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Company (11/29/2006 - 07/01/2007)


 

AP: "Company"

Bobby baby, why can’t you play a musical instrument? Fear of commitment or just not musically talented?

That nagging question permeates much of director John Doyle’s chilly, high-concept revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” which opened Wednesday at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Doyle, you may recall, is the man who had actors doubling as musicians in last season’s critically acclaimed production of another Sondheim classic, “Sweeny Todd.” He does the same here, as we watch perpetual bachelor Bobby gaze uneasily at the relationships of several married friends as well as his own dealings with single, available women.

That theatrical multitasking worked well for the grisly tale of Todd, adding a weird dimension to the already creepy story of a murderous barber in 19th-century industrial London. With the more modern “Company,” first seen on Broadway in 1970 and revived there in 1995, double duty seems unnecessary, a bit pretentious and limiting to the musical ambitions of Sondheim’s fine score.

As a result, the episodic sketches concocted by book writer George Firth loom larger and more lethargically than in previous productions. We get variations on marital accommodations and adventures in late 20th century New York. The couple who contradict each other; the twosome who get divorced and then stay together; the pot-smoking duo; and the acerbic liquor-swilling matron and her mild devoted husband.

This version of Furth’s book is not exactly what Broadway saw more than 35 years ago. It’s a composite of previous editions, including a 1995 production that had Bobby dabbling in homosexuality.

Bobby’s indecisiveness is accentuated by Raul Esparza’s fidgety, sometimes mannered performance. This man telegraphs his emotions even if he doesn’t articulate his feelings.

At one point, Esparza poses like a modern-day martyr, standing weirdly as if he were St. Sebastian against a looming white column that divides the Barrymore stage. Unlike Sebastian, though, he isn’t pierced by arrows but by the stinging barbs of his critical friends.

Those friends are played by actors, who, like Esparza, appeared in this revival when it was done earlier in the year at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park. They are a likeable group, but they rarely raise the show’s theatrical temperature.

It might be those musical instruments. Marching around the stage while carrying a French horn or a triangle would make anyone feel self-conscious. You can see these performers working their way through the roles—and carefully concentrating on playing those instruments when they should be creating characters.

Still, a few manage to make more than a passing impression. Elizabeth Stanley projects an endearing sweetness as April, the flight attendant always flying off to Barcelona. And Bruce Sabath has a warm singing voice as the put-upon husband of the tart-tongued Joanne.

Joanne—played in the original by the indomitable Elaine Stritch—is given a brittle, occasionally strident portrayal by Barbara Walsh. The actress, though, does well enough with “The Ladies Who Lunch,” which is not any easy thing to do considering the song is practically a Stritch anthem.

“Compnay” is a musical about relationships—or the lack of relationships. They may be messy and misunderstood, but they are better than the lonely alternative that is facing Bobby on his 35th birthday.

The show may not always be joyous, but it shouldn’t be funereal, which is what occasionally comes across in this production. Maybe it is the monochromatic costumes. Or the spare, almost nonexistent setting, which has the actors quietly sitting on the stage—sort of like in the cemetery scene in “Our Town”—when they aren’t performing. There’s even a vase of lilies on the baby grand.

By the time Bobby gets to his revelatory moment—“Being Alive”—and sits down at the piano, we are more than ready for his enlightenment. Esparza, who has a powerful voice, give it his all. The man finally surrenders to his feelings, and for the first time during the evening, we are touched.


AP
11/29/2006

New York Daily News: "'Company' could drive a critic crazy"

How do you take a ground-breaking Stephen Sondheim musical about commitment in the big city, with such a memorable score and murderous wit, and turn it into a suburban vanilla revue?

Director John Doyle has managed that dubious feat with his new version of "Company," which opened last night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The production originated in Cincinnati.

As in his revival of "Sweeney Todd," which won Doyle a Tony, the cast of "Company" doubles as musicians. I'm all for reinvention, and while that idea was original and effective in "Todd," this time the concept gets in the way and weakens the material. All It does Is distract.

"Company" is set in the fast-paced and neurotic world of New York City, where finding a mate is a major undertaking. Bobby (Raul Esparza) Is turning 35 and the five couples in his inner circle are worried he's going to end up alone. Poor Bobby.

In the 36 years since the show was created by composer Stephen Sondheim and book writer George Furth, not a whole lot has changed in the world of dating. Back then, they nailed it. This production puts a nail in it.

