“Company” Unites Us in Quest for Love, at Altarena, Alameda
Sondheim Musical Riffs on Single vs. Married Life
by Cynthia K. Lopez
“Will Bobby marry?”—a successful 70s New Yorker asks himself, as he celebrates his 35th birthday. Married friends urge him to commit—but their lives give him pause. His three girlfriends are charming—but which is “the One”?
Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical “Company” wonders why Americans are avoiding commitment. In the 70s, people are postponing marriage; it’s okay to be gay, but not really accepted.
Adroit Director Dennis Lickteig adds cell phones and contemporary costumes. His versatile cast of 14 brings joy and life to complicated, conflicted, and humorous characters.
Choreographer Rich Wallace’s delicious opening shows Bobby topping his own birthday cake. Set Designer Devin Kaspar’s amazing wooden stage folds and opens, magically, like a circular Rubik’s cube. The Ensemble sings and swirls stunningly, with brilliant arena staging.
Handsome Bobby (impressive William Giammona) sings and dances between contradictory couples and amusing singles. Indecisive, Bobby studies the idiosyncrasies of partnership. Is he ready for that wild ride?
His married friend Harry (hilarious DC Scarpelli) has quit drinking; and his wife Sarah (adorable Sarah Sloan) has foresworn chocolate. But their resolve melts as they manipulate each other, shamelessly. Bobby learns a lesson about convoluted companionship: an intimate partner can offer support, sabotage—or both.
When wealthy, manipulative, thrice-married Joanne (powerful Susan Tonkin) sings, “The Little Things You Do Together,” we laugh out loud at: “concerts you enjoy together / neighbors you annoy together / and children you destroy together / that keep marriage intact.” Joanne pokes fun at “perfect” relationships.
Beleaguered Harry, insecure David (emotional Sterling Liska), and take-charge Larry (imposing Peter Budinger) sing, “Sorry—Grateful,” a joyful lament. They all wonder what if they had not married….? Across the theater, heads nod in agreement.
Marriage angst reaches a crescendo when Amy (glowing Nicole Thorsden) collapses with wedding day jitters. In “Getting Married Today,” she raps, “I’m not going through with it / not going through with it!” The lilting six-piece orchestra in the rafters transports us on musical waves to the cathedral. With her glorious voice, Jenny (Christina Boothman) and the Choir welcome the bride. Amy’s sweet fiancée Paul (earnest Brian Palac) pleads, “Marry me Amy / and everyone will leave us alone!”
Bobby’s musical quest for clarity ends with his emotional solo, “Being Alive.” With his strong voice and impassioned performance, he asks what life means for him. If we are indeed defined by the company we keep, then you will enjoy the best “Company” at Altarena Playhouse.
Photos by Jim Norrena
“Company” by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth, directed by Dennis Lickteig, at Altarena Playhouse, Alameda, California, through Sunday, May 5, 2019. Info: altarena.org
Cast: Christina Boothman, Peter Budinger, Rebecca Davis, Jennifer Ekman, William Giammona, Sterling Liska, John Melis, Brian Palac, DC Scarpelli, Sarah Sloan, Brooke Michael Smith, Shelby Stewart, Nicole Thorsden, and Susan Tonkin.