Cornerstone Theatre Company, in its second season, has given itself a lofty goal in tackling "Company," the Stephen Sondheim musical ode to relationships. And there are times when the young cast members — some are still in college — don't seem to grasp the nuances of the inner turmoil their older characters are experiencing.
Ah, the joys of youth.
Cornerstone's mission statement indicates it strives to reinterpret well-known works by showing them in a new light, and director Nicholas Murphy has found several twists to freshen this 42-year old show.
The youthfulness — and attractiveness — of the actors, combined with stylish black costumes by Sherrie Hill, give the various romantic entanglements the sheen of a Fox-television soap opera, like "Melrose Place" goes to New York. That changes the tenor of the characters' foibles, making them more forgivable, but also undercuts the emotional depths.
In the show, Robert is the last single person in his group of friends, a collection of quirky New Yorkers. It's his 35th birthday and he's feeling his age and fretting about his single status.
The couples in his life include bickering Harry and Sarah; hard-drinking Joanne and patient husband Larry; and Jenny and her female partner, nicknamed David.
That "nickname" is because David is generally a male character, but one of Murphy's tweaks was to introduce a lesbian couple. It works very well. Actresses Brandy Hooper and Rosanna Hurt have a natural rapport, and Hurt has a strong stage presence which sells the idea that she's called "David."
Murphy has also staged the show in the round, with a minimal set. That's less effective, though it has intriguing moments. One problem: Actors walking around the wood-floor stage sound like an army on the move. And with unmiked performers, there's a tendency to lose Sondheim's inventive lyrics as soon as singers turn their backs to one side of the audience.
That's especially true with Matthew James, in the lead role of Robert. He has a pleasant tenor, but it's not particularly forceful, and is easily drowned out by the chorus. His subdued sound makes his climactic number, "Being Alive," less an anthem and more of a plea. And without a shadow of world weariness hanging over him, Robert seems more caddish than usual when he mixes up a girlfriend's name or tries to entice a woman into bed in an oddly staged scene that resembles a stalking more than a seduction.
As that not-too-bright woman, Maggie Langlais sparkles, and Lina Ortiz and Tiana Marie Akers as other girlfriends also stand out in the ensemble.
It's a credible, if flawed, production. And it might be just the thing to introduce twentysomethings to Sondheim.
• What: Cornerstone Theatre Company production of the Stephen Sondheim-
• Length: 2:35, including intermission
• When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 9
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• Tickets: $20; $15 students
• Call: 407-722-7037