Stage Review: Public Theater keeps 'Company' with highly entertaining show


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Pittsburgh Public Theater's "Company" raises a vodka stinger to side-by-side-by-Sondheim style and substance.

The slick musical now at the O'Reilly Theater, directed and choreographed by Ted Pappas, features a gleaming set, top-notch cast and a hopeful, less cynical point of view.

Central to that is Robert, played by Pittsburgh native and Broadway veteran Jim Stanek as an eager pupil in the ways of commitment. The carefree bachelor who was a fun-time Bobby, the third-party guest relied on for a worry-free night, has turned 35 with a jolt. He is taking a new look at relationships and turns to "those good and crazy people, my married friends" for answers, exposing truths he couldn't or wouldn't see before.

George Furth's insightful book peels away the surface layer Bobby has bestowed on each of five unions and the women in his life. Stephen Sondheim's brilliant score and lyrics illuminate a world of disharmonious harmony -- sorry/grateful, hurry up/wait for me -- that has always baffled Bobby.

The 14-member cast mines the show's abundant humor and sense of striving, a theme that you see in many of the works chosen for the Public by Mr. Pappas.

Courtney Balan nails the angst and speed-singing of Amy, who may not be getting married today, and she is abetted by the impossibly tall groom-to-be Billy Hepfinger. PG Performer of the Year Daina Michelle Griffith, in the character of avowed square Jenny, swears up a storm and spirals into delirium as she may or may not be high on pot.

Pittsburgh native Lara Hayhurst, who starred in "Legally Blonde" for Pittsburgh Musical Theater, helps to humanize ditsy flight attendant April, a Bobby conquest who left college after two fruitless years to move to Radio City, which she thought was "a small town outside of New York." April and Bobby's dueling stories involving an apartment cocoon and a lost hotel room constitute a gem of bizarre foreplay.


'Company'
  • Where: Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown.
  • When: Through Feb. 23. 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays (also 2 p.m. Feb. 20); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (no matinee today); