Theatrical Review: Company by Theatre 20 at the Berkeley Street Theatre

As a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, I am lucky to have seen Theatre 20’s current production of the play. Or rather, I am lucky to have been a huge fan of Company when I saw the Theatre 20 production. Their production is far from perfect, but I was able to revel in the parts of the show that really worked because of my familiarity with the show. That being said, my familiarity with the show also made things that might have worked for other audience members not work at all for me.

I’ll start with what was good about the show, because when it was good it was excellent. Everyone who sees the show will leave talking about Louise Pitre’s “Ladies Who Lunch.” Her Joanne is perfectly hard-hearted and hilariously sarcastic until she gets halfway through the second last verse. And then you see the fear/anger/sadness in her eyes when she realizes that she is singing that song about herself. I’ve seen the pro-shots of the New York Philharmonic Concert version with Patti LuPone and the 2006 Broadway with Barbara Walsh, and neither of these two actresses’ performances felt as raw to me as Pitre’s. And both were fantastic. If nothing else, this performance is worth the price of your ticket.

In general the women’s performances were excellent. I have to commend Carly Street for getting through “Not Getting Married Today” and never breaking a sweat (except in character). She made one of Sondheim’s toughest songs look easy, and performed it with pitch perfect comic timing.

Marisa McIntyre hits similar notes of quirky and loveable with her performance as April. She has a knack for making the repetitive dialogue in the scene where April first enters Bobby’s apartment sound earnest and natural without losing the joke. Her bright-eyed wonder makes her compelling for a character who doesn’t get much stage time.

Nia Vardalos, though, is the undisputed queen of comedy on this stage. Her Jenny is so over-the-top-laugh-out-loud funny but she is never ever mugging. When she was brushing her teeth in “Poor Baby” I was doubled up in hysterical laughter. And you’ll be begging for more of her in the pot-smoking scene between her, Dan Chameroy, and Steven Sutcliffe once she gets banished to the kitchen. She is simply brilliant.

The men’s performances don’t compare to the women’s although they are by no means bad. The basketball game staging that starts “Have I Got a Girl for You” is really awkward, but the quintet sounds beautiful by the last refrain of “What do you want to get married for?”Brent Carver’s Harry is a standout. His last note in “Sorry-Greatful” is beyond gorgeous, even if it is a little hard to hear.

One of the greatest problems of this production is the way that it is mic’ed. Instead of character mics, they rely on the actor’s power of projection and a series of stage mics to do the trick and this really doesn’t work for Sondheim’s score. Almost all of the character introductions are drowned out in the opening number. You can almost never hear one line over another, especially when Bobby is singing on his own. So, anytime that the “Company” through line it’s a little garbled and it really takes away from the show. And if the audience applauds part-way through a performance (like halfway through “Not Getting Married Today” you miss the lines that come next – “bless this bride/totally insane” for example).

The other major problem with this production is Dan Chameroy’s aggressive insistence that Bobby is a straight man. It’s hard for me to sympathize with a wealthy, good-looking, charming, well-liked, straight, white playboy struggling to want to want to get married. Although it has been often denied, other productions have let ambiguity about Bobby’s sexuality enrich the character. Even when he admits to Peter that he has had a homosexual encounter in act two, he has a moment of definite queer panic at the end of the scene that makes him decidedly heterosexual. I’ve always liked that discomfort to be ambiguous because I think that the “Bobby is closeted” reading of that story is more compelling. And again, it’s not that other performances blatantly suggest this, they just don’t close off the possibility so completely.

Dan Chameroy sings the part with the utmost skill, but (perhaps because of my bias) I always find his performance a little disingenuous. It always feels to me a little more like a vanity project than a character role because he always seems so smug about his performance. In that way his “Being Alive” goes from being an emotionally devastating epiphany (like Raul Esparza’s in the 2006 Revival) to a cabaret performance to show off Chameroy’s impressive range. Chameroy’s Bobby is more an allusion to charming and likeable than genuinely charming or likeable – but if he is “Don Draper before we even knew who Don Draper was” maybe that’s the point. I just wish he’d played the role more sincerely, he’s certainly got the talent to pull it off.

When asked by a friend whether or not I’d recommend this show, I struggled with the answer. I’m not sure that I liked it enough overall to recommend it, especially not to an audience who doesn’t already love Company. There are definitely glimmering moments of greatness in this show that will reward an audience member for going, but I’m not sure that a critical theatre lover will be overly impressed by the show as a whole.

Theatre 20’s production of Company is currently playing at The Berkeley Street Theatre until July 13. Tickets are $69 for seats in the audience and $30 for seats on stage and are available on the Canadian Stage website.

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