Many years ago, I saw an amateur production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company. Tonight I did the same. I remember very little about the version from my past, except that it was very good; of a “highly professional standard”, as we used to say when confronted by something we thought was very good. The production I saw last night was, in part, equally ‘professional’, except for three things. Sadly, one of them was the leading man.
I’d spotted the performance by chance. It was enjoying a short run at the Electric Theatre in Guildford. It’s rare to see performances so I decided to go. In passing, I asked Dawn if she’d like to go with me, given how much she enjoyed the production of Passion we’d seen a few months ago and Sweeney Todd a little longer ago. She was delighted and picked me up on the way through. We enjoyed a good, quick, and filling meal at Wetherspoons before walking down to the theatre in the rain.
The concept for the set was plain and simple, consisting of chairs which the cast brought on stage at the beginning of the play. But that was after the first appearance of Robert, the lead character. He is a single guy living in New York with a whole bunch of married friends. They all love him. The women want him to settle down and marry, the guys are all envious of his bachelor life. As well as his ‘coupled’ friends, we also meet three of his girlfriends.
Now don’t get me wrong but this guy didn’t exactly look like a guy who would have three girlfriends. Not the three in the musical, anyway. He wasn’t very appealing, his jacket was too small and needed to be unbuttoned and his voice was too soft. Of course, he could have been playing it that way but if so, it was a bad call.
And, actually, most of the other men also had voices that were not strong enough for the demands of both Sondheim and having a live (small) orchestra on stage with them. And while I’m talking about the band, I have to say that the musical director (Alex Parker) and his charges were excellent with one little quibble. That trumpet player who always manages to get a gig with amateur musical comedy turned up for a few unwritten notes that grated a bit. But that is, indeed, a quibble because overall the music was excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.
Alex Parker was also the director and, if I was to have a chat with him, I’d say I thought the choice to have everyone in black and white was too easy and obvious and a shame. I’d also tell him to stop Robert buttoning up his jacket. And while I’m on the subject of jackets…there’s one very memorable scene when Robert and the air stewardess, April (played superbly by Meg Travers) are kissing and gradually making their way to bed. I say memorable because in the long ago production I saw, they ended up naked before sliding into bed for the next song.
In tonight’s production they made a suggestion of getting undressed with April removing her blouse and Robert slipping his jacket off. Which I thought was a good idea. The problem was, the jacket remained on one of Robert’s arms. I have to assume that this was on purpose because the director couldn’t work out how to get it back to Robert for the next scene and didn’t want it littering the floor. It looked both stupid and amateurish and detracted from the passion of the moment. If the director would like a suggestion on how to direct that particular moment, he should give me a call.
I’m not going to go on with any more criticism because everything that was wrong with it was far outweighed by the performances of all the women. Without exception, they were all clear, loud, tuneful and totally true to their characters. I would recommend this performance for the women alone.
It’s hard to single out one single moment of brilliance from these talented women but the one that I enjoyed the most was Claire Fee’s Amy singing Getting Married Today. She was superb. And she brought the house down. A tremendous talent.
But I can’t leave out the rest of them because, as an ensemble they were incredibly strong. In fact, I’d like to see them do The House of Bernada Alba, the Musical…if such a thing is ever written. The others were Rosalind Robins, Rachel Logan, Nan Fee (a very convincing high), Rosie Hatton (with a deliciously believable, bitter The Ladies Who Lunch), Jenna Saiz and Ana Richardson.
The company is performing How to Succeed in Business next. If any ( or all) of these women are cast, I’d happily attend.
Dawn, I should add, thoroughly enjoyed it. She also enjoyed my rather vitriolic tirade against Robert during the walk home. Poor Dawn.