“It’s the little things….that make perfect relationships” according to a line in “Company,” the 1971 Broadway Tony standout by Stephen Sondheim that opened Arizona State University’s Lyric Opera Theater season yesterday. True to the lyric, it was exactly the little things that made this production rise above enjoyable musical theatre.
A big thing, Director Toby Yatso ensured each member of his ensemble was chiseling their individual characters on the colorfully backlit neon background panels stage from the moment they entered in the first number. The big message being, this show is about a great group of diverse, married-couple friends and how they interact with their bachelor best buddy, Robert (Bobby).
The little things, like the eerie legato, almost nightmarish quality to the repetition of “Bobby” rose to a clashing, feverish crescendo in that same opening number. The set’s cool disco lighting, the in-flat New York elevator, and the lyric “with love 70 ways” all emerged then, too. The nuanced message — there’s going to be discord here, and it’s a commentary on love relationships in the decade in which it’s set.
Brilliant tiny thing: Brian DeMaris’ musical direction made sure to emphasize Sondheim’s music-lyrics irony in the phrase “It’s not so hard to be married.” The ensemble melody line was in perfect unison with the exception of a complex, dissonant chord that punctuated the word “married” each time the phrase was sung.
Big beautiful things continued to happen in the next two numbers. The somber, contradictory lyrics about marriage in the men’s number “Sorry Grateful” softened the words’ sting with the mellowest of three tenor voices (Alex Crossland, Kaivan Mayelzadeh, Titus Kautz). Comic relief contrasted the guys’ song with the neurotic, harmonizing Andrew Sisters-like trio “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” during which choreographer Molly LaJoie cleverly employed corded telephones as props with biting body language.
Robert (Bobby), actor Alex Kunz, for his part was exceptionally affable, smooth and accommodating to his friends, both in character and in voice. Being the entire show spins on his axis, it was another huge thing for the overall performance.
When exhilarated Marta (Analise Rosario) finely voiced her “Another Hundred People” number that gushes about the vitality of life in New York City, the smallest of opportunities may have been missed. With the driving orchestra sound (and the musicianship in the pit was excellent throughout!) and Marta’s enthusiasm, we weren’t necessarily led toward the idea at which the final unresolved cadence and numerous repetitions of the title phrase point. The implied idea that may have slid by unnoticed was that the gaping abyss of sheer, over the top volume offered in the city’s lifestyle swallows the ability to savor the single, precious moments that get lost in the shuffle.
The little detail of the rain shower lighting effect during “Not Getting Married Today” foreshadowed subtly a sad outcome, while ‘crazy Amy’ (Megan Moylan) spit lyrics at laser speed with fantastic comedic timing. The pervasive gloom of that little thunder cloud poignantly suggested that maybe her wedding-veiled dilemma wasn’t as much about not loving enough, or even about her unstable mental health, as it was about the dubious nature of the institution of marriage. The ponderous weight of those conflicting emotions led perfectly to Bobby (Kunz), the king of contradiction, delivering–complete with shivers–one more brilliant dose of Sondheim lyrics to uncomfortably close the first act with “Marry Me a Little.”
“What Would We Do Without You,” is an upbeat song that exuberantly celebrates friendship. It was a number so vocally sound, it shimmered. The lovely little thing within was the choreography. Amid the wonderful, soft-shoe circus frenzy, the chorus staging consistently provided that Bobby alone had no partner to dance with or hand off to.
At last, when wealthy lush JoAnne (Emilie Doering) toasted with her husband and Bobby to “The Ladies Who Lunch” in a swanky bar, her raking insistence that “everybody rise” was more a desperate mandate to dead and dying female spouses than a celebratory gesture. A little but critically important thing.
Kunz closed the show by knocking us out of our seats with his “Being Alive” plea. In decades past the action often pointed to marriage as the most solid bet for unity and completion. The provocative little things in this 2015 production of ‘Company’ by Lyric Opera Theatre, however, when you “add ‘em up, Bobby,” provided room for interpretation.
What ASU’s, and all other Company provides always, however, is the necessity of that crowded with love, sleep-disrupting, forced to care, human connection. Nothing like it, as this production so effectively communicated, can validate and invigorate the condition of Being Alive.