The ensemble is overall bland and none of the characters ever comes alive. While the set is sleek, the costumes are anything but. The men are stuck in frumpy sweaters and baggy suits. The women, in beads, bows and black lace, just look cheesy.

Doyle's lethargic direction saps the edginess and vitality. He has largely stripped the show of movement, except when performers circle the stage with their instruments, periodically stopping to speak.

Gone is the invigorating "Tick Tock" dance made famous by Donna McKechnie. "What Would We Do Without You" has become a marching-band formation suited for a stadium halftime show. The least intrusive number, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," finds Bobby's three girlfriends serenading him while accompanying themselves on saxophones.

As Bobby, Raul Esparza works hard at acting aloof, only to turn on the technique full blast when he sings his finale. "Being Alive" is an anthem of affirmation. Here, it's a wail.

Believe me, I felt his pain.


New York Daily News
11/30/2006

New York Post: "Company"

Confession time: I've never been completely happy with Stephen Sondheim's "Company," which exuberantly returned to Broadway last night in director John Doyle's inventive reinvention.

We've become accustomed to British directors coming and, for better or worse, reshaping our dear American musicals. But as we saw with Doyle's wonderful "Sweeney Todd" last season, like those strippers in "Gypsy," he's a guy with a strangely workable gimmick.

He completely does away with the orchestra and has his actors blow their own trumpets - and play any other instruments called for by Mary-Mitchell Campbell's amazingly resourceful orchestrations. 

I first saw Doyle's unique methodology in a London production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Gondoliers." Then came "Sweeney," and now "Company." Next year, Doyle's due to mount "Lucia di Lammermoor" for Scottish Opera. It possibly won't be over until the fat lady blows her horn.

There's a lot to praise in "Company," especially Sondheim's compelling music and lyrics. Looking back, this was the musical in which Sondheim became indisputably Sondheim - and the Broadway musical theater would never be the same again.

But musicals don't live by their scores alone. There's the book, which, although it won George Furth a Tony Award, had my then-colleague, the late Walter Kerr, "feeling rather cool and queasy."

Yet the fact remains, from the ambiguous, eternal bachelor hero Bobby on down - apart from the sweet little stewardess who needs to get to Barcelona - it's difficult to feel sympathy for any of them.

The book, which was updated for the 1995 London production, is explicit, in a way it wasn't in 1970, about Bobby, who's now more or less an uncloseted bisexual.

Yet it remains a series of sketches about communication and marriage, sustained, albeit shakily, by a fantastic score.

The original staging had an elaborate setting by Boris Aronson, which the modest yet stylish set by David Gallo can hardly match. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes are ordinary at best, although Thomas C. Hase's spot-on lighting is highly imaginative.

The role of Bobby has always been problematic. He's a cipher, and Raul Esparza, who plays a mean piano in the finale, goes through the show looking as though he's smiling bravely through a terminal case of dyspepsia.

He sings beautifully and has star quality, but like his last musical, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," this one doesn't bring it out.

All the performances - including Barbara Walsh in "Ladies Who Lunch," who sensibly realizes that you can't escape from the Elaine Stritch original, and imitates her impressively - are splendid, but I particularly loved Angel Desai, Elizabeth Stanley and Kelly Jeanne Grant, who have a great saxophone trio worthy of some philharmonic.

All are remarkably good, especially under the circumstances. Fancy auditioning for Hamlet and being asked if you can play the fluegelhorn.


New York Post
11/30/2006

New York Times: "A Revival Whose Surface of Tundra Conceals a Volcano"

Fire flickers, dangerous and beckoning, beneath the frost of John Doyle’s elegant, unexpectedly stirring revival of “Company,” which opened last night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. This visually severe, aurally lush reinvention of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s era-defining musical of marriage and its discontents from 1970 is the chicest-looking production on Broadway.

One glance at the symmetry, the starkness, the midnight-black palette that dominates the stage, and you feel like putting on a sweater. It’s surely no coincidence that the clear modules that serve as furniture resemble ice cubes. What could be more appropriate for a musical with a passive, willfully unengaged leading man (wearing black Armani, natch), who is almost never seen without a defensive drink in his hand?

