Bobby is turning 35, and does he have a problem! He’s good-looking and single, lives in Manhattan, doesn’t appear to have to work, and has armfuls of delicious girlfriends. But he’s unhappy because he desperately wants to get married. Or not.
Company is the most intelligent musical you’re ever likely to see, and the most ambivalent. Shot through with the genius of Stephen Sondheim, it’s more analytical than animated, avoiding almost all the show-stopping tricks of the Broadway trade. Although it’s too talky and somewhat dated in its circa 1970 either-or attitude towards marriage, what works is so smart you have to forgive the dull parts. And Bill Millerd’s terrific Arts Club production polishes it to a high sheen.
Instead of a plot Company proceeds as variations on a theme. Bobby, played by the always engaging Matt Palmer, seems to have a biological marriage clock that’s loudly ticking. Despite his groovy life, he’s obsessed with the marital imperative. All his friends are married couples who provide both positive and negative role models for him.
They’re happy but unhappy, fulfilled but frustrated. Every tune, whether sung by Bobby or the ensemble, ironically reflects the paradoxical marital condition: “The neighbours you annoy together,/ Children you destroy together,/ That makes the perfect relationship.” Bobby’s double-bind is summed up in his lyric “one is lonely, two is boring,” and in his song “Marry Me a Little.” What’s a boy to do?
True to its title, the show relies heavily on the combined talent of its cast of 14 who look great arrayed along Ted Roberts’ handsome charcoal-grey set. Their choral work is impeccably arranged by musical director Bruce Kellett and supported by his excellent six-piece orchestra.
Besides Palmer, the individual standouts are all women. Bonnie Panych has a hilarious turn as a married friend getting stoned for the first time, and Cailin Stadnyk is very funny as a sweetly naïve girlfriend. She and Bobby’s other dates, Alison MacDonald and the gorgeous Debbie Timuss, offer a sizzling love-hate ode to Bobby, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”
Tracy Neff brings down the house with her dynamic high-speed performance of the reluctant-bride number, “Getting Married Today,” and Karin Konoval superbly delivers the depressing observations of her desperate housewife character in the show’s darkest song, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
Palmer nails the great finale, “Being Alive,” in which Sondheim allows Bobby some existential self-recognition but avoids any real resolution. It isn’t exactly a wholehearted endorsement of the married life. What do you get with marriage? “Someone to hold you too tight, to ruin your sleep, to know you too well. Someone as frightened as you—of being alive.”