Sondheim’s Company is the Tony Award-winning story of Bobby, perpetual bachelor and friend to five married couples. Now he’s reached the age of thirty-something he has the suspicion he should be married too. Three potential Miss Rights emerge, but Bobby can’t seem to get it together with any of them, and he isn’t at all helped by his married friends, who decide they want to help and weigh in with much conflicting advice and mixed messages.
Phoenix Ensemble have once again shown that they are not afraid of a David-and-Goliath challenge not only is the score one of Sondheim’s most beautiful and complex, Company is written in a non-traditional musical theatre format, with a very real danger of unevenness if not tightly directed. The Pavilion Theatre’s lilliputian stage doesn’t let a production hide its foibles behind glitzy sets or props (although Ray Aubrey has once again done an admirable job with what he’s been given); the cast are at most a disconcerting two metres away from the front row, and the ever-masterful band (led by Casey Chadwick) have had to wedge themselves tightly into one tiny corner.
But from the first insistent “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby baby, Bobby bubby, Robby, Robert darling . . .” from the cast, Phoenix Ensemble’s Bobby (Luke Hutley) does a fine job of looking and sounding like a terminally confused guy doing his best to work out what to do with himself, in spite of his well-meaning friends. Tracey Hutley (Amy), Joel Mikklesen (Paul), and Jo Castle (Jenny) turn in performances which will certainly earn them even more fans, and Anne-Crestani as the cynical Joanne does a wonderful and quite un-Ethel Mermanish rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch”. It’s also nice to see Lucy Moxon performing a role worthy of her skills as an actor.
Sondheim has put some hilarious scenes into this show, and Joan Stalker-Brown’s direction ensures that such delights as marital karate, discovering pot in your 30s and getting divorced but staying together, are effectively brought to the appreciative audience. Heather Scott’s sense of humour is clearly evident in the choreography, and the ensemble singing is simply wonderful throughout.
With this production we readily forgive the hitches with amplification and the odd backstage crash. It’s obvious that the guys at Phoenix are doing an incredibly gutsy job: the whole team give it their all from curtain-up to curtain-down. The night I was there, crew member Rhylee Nowell gallantly stepped into the role of Marta, left vacant by Cathryn Hegarty (who sadly was unwell that evening), and at least one member of the front-of-house staff was also seen treading the boards in Act 2.
In all, it’s entirely appropriate that Phoenix chose Company as their latest offering. How can a show about deciding on love and commitment fail when it’s staged by a team who so obviously love, and are completely committed to, their craft?