But if Bobby the bachelor, embodied with riveting understatement by Raúl Esparza, at first comes across as a man of ice, it becomes apparent that he is in a steady state of thaw. Given the subliminal intensity that hums through Mr. Esparza’s deadpan presence, you sense that flood warnings should probably be posted.

Mr. Doyle is the inspired British director who last year gave New York the most unsettling, emotionally concentrated production on record of another Sondheim musical, the macabre “Sweeney Todd.” In that show, for which Mr. Doyle won a Tony Award, the cast members doubled as musicians, a device repeated in this “Company.”

This “I-am-my-own-orchestra” approach probably shouldn’t be used ad infinitum. Mr. Doyle applied the same stratagem to Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mabel” in London last summer to underwhelming effect.

But there’s something about Mr. Sondheim that allows Mr. Doyle to find a new clarity of feeling through melding musicians and performers. It is, after all, the person who controls the music in a Sondheim production — in which there is usually a sophistication gap between the songs and the relatively pedestrian book — who has the best chance of finding the show’s elusive but resonantly human heart.

Mr. Doyle’s “Company,” first staged at the Cincinnati Playhouse earlier this year, isn’t the unconditional triumph that his “Sweeney Todd” was, partly because the show itself is less of a fully integrated piece and partly because much of the acting is weaker. Only a few of the 14 ensemble members — playing the couples who are permanent fixtures in Bobby’s life and his strictly temporary girlfriends — seem at ease dispensing Mr. Furth’s brittle, uptown, shrink-shrunk dialogue.

But they all blossom as musicians and singers of wit and substance. As soloists they’re more than adequate, but it’s their work as a team that sounds new depths in “Company” in ways that get under your skin without your knowing it.

Mr. Doyle and his invaluable music supervisor and orchestrator, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, have shaped “Company” into a sort of oratorio for the church of the lonely. The choral passage that opens the show — a litany of variations on Robert (a k a “Bobby, baby”), the name of the central character, about to celebrate his 35th birthday — is performed in near darkness a cappella, sounding like liturgical chant.

The effect is not flippant. The voices — belonging to “those good and crazy people, my married friends”— seem to echo through Bobby’s head like elements of some beautiful but arcane ritual that he can observe only from a distance. Watching is what Bobby does. His outsider’s status is confirmed with pointed eloquence when it registers that Bobby is the only person onstage who isn’t playing an instrument.

The production gets astonishingly diverse theme- and character-defining mileage out of this discrepancy. Bobby’s failure to pick up an instrument and join the band becomes a natural-born metaphor for his refusal to engage with others. Yes, he sings soulfully. But as the other cast members circle the lone Mr. Esparza, playing their instruments, it is clear they possess talents for connecting that Bobby lacks, fears and longs for.

Watching the couples carp and bicker in black-out vignettes — practicing karate, experimenting with pot, visiting a discothèque — you may wonder why Bobby would ever be envious of them (which has always been a problem with “Company”). It’s when they make music together that you understand.

Mr. Doyle’s staging repeatedly and ingeniously echoes this isolating difference. Mr. Esparza is often found climbing onto the top of a Steinway or one of those transparent cubes as others crowd him. Sometimes he stands at a skeptical, uneasy remove as different groups serenade him: the married men with the haunting “Sorry-Grateful”; three girlfriends, all playing saxophones as if they were assault weapons, in a scintillating version of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

The seamlessness of these motifs lends a fresh coherence to “Company,” which was originally structured as a cabaret of urban neurosis. Stand-alone crowd pleasers like “Getting Married Today” (performed by a too-grounded-seeming Heather Laws as the skittish Amy) and “Another Hundred People” (warmly sung by Angel Desai) now blend into a general musical fabric of anxiety in search of reassurance.

Even the fabled character number, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” sung by the worldly, much-married Joanne (a fierce Barbara Walsh), feels less like a show-stopping appendage than it usually does. Instead, building to a climactic repeated note that suggests what Edvard Munch’s silent scream might sound like, it becomes the perfect preface to Bobby’s breakthrough breakdown at the end of the show.

If Ms. Walsh doesn’t erase the memory of Elaine Stritch, who created (and will probably always own) the part, she handles her vodka-stinger-flavored dialogue with a vintage Manhattan suaveness, which is more than can be said for many of the others.

Bruce Sabath, though, is touching and credible as Joanne’s patient husband. And Elizabeth Stanley is absolutely delicious as April, the ditzy airline stewardess, who sings “Barcelona” (the best one-night-stand song in musicals).

