Among the musicals of Stephen Sondheim — and he's been turning them out regularly since 1957 — few have produced major solo hits, save for "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music." But his 1970 show "Company" came pretty darn close, as is now being impressively illustrated at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.
They may not be household names, but songs like "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," "Another Hundred People," "Getting Married Today," "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Being Alive" elevate this show to lofty heights. The production bubbles over with spirit and energy under the fine direction of Michael Ross.
"Company" is one of Sondheim's most accessible musicals. Who among us hasn't been through the singles dating scene? George Furth's New York-centric play on that topic, combined with that terrific Sondheim score, produced theatrical gold (six Tonys out of a record 14 nominations) over four decades ago, and it's still quite relevant today.
At its center is Robert — or Bobby. He's a single guy turning 35, and four couples among his married friends are trying to push him toward the altar. He's not unwilling, but at the moment, he's having too much fun playing the field.
It's a dream role, and Kevin Paul realizes it for the most part. He's not a world-class singer, but he sells his numbers on the sheer force of his personality, as he does in the climactic solo "Being Alive" and the first-act curtain closer "Marry Me a Little." Meanwhile, he steps deftly among three single ladies and dodges the surprise advances of an older woman.
The ensemble backing him is particularly strong and functions beautifully as a unit when mass cohesion is required, thanks to the superb choreography of Marie Gleerup. However, two actresses stand out for their outstanding individual accomplishments.
The first is Emily Price, a blonde beauty who gets her kicks from karate, as she demonstrates with her semi-willing husband (Eric Chaikin) in a trio of feigned attacks for Bobby's amusement. The second is Jessica Hayes, who tackles Sondheim's toughest number, "Getting Married Today," with all stops out as her fiance (Jared Pugh) attempts to reason with her. Both are exceptional.
Another couple who become a happily divorced pair are Claire Perry and Thom Gilbert. Perry's Southern charm and Gilbert's urban attitude sell their segment. The fourth couple, Andrea La Vela and Steven Shane, are a bit older, and she's something of a cougar with Bobby. La Vela (who will share the role with Eloise Coopersmith) bites into Elaine Stritch's signature number, "The Ladies Who Lunch," with a vengeance.
Jessie Reitz neatly enacts the beautiful but vacuous stewardess April (they weren't "flight attendants" in 1970), who's off to "Barcelona" (maybe). Audri Hatch is fetching as the almost-available Kathy, and Nina Ramos as Marta scores mightily with the throaty number "Another Hundred People" (how long can she hold that final note?).
The ensemble numbers are skillfully engineered by choreographer Gleerup, particularly the back-to-back renditions of "Side by Side by Side" and "What Would We Do Without You?" It's an exhausting segment that illustrates Gleerup's amazing creative gifts.
Rick Heckman's musical direction, backed by a recorded score, keeps the show humming quite nicely. Andrew Otero excels on setting and costumes, as does Mitch Atkins on lighting effects.
"Company" has another, probably unique, distinction. Two of its numbers spawned other Sondheim shows — "Marry Me a Little" and "Side by Side by Sondheim." It's one of the master's finest achievements, and it's showcased with style and substance at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays until June 29