a kate west review
music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by George Furth
direction & musical staging b y John Doyle
at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th Street, New York, NY
contact (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 OR or; running through June 2007

The latest Broadway revival is Stephen Sondheim's "Company", featuring actors becoming their own orchestra, playing various musical instruments on stage. This may seem innovative at first, until one realizes that the actors in last year's "Sweeney Todd" revival (another Sondheim musical) also played instruments in a daring new modern take. A bit of a disappointing revelation.

Raúl Esparaza is Robert, a declared bachelor constantly bombarded by well-meaning friends trying to set him up on dates to put an end to what they perceive as his loneliness. He gets conflicting advice, however, as some of the longer-term relationships suffer from a bit of malaise and envious friends consider him lucky to be single. Women drift in and out of his life, while Robert wrestles with the idea of getting married, finally deciding that it's enough to live life ("Being Alive"). Esparaza is quite a gifted performer, but even he cannot rise above the slightly tedious material.

Barbara Walsh, Keith Buterbaugh, Matt Castle, Robert Cunningham, Angel Desai, Jane Pfitsch (in this particular performance), Amy Justman, Heather Laws, Fred Rose, Bruce Sabath and Elizabeth Stanley are among the strong ensemble that tries to help Robert figure out his life. There are also many lyrically moving pieces to aid him, including "The Ladies Who Lunch" (the deep toned Barbara Walsh), "Another Hundred People" (feisty Angel Desai) and lighter, quirkier pieces like "Getting Married Today" in which the company performs a wedding, alternating between doubt and delight. However, in general, the idea that relationships are difficult is not new.

Also, David Gallo's minimalist black and white plastic set design does not really do anything to promote the story, other than provide a mood gimmick, similar to the actors playing instruments. The latter, while showcasing versatility (actors really can sing, dance and push a cello at the same time), does not add any kind of dimension either. Also, the drinks are pretend, but the cigarettes are real. Huh?

Well directed by John Doyle, "Company" is beautifully musical as are most Sondheim pieces, but rather light on interesting plot. A character study from several points of view, it's overall feeling of depression does not inspire any new revelations on the dating world. Dating is hard, relationships harder, but presumably worth it in the end. Not particularly worth the $100 Broadway ticket, expect for die-hard Sondheim fans, determined to see every work in every era, no matter from what decade.

Company (2006 Broadway Revival Cast)

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