The sense that ambivalence and confusion are not unique to Bobby is enhanced by the cold, austere glitter of David Gallo’s set and Thomas C. Hase’s superb lighting. But it’s Mr. Esparza who is the top expert on ambivalence here, giving “Company” the most compelling center it has probably ever had. In previous productions, Bobby has registered principally as a wistful window onto other lives.

But Mr. Esparza is anything but a cipher. Though his Bobby can seem as laconic and drolly unresponsive as Bob Newhart, you are always aware that this is a man in pain. As anyone who saw him in “Cabaret” or “The Normal Heart” knows, Mr. Esparza is generally a pyrotechnic actor, sending sparks and smoke all over the place.

In keeping the lid on such volcanic energy, he makes Bobby’s climactic explosion inevitable. Though he sings beautifully throughout — in ways that define his character’s solipsism — he brings transporting ecstasy to the agony of the concluding number, in which Bobby finally joins the band of human life.

For much of Mr. Sondheim’s career, directors have approached his work as if “keep your distance” were woven into the copyright. More recently, a new generation of artists have heard an altogether different directive: “Come closer.” Mr. Doyle and Mr. Esparza make it clear that there are infinite rewards to be had in accepting that challenge.


New York Times
11/30/2006

Newsday: "Bobby and company were never so together"

How much does it mean to say that "Company," which opened last night with a breakthrough performance by Raul Esparza, is the very best revival that Broadway has ever seen of Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1970 musical?

Plenty, actually.

Of course, except for a well-intentioned but earnest production in 1995, this also happens to be the only return of this beloved but ever-troubled masterwork to the town it embraces with dazzling ambivalence.

But British director John Doyle, who radically reinvented Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" last season, has triumphed again - more gently this time, and with less at stake. As in "Sweeney," the actors also play instruments onstage. With "Sweeney," however, Doyle was tampering with a massive repertory staple that had already worked magnificently in operatic and chamber versions.

In contrast, nobody really expects "Company" to work. Its 15 songs are treasures, each a miniature play in itself, with texture and psychological depth that tell more about marriage vs. independence in a few phrases than most full-length scripts reveal in two hours over the kitchen sink.

Until now, however, George Furth's stagy, dated dialogue felt like filler we had to endure between the wondrous, bittersweet songs. This explains why so many of us have fallen deeply in love with the cast album.

The novelty remains Doyle's technique of using actors as their own orchestra. The news is that he utilizes the style to save the show - turning it from an episodic concert to a cohesive and satisfying emotional experience. His version combines material from the original and the 1995 revivals here and at London's Donmar Warehouse. Somehow, he has made more than a few scenes feel so fresh, even daring, that we had to check the script to make sure we'd heard most of them before.

"Company" is our great "I need you; go away" musical, a rueful and witty reality check and grown-up social satire about the sorry/grateful agony and ecstasy of marriage and commitment, loneliness and New York life.

Esparza, a major talent carrying his first Broadway vehicle, subversively underplays Bobby, a Manhattan bachelor at his 35th birthday, pressured by 10 married friends and three transient romantic interests to commit, to settle down, to connect. Bobby is that rare, difficult main character who listens and reacts more than he dominates, which means he tends to listen hyperactively or disappear as a terrible bore.

Esparza, looking relaxed yet detached in a charcoal suit and tie, turns his seductively sleepy eyelids into virtuoso instruments. Although he has played plenty of flashy roles, Esparza cleverly builds tension by holding back until he breaks loose at the piano for Bobby's ultimate (if psychologically dubious) acceptance of "Being Alive."

Mostly, he dares to sing with his arms hanging at his sides. He also observes from the curve of the baby-grand piano or he stands on the radiators that surround the huge column dominating the spare set (by David Gallo) with its retro-Lucite modules and pre-war architectural detail. Esparza finds all the bitterness, hope, bemusement and sullen charm in the colors of his voice.

Doyle wisely goes for a deadpan, soft-sell formality with all the characters.

Instead of bickering to one another's faces and pretending to smoke marijuana, they mostly face forward when speaking and singing. Thus, when three of Bobby's girlfriends form a little saxophone marching trio for "You Can Drive a Person Crazy" or when the envious husbands line up to live through Bobby in "Have I Got a Girl for You," the physical movement seems suddenly seismic.

