That sound you hear is the third shoe dropping in a surprisingly Stephen Sondheim-rich summer in South Florida. Following FAU Festival Rep’s Into the Woods and Palm Beach Dramawork’s current steampunk Sweeney Todd comes MNM Productions with the master of ambivalence’s take on marriage, 1970’s Company.
In addition to launching an extremely fertile decade for composer-lyricist Sondheim and director Harold Prince, Company is considered the first “concept musical,” a show heavy on theme and characters, but light on plot. In this case, the focus is on a commitment-phobic bachelor named Bobby who is turning 35, a milestone he begrudgingly acknowledges with the assistance of his unhappily married friends.
Company began as a series of non-musical skits by George Furth, which later gained a score by Sondheim and the unifying character of Bobby. Still, Furth’s script is painfully sketchy, and sometimes simply painful. (Note the creaky marijuana scene and the vignette of martial arts as a substitute for sex, both of which seemed outdated when new.)
Of course, most books come in a distant second when compared to the Sondheim scores they support, and this is particularly true of Company’s. Of its time, yet timeless, these musical numbers have their own distinctive, urban, jangly sound, most evident in the recurring “Bobby baby/ Bobby bubbie” choruses. And when Sondheim reaches back and hurls a major solo at us, we get such enduring emotional arias as the 11 o’clock showstopper, “The Ladies Who Lunch” and the finale, “Being Alive,” albeit a bit of a copout to send audiences home content about marriage.
Understandably, director Bruce Linser wanted to move the show forward to contemporary times, as Bobby and his smartphone in the opening scene suggests. But so much of the dialogue and a lyric about an answering service is grounded in the past that the effort really does not work. Otherwise, Linser – who played Bobby a few summers ago at FAU’s Festival Rep – has a firm understanding of the show and stages it well, if conventionally.
Whether it was because of Linser or the growing prominence of MNM Productions, this Company has attracted a solid company of performers. Having already sung the triphammer plea of nuptial cold feet, “Getting Married Today,” in last season’s Side by Side by Sondheim revue, Leah Sessa all but owns the number by now and is even better in the subsequent monologue.
Mallory Newbrough continues her chameleon act – following her Janis Joplin in The Wick’s Beehive and Belle in Beauty and the Beast – as Bobby’s quirky girlfriend Marta, belting out that tribute to the “city of strangers” in “Another Hundred People.” And in her area debut, Erika Scotti is sardonic ennui personified as older, richer, much-married Joanne, expertly delivering that now-classic plaint, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
On the other hand, such prominent South Florida performers as Laura Hodos, Clay Cartland, Lindsey Corey and Amy Miller Brennan have little to allow them to stand out from the ensemble. Robert William Johnston (Bobby) has opportunities, but doesn’t quite cash in. His potentially rafter-raising finale, “Being Alive,” feels just outside his vocal range, not helped by an errant sound design.
On balance, this Company is not on par with MNM’s best efforts, but the material has so many musical high points that it is still worth spending time in its company.
COMPANY, MNM Productions at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Aug. 6. $45. 561-832-7469.