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Pleasure of This 'Company'

Jules Aaron has met the challenge of staging the hit musical at a new venue with a new cast.


Lightning can strike twice, in the theater at least.

On the heels of his acclaimed staging of "Company" for Laguna Playhouse last year, Jules Aaron demonstrates a masterful grasp of the show's subtleties and presentation challenges with a different cast and venue at West Coast Ensemble.

His clarity and insight pay off handsomely in this groundbreaking 1970 Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, which abandoned conventional linear plotting for fractured snapshots of Manhattanites fumbling for human warmth in an increasingly sterile world.

Without recourse to traditional narrative devices, Aaron steers an ensemble equally adept at acting and singing through the show's musical vignettes. The common link is Robert (a likable and sympathetic Dean Regan), the 35-year-old bachelor observing the foibles of his married friends while he perpetually teeters on the fence between freedom and commitment--much to the consternation of his girlfriends.

A quarter-century later, "Company" remains the definitive compilation of songs about emotional complexity and ambivalence in modern relationships. Eschewing the hazy emotional cliches of the musical genre, Sondheim's dazzling, hard-edged lyrics articulate romantic conundrums with such precision and originality that they're often accused (wrongly) of heartless abstraction.

Aaron's staging makes the convincing rebuttal that the absence of sentimentality doesn't preclude feeling--it actually makes it more genuine. In the song "Sorry-Grateful," a trio of husbands (Steven Einspahr, Michael Zemenick and Scott Dreier) seem poised to gush about how all their doubts vanish at the sight of their spouses, but instead their poignant admission of unresolved conflict becomes the emotional heart of the show.

Another showstopper is Lisa Picotte's hilarious, high-speed neurotic litany of reasons why her character won't be "Getting Married Today." A sweetly romantic ballad, "Barcelona," captures a densely layered moment of vacillating intimacy between Robert and one of his girlfriends (Betsy Gardner, alternating with Lise-Marie Thomas). And Jan Sheldrick's vodka-drenched tribute to "The Ladies Who Lunch" remains a chilling indictment of hollow socialite bravado.

Darryl Archibald's re-orchestration for five live musicians works well in the intimate space. The production uses the revised 1995 version, which restores "Marry Me a Little," a song cut from the original Broadway production, and takes a more sympathetic stance toward homosexuality. The minor updates and alleged resetting in the present don't really camouflage the show's inherent late-'60s sensibility, but its reflections still ring true. If you're feeling lonely for live entertainment, you couldn't find yourself in better "Company."


"Company," West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends June 29. $20. (213) 525-0022. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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