Elizabeth Stanley has squeaky-dry comic timing in "Barcelona," arguably the world's most brutally honest morning-after song. Barbara Walsh finds her own caustic heartache in "The Ladies Who Lunch," though nobody can expect to forget Elaine Stritch in this most strangely compassionate anthem.

Heather Laws sings the fastest version we've ever heard of "Getting Married Today," the best nervous-wedding patter-song in the literature. But, in a rare moment of indulgence, Doyle has the traumatized bride overdo the hysteria by shrieking and hiding under the piano.

In this version, Bobby actually admits to bisexual experience - originally, the elephant in the bachelor pad. Doyle also abandons the hokey '70s look with indeterminate modern clothes - black and white and sometimes dowdy – by Ann Hould-Ward.

Except for the finale, Esparza is the only one who doesn't even try to play the score - basically a piano reduction with spot harmonic colors. Since his friends play instruments, more or less, they are all onstage with something to do when the dialogue gets creaky. We appreciate the theatricality, but we miss the orchestra.


Newsday
11/30/2006

USA Today: "Revival of 'Company' works, most of the time"

It seemed like a great idea: Bring a classic Stephen Sondheim musical back to Broadway, with John Doyle, who directed last season's acclaimed Sweeney Todd, on board.

But while Doyle's new Company has a number of elements to recommend it, the whole is less than the sum of its considerable parts.

That's a shame, because in many ways, Sondheim and librettist George Furth's 1970 study of love, marriage and perpetual bachelorhood seemed a more natural fit for Doyle's minimalist approach, which requires actors to double as musicians. However fascinating his Sweeneywas, fans may have missed Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations, which served the show's glorious score to lush perfection.

Company's individual songs are just as scrumptious, but more readily accommodate bare-bones arrangements; and for this production, which opened Wednesday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, musical supervisor Mary-Mitchell Campbell has fashioned a string of witty, winning ones.

As the chronically single Bobby observes one of several married couples he counts as friends, the oft-wed Joanne leads a sly The Little Things You Do Together, punctuating lyrics by banging on a glass.

Bobby's girlfriends toot saxophones to similar effect in a giddy You Could Drive a Person Crazy, while classics such as Another Hundred People and Barcelona are delivered with grace and buoyancy.

But the show as a whole has not aged as well as its music, at least not judging by this interpretation (which also draws on 1995 productions). For all their elegant ennui and implied sexual quirks, Company's urban sophisticates seem very much like the pre-baby boomers they technically are. Having them saunter around in Ann Hould-Ward's dark, sleek costumes, flirting and fighting and drinking and smoking, Doyle lends a tone of self-conscious pseudo-hipness.

Raul Esparza's vaguely smart-alecky Robert doesn't help. Though smart and attractive, he lacks the charisma that draws Company's protagonist to women and men.

Others fare better. Barbara Walsh's dry, haunted Joanne is a standout, bringing an extra layer of rage to Sondheim's brilliant barbfest The Ladies Who Lunch. Heather Laws and Elizabeth Stanley amuse as neurotic Amy and dizzy April.

Not everyone in Company's company manages to transcend the chinks in this imperfect but intriguing production. Still, like one of Bobby's fleeting lovers, this crowd is worth spending an evening with.


USA Today
11/29/2006

Variety: "Company"

After yielding the most singularly exciting musical theater experience on Broadway last season with "Sweeney Todd," the collaboration of director John Doyle and composer Stephen Sondheim has spawned another arresting revival with "Company." The 1970 show about the metropolitan angst of marriage and commitment is not quite in the same masterwork league as the demon barber saga and so doesn't equal that production's startling impact. But its nonlinear structure makes this less plot-driven musical more naturally suited to Doyle's signature presentation style, with the actors doubling as musicians. The complete fusion here of character, song and score is illuminating.

Based on 11 thematically related one-act plays by George Furth, who penned the book, this breakthrough musical cemented Sondheim's reputation as an innovative artist capable of reinventing the form with a cynical modern edge.

While plenty of dark material had already surfaced in shows through the '60s, "Company" arguably marked the first time that upper-middle-class Manhattanites -- the prime demographic for Broadway theatergoing -- were confronted in a musical with the frustrations of their own lives. Depicting New York as a "city of strangers" struggling to connect or stay connected, "Company" took a further step away from the frothy-tuner mold, presenting relationship woes, solitude and alienation with trenchant insight and biting wit.

