Iowa City Community Theatre Presents: Company
Johnson County Fairgrounds — through March 15
Update: On Friday, March 13, Iowa City Community Theatre decided to postpone performances indefinitely due to health concerns related to coronavirus.
For as long as there has been theater, fictional lovers’ stories have culminated in either marriage or death. Love and sex were fun to watch, but not the point of the story. If the plays produced in the last few centuries point to any one conclusion, it seems to be that marriage is the end that justifies (almost) any means. For years the very definition of a comedy rested on whether everyone was hitched by the time the final curtain fell. Getting all likely couples paired up, and legally bound together, was the only way to achieve a happy ending.
It seems as though George Furth and Stephen Sondheim wrote Company in direct response to that convention. Company is not an easy musical by any measure. Technically difficult songs, seemingly devoid of typical melodies or major chords, weave around and through scenes from several marriages our protagonist is stuck on the sidelines of.
It’s a musical of dissonance; sharp sharps, swooping slides, pretty melodies sung at breakneck paces. Songs either feel as if they’re over too quickly or last far too long. This makes the music so appropriate to the subject matter that it’s haunting, hopeful and bittersweet. The downside of such a demanding and precise score, however, is that errors in lyrics and notes are glaring when missteps are made. Opening night of ICCT’s production of this piece was a bit of a mixed bag in this regard.
Don’t get me wrong, the packed house on Friday was as boisterous and appreciative as any production team can hope for on opening night, and there was star power rocking that stage.
Rich LeMay was sweet and likable as protagonist Robert, aka Bobby. He had palpable chemistry with the people playing his married friends and an appropriately awkward dynamic with the women he was notably not trying to marry.
Anne Ohrt and Matty Weiland were comic gold as Sarah and Harry. Their “karate” sequence, choreographed by Kehry Anson Lane, during “The Little Things You Do Together” was hysterical. Ohrt’s sometimes maternal, sometimes seductive, energy around the only single guy in their group of friends was both nuanced and balanced, making their relationship distinctly realistic.
“Have I Got A Girl For You” featured some of the best choreography Anna Slife delivered to this cast. A torrent of Bobby’s married friends’ bodies and expectations pull him under and crash down on him. The wives seem to be stuck between the idea of marrying him off and engaging him in a torrid affair, while the husbands are clearly bent on living vicariously through him. It is as frenetic and oppressive as it sounds. This visual noise of other people’s opinions is both imaginative and well-executed.
Celine Robins (who, I’m required to mention, works for Little Village, though as a freelance writer, I have never met her, nor do I owe her any special love or allegiance) dominated as Amy. She absolutely sang the pants off “Getting Married Today.” This song pretty much calls for the singer to sling rhymes like Eminem while hitting notes like Kristen Bell. Robins owned every syllable. Her precise diction and frenzied pace, set against the #operagoals mastery of Sara E. Maslowski (Susan), made this song the absolute highlight of the night for me.
And I would be remiss not to mention the powerhouse vocals on Anthony J. Hendricks as Joanne, who seduced everyone in the audience with “The Ladies Who Lunch” before propositioning poor Bobby seconds after husband number three has left the room.
Under Rachel Korach Howell’s direction, these disparate scenes, tableaux and people are woven into a tapestry of best intentions and bewildering needs. The aching, grasping through-line of what makes a marriage and why it’s so important to us is explored thoroughly, if often not smoothly. (I attribute a lot of this to the difficulty of the songs as they’re composed, and the inherent challenges of ICCT’s space.)
Jeffrey Allen Mead’s set was beautifully simple; a geometric wall made of what appeared to be colored glass loomed over the proscenium bit of the stage, highlighting platforms of various heights and casting a cool hue over the floor level square platform. But I found myself wishing they’d just hidden the main stage and kept the singers on the floor level to save them having to try to project hard enough to out sing the band.
Because of the distance they had to cover, the breath control that varies from player to player and the lack of sound equipment, there were issues I can’t ignore. Some performances overpowered others, lyrics were missed and transitions took more time and attention than they should have.
Starting now, I’m making it my mission to outfit ICCT with a full suite of body mics so I never have to bring this up again. But I do not envy anyone trying to sing this music, much less any other kind, in a space this size, without a board operator leveling their volume against the other singers and professional instruments.
Wherever there were issues, however, there were bright spots of brilliance as well. Nicole Klostermann as April the flighty flight attendant was strangely enchanting. Peter and Susan’s entire dynamic was equal parts bizarre and delightful. And while the play is bookended with birthday candles and the wish Robert does or does not make whenever the opportunity presents itself, the heart and soul of this show is love. And you could feel the love poured into this show emanating from every corner of the stage.
You can bask in that love for one more weekend; Company runs through March 15, and tickets are $11-19.
Editor’s Note: Celine Robins, a cast member of this show, is Engagement Editor at Little Village.