The fun thing about "Company" is its nasty streak.
Sure, Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical is, in the end, about love--the romantic, elevating, necessary kind that everybody always reaches for. But along the way, there is enough acid drenching everything to keep it all from getting too soft, pretty or maudlin.
It is a work with wit and bite, a fact that Beth Hansen, the director of the Newport Theatre Arts Center's production of "Company," hasn't missed. Hansen and her cast aren't shy about taking the requisite jabs at marriage, relationships and social standing, just the way Sondheim intended.
The musical, which gave us such songs as "Side by Side by Side," "The Little Things You Do Together" and "Someone Is Waiting," is basically plotless. We see Bobby, a young bachelor, have a birthday party. He gets invited to dinner a few times. His friends kvetch about their marriages. His girlfriends are introduced. He ponders what it all means. That's about it.
But while the setups are in a minor key, "Company" can be dynamic. This is Sondheim, sophisticated and sly as usual, just waiting for some personality-rich voices to make the most of the innovative songs and some resonant acting to fill in the gaps. At Newport, the singing is more efficient than spectacular, but "Company" is not really shortchanged. Some harmonies work better than others, just as some solos sail while others find the going a bit choppy, but the overall feel is satisfying.
There is little equivocation with the acting, which is good up and down the line. George Quick sets the tone for the other performers by bringing a liveliness to Bobby that helps keep Hansen's pace at the right tempo. His Bobby is more than vivid, though; he also has the needed element of heart that keeps us interested in him personally. This "Company" also benefits from David Scaglione's simple set, which is spare enough to be unobtrusive and sleek enough to give everything a contemporary feel. Jane Hobson's suggestive lighting and Lia Hansen's hip costumes add to the production.
A Newport Theatre Arts Center production of Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy. Directed by Beth Hansen. With George Quick, Allison Wood, Jay Bradley, Kathi Cook, Scott Linn, Sarah Dacey, Mark Wickham, Gayle McIntyre, John Bisom, Beth Hansen, Harlan Eyre, Patti McClure, Dani Ballew and Donna Simmons. Choreography by Scott Linn. Set by David Scaglione. Costumes by Lia Hansen. Lighting by Jane Hobson. Musical director Terence Alaric. Plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Oct. 23 at 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. Tickets: $10. (714) 631-0288.