Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review (Toronto/Theatre) Company

                                                           (photo by Riyad Mustapha)

The People Aren’t Always Right, But It Is Still Good.
Despite a few bumps, Theatre20’s Company manages to find new meaning in an old story
by Stuart Munro

Directed by Gary Griffin for Theatre 20, Toronto’s (thankfully still kicking) new musical theatre company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s classic musical Company follows Bobby, his three girlfriends, and his five couples of friends who all seem to be asking the same question: “Why aren’t you married, Robert?” The show won a handful of Tony Awards in 1970, and cemented Sondheim as a household name in American Musical Theatre.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first, because there isn’t much of it. The production has had a series of setbacks, including the loss of director Griffin two weeks into rehearsal due to injury (and commitments in Stratford). Directorial duties were taken over by Theatre 20 founder Adam Brazier. Whether because of this, or because it was on purpose, the pacing for the entire first act is too fast. Too often I found myself struggling to keep up with lyrics, actors seemed out of breath keeping up with the choreography, and too many important scenes couldn’t take the time to breathe that they needed. Admittedly, nothing was going horribly wrong, but nothing was going brilliantly well either – the solid writing was mostly keeping the boat floating. (And there was also a nice trope with Bobby and a camera that got lost after the second scene.) Certain things worked well in this first half. Brent Carver proved just what a national treasure he still is with his interpretation of “Sorry-Grateful” (in fact, I think he may be the man the song was waiting for to make it a real moment in the show). While, in general, Griffin’s naturalistic approach with the actors worked well, there were a few (David Keely, Nora McLellan and Nia Vardalos in particular) who had just a little too much of the musical theatre shtick about them. As Bobby, Dan Chameroy seemed to be doing the part well, but nothing about it was extraordinary.  The natural acoustic of the Berkeley Theatre, without microphones,  made some performers difficult to hear, and while the ensemble always sounded wonderful, they always seemed to be singing as loudly as possible. It wasn’t a bad sound, but a little more colour would’ve been nice.

However all this turned around during the final scene of Act I in which Carly Street delivered a true star turn with her rendition of “Getting Married Today.” Her mastery of the patter lyrics combined with a clearly thought-out character made this moment unforgettable. Her interaction with Jeff Lillico in the dialogue immediately following found that perfect balance between comedy and pathos, drama and desire that this show so badly needs to work. From the brilliant opening of Act II, solidly supported by Marc Kimelman’s wonderful choreography, the rest of the evening flowed wonderfully smoothly. I was very impressed with Marisa McIntyre’s quite different take on the usually-flighty April, and Louise Pitre’s Joanne was the perfect combination of sass, snark and joy. Not only is her “The Ladies Who Lunch” destined to be remembered for years to come, but her final conversation with our protagonist sets his character on a wonderful journey for “Being Alive.” One I didn’t expect.

You see, the last few times I’ve watched Company on video (whether it be the Raúl Esparza or Neil Patrick Harris version) I’ve gotten angry with it. Who was Bobby to tell me that the only way for me to “be alive” was to have “somebody to hold me too close, someone to hurt me too deep”?  I was beginning to wonder if the sentiment of the show was too far removed from the here and now to really resonate.

Full disclosure here – I’m a fella in my early-thirties, purposely single, who has spent the better part of the last four years eschewing relationships to pursue some academic goals, which have taken most of my time and energy. It may have cost me some friendships – it has certainly cost me some relationships. And by the time I decided I was probably going to pursue grad school outside of the country (which is now becoming a reality), the idea of a relationship seemed like the last thing I needed. And that was fine by me. So I figured me and Bobby might not have much in common anymore.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find in Dan Chameroy a Bobby I can absolutely relate with. Who’s willfully spent most of his life on the outside looking in, who’s tired of it, but who doesn’t equate being single with being alone. I imagine this Bobby going out into the world, on his own, but for once fully engaged with it and the people around him.

And maybe that how Bobby’s been seen for many people for many years. But for me, it was entirely new and refreshing. And that’s what’s so wonderful about good art – it defies simplicity and welcomes multiple interpretations. By no means is this Company groundbreaking, but it’s a solid and fresh approach to a well-worn classic. I’m so thrilled that my last review for CharPo was such a fresh look at a piece I know so well.

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