear commentary on existential loneliness. But Pappas and company are looking to create a fun world onstage and invite the audience in.
It's an interesting effort which, unfortunately, doesn't pan out. As mentioned above, I don't think there's ever been a completely successful production, but this Public outing feels toothless and more than a little forced. And perplexing, too ... with choreography from the '60s, lingo from the '70s, and everyone carrying a cellphone.
But I do want to mention Hannah Shankman's pitch-perfect performance as Martha, and her powerful rendition of "Another Hundred People." And then there's Courtney Balan, playing Amy; she takes the already show-stopping "Getting Married Today" and launches it into the stratosphere: a thrilling theatrical coup.