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vancouverplays review


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— Production poster

Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
United Players
Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St.
Jan. 21-Feb. 14
$30-$35 or 604-224-8007 ext. 2

The musical theatre genius of Stephen Sondheim is nowhere better displayed than in his 1970 creation, Company, and this ambitious United Players production is pretty much a knockout from beginning to end.

The show is a comic psychodrama exploring the somewhat dated dilemma of 35-year-old Bobby (Nick Fontaine, displaying leading man charm and chops): should he or should he not get married? He doesn’t have a particular woman in mind. It’s just that, at his age, isn’t there something wrong with a man who can’t commit?

Bobby’s friends advise him about women, relationships, marriage, divorce. The guys mostly envy him his single status: “Marriage may be where it’s been,” they sing, “But it’s not where it’s at.” The women sometimes chide him for his aloofness (“You impersonate a person / Better than a zombie should”), sometimes express their sympathy (“Poor Bobby”)—ironically, as we see him enjoying sex with his latest girlfriend.

For his part Bobby bounces from one loopy relationship to another (Morgan Chula, with great comic timing, is a highlight as flight attendant April). And he gets awfully disillusioned watching his married friends in action. Highlights here are Leah Ringwald, brilliant as panicky bride Amy on the day of her wedding, singing “I’m Not Getting Married Today” at 100 miles an hour; and Caitlin Clugston bringing a fierce attack to the desperate, iconic “Ladies Who Lunch.”

In the end Bobby is persuaded (or defeated?) by what appears to be a combined biological and social imperative: the desire/need for company, the exhilaration / ambivalence of relationship, all summed up in “Being Alive,” the show’s marvelous anthem.

Director Brian Parkinson’s cast of 14 and musical director Clare Wyatt’s four musicians handle the tricky music and super-smart lyrics with aplomb. Led by Fontaine’s Bobby, the acting is as consistently good as the singing, right across the board, and the comedy is very funny. Julie Tomaino’s simple, clever choreography is especially effective in the ensemble number “Side by Side by Side.”

My only gripe concerns the pace, which on opening night slowed to a crawl in a couple of extended non-musical moments. The play’s serious-ish themes don’t need to be treated solemnly. Keep up the comic buoyancy and Sondheim’s smarts will take care of the rest.

Jerry Wasserman


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