October 28, 2012.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.
The song that best sums up "Company," a musical about people who are ambivalent about love, is "Sorry/Grateful." And sorry/grateful is also how I feel about this good/not great production.
First the grateful: The two most recent Twin Cities productions of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical were iffy ones by Bloomington Civic Theatre and Theatre in the Round, but Theater Latte Da's production is bursting with talent. The cast, fine singers all, commits to the Latte Da concept of bringing this 1970s musical into the present, when cellphones and dating sites give us new and improved ways to be confused about romance. Aside from a few outmoded terms ("generation gap," "answering service"), the time shift works quite well, as does the decision to accompany the actors with a modern-sounding four-piece band, rather than a full orchestra.
A few of the actors are inspired. In fact, Heidi Bakke may be giving the freshest performance in any Twin Cities musical this year as April, a flight(y) attendant who is one of the many women that move in and out of the world of Bobby, the single man who is the central character in "Company." April can come off like a dopey caricature if she's played too broadly, but Bakke's cooing performance suggests that April is more innocent than idiot -- she's like the sexiest lamb you've ever seen. I'd argue that there's a little bit of Judy Holliday in Bakke's languid, off-kilter line readings, except that the performance feels wholly Bakke's own.
Same goes for Suzy Kohane, as Bobby's ex, Amy. Kohane's delivery of the breath-defying "Getting Married Today" was not quite there on opening night, but it was very close, and her crazy energy -- all flailing, swanlike limbs and machine-gunned punchlines -- helps make Amy's dilemma (moments before her own wedding, she panics) funny and relatable. It's about-to-be-married Amy who delivers what may be the most chilling line in a musical that has lots of refrigerated things to say about love: "I have never seen one good marriage."
"Company" -- this one, anyway -- takes place in Bobby's head as, surrounded by his married friends, he is about to blow out the candles on his 35th birthday cake. The show is a series of vignettes of married life -- a couple about to divorce, one just getting started, one resigned to unhappy marriage -- and songs about the tricky business of relationships. Under Peter Rothstein's direction, moments that feel almost ghostly remind us that what we're seeing is Bobby's skewed take on how relationships work (or don't). We also see him interacting with a few of the women with whom he has failed to connect, while his married friends urge him to settle down.
It's a terrific musical -- funny, fast and just hopeful enough about romance to balance the huge helpings of irony, as in "The Little Things You Do Together": "It's the concerts you enjoy together/Neighbors you annoy together/Children you destroy together/That make perfect relationships."
On opening night, Rothstein and the cast expertly balanced the cynical and romantic aspects of the show, and they've wisely used a '90s revisal of the show in which its dream ballet is omitted, as all dream ballets should be. But, somehow, the production doesn't quite sing.
That may be partly because some of the actors playing Bobby's male friends don't make much of an impression and partly because the action takes place on a sorry-looking set. In order to accommodate projections that often feel too literal for this very not-literal show (The Brooklyn Bridge as Bobby walks the city? Really?), the stage is a vast expanse of cold, ugly off-whiteness, set off by a long, metal catwalk overhead and a couple of pieces of drab furniture that make it look like Bobby lives in a Salvation Army display window, circa 1974. The intimate McKnight Theatre is perfectly scaled for this razor-focused musical, but the vast set often seems to work against the inventive actors who, one suspects, would be grateful for a bare stage and a couple of chairs.