Funny, melancholy and moving, Doyle's elegantly spare production is set in no specific time. Via certain lyrics and such period staples as a pot-smoking scene, it remains rooted in the 1970s but bristles with anxieties that feel entirely contemporary.

With one or two exceptions, this is not the youngest, sexiest "Company" cast ever assembled, but the older ensemble pays dividends. These are jaded married couples and battered dating-scene refugees, after all, either beyond the first flights of passion or rendered too cautious and fearful by experience to embrace it.

From the moment the cast steps onto David Gallo's minimalist-chic set, their harmonies on the obsessive "Bobby" refrain echoing in some ghostly chamber of the mind, it's clear Doyle is not planning a party.

As Robert, the central figure marking his 35th birthday by pondering why he's the only one of his circle not married, Raul Esparza strikes just the right balance of easy charm and circumspect distance, alone even in a crowd of friends. He's a deeply ambiguous mass of swirling contradictions -- confused but self-knowing, seductive but standoffish, vulnerable but heavily armored, open to love but ambivalent. And Bobby's sexual identity is called more directly into question here than perhaps ever before.

Esparza has been hovering on the brink of Broadway stardom for some years, and this is a terrific role for him with his sad-eyed, brooding good looks, wry humor and passionate singing voice. In the past, he has often cranked up the vibrato a little strenuously, but he's in fine, controlled voice here -- robust at times, soft and sweet at others.

Esparza's "Marry Me a Little" is especially moving, with Bobby desperately talking himself into the notion of commitment if not the object; his "Someone Is Waiting" harnesses the pain and panic of isolation; and he conveys mixed feelings of tenderness and dishonesty in "Barcelona," Bobby's doleful morning-after duet with flight attendant April (Elizabeth Stanley), in which a grand piano takes the place of the bed.

Bobby's friends and lovers are played by a tight ensemble that circles him in ways that are caring, invasive or both. The nature of the show pretty much precludes star turns, but Angel Desai's "Another Hundred People" nails that quintessential New York song; Heather Laws lands every laugh in the mile-a-minute "Getting Married Today" with amazing speed and clarity; and Barbara Walsh is bone-dry as brittle, world-weary Joanne. She reveals the emotional hunger beneath the character's hard shell and adds fresh nuances to "The Ladies Who Lunch," a song indelibly associated with Elaine Stritch.

As was notably shown in Sam Mendes' 1996 Donmar production, "Company" is a concept musical that lends itself to a scaled-down presentation, composed of vignettes that build to a deeply ambiguous ending. The actors-as-orchestra scheme also adds surprising new textures to the characters.

The ensemble express themselves and communicate with each other through their instruments, either in synch or disharmony as couples. Trumpets and flutes begin to seem as logical an accessory for these sophisticates as a handbag, cigarette or cocktail. The latter actually becomes a percussion instrument for Joanne in her backhanded ode to connubial bliss, "The Little Things You Do Together." In a droll touch, the doo-doo-doo-doos traditionally sung by Bobby's trio of frustrated flings in "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" are played by the girls on saxophones. Given the musical demands on the cast, the dance number "Tick Tock" has been understandably dropped.

Doyle's concept works splendidly in the emotional climax, when Bobby, heretofore not allocated musical duties, expresses his release and newfound openness by tentatively sitting down to play piano in "Being Alive," stirringly sung by Esparza.

As artificially enhanced orchestras become more prevalent, there are distinct rewards in watching Sondheim's marvelous numbers -- there's not a weak song in the show -- brought to life. Working this time with orchestrator Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Doyle again fosters a rich appreciation of the specific roles of strings, brass, keyboards or percussion that's not always apparent from the pit.

As in the director's "Sweeney Todd," the blocking here takes precision to new levels as the actors maneuver their instruments around Gallo's stylish set dominated by a central column and plexiglass cubes, with swivel chairs on an elevated platform behind. Compensating for the switch from the semi-thrust stage for which the production was conceived at Cincinnati Playhouse, a parquet square provides a false thrust around which the ensemble pace like satellites in Bobby's troubled head.

Costumer Ann Hould-Ward's variations on basic black cocktail wear and Thomas C. Hase's moody, sepulchral lighting contribute to give the production a striking, contemporary look.


Variety
11/29/2006

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