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Critic's Choice

Review: Bachelor and 'Company' of friends take jet trip to 2013

April 08, 2013|By Margaret Gray
  • In Crown City's "Company," Bobby (Ben Rovner, front row center), still a bachelor at 35, is surrounded by his married or soon-to-be married friends.
In Crown City's "Company," Bobby (Ben Rovner, front row… (Tim Polzin )

Even as I enjoyed Crown City Theatre's tuneful, compactly staged revival of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical “Company," my mommy radar was on high alert: Who’s watching the kids? Several characters allude to having them. These kids evidently do their own homework and go to bed early, leaving their parents free to drink, get high and shed a queasy light on the institution of marriage. What about soccer practice?

Director Albert Alarr situates his interpretation of this 1970 Tony Award magnet in the present, incorporating video games, smartphones, emails and Facebook posts. But for me, the couples’ apparent freedom from child-rearing obligations, along with the Updike-influenced story lines, gin-splashed lyrics and gritty glimpses of old-school New York, marks this musical unmistakably as a product of its era. No helicopter parents here!

“Company” proves no less fun and fascinating — and maybe more so — for being retro. Daring for its time, it retains a tingly experimental vibe, played up by Jack Forrestel's sleek city skyline and John Todd's zippy choreography. 

Structurally "Company" is a collection of linked stories, centered on Bobby the bachelor (the charismatic Ben Rovner). During a surprise party for his 35th birthday, his five married-couple friends urge him to settle down.

So in between dating three lovely prospects (including an airheaded stewardess — how 1970s is that? — played by Emma Degerstedt), Bobby spends time with each couple, hoping to be tempted by their connubial bliss. The scenarios he encounters — martial arts battles, nervous breakdowns and propositions from both wives and husbands — are not persuasive.

To those of us who see 45 as the new 35, Bobby's matrimonial anxiety comes off as a little precocious, a quality that much of the overwhelmingly youthful cast here shares. Several are so fresh-faced that they feel closer to “Friends” than to “thirtysomething” territory. But they pull off difficult solos with remarkable panache.

Amy Albert blazes adorably through the tongue-twisting, commitment-phobe’s swan song “Not Getting Married,” and Sonja Alarr holds her own in the bleakly boozy number (first defined by Elaine Stritch) “The Ladies Who Lunch.” 

This company particularly shines in the group numbers, so deftly staged that the mob of a cast seldom overwhelms the space. William A. Reilly's elegant piano accompaniment is just right.

Sondheim fans and newcomers alike should take advantage of a rare chance to spend a few hours without kids in this deliciously bittersweet "Company."

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“Company,” Crown City Theatre at St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 31. $25. www.crowncitytheatre.com or (818) 605-5685. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Extended through April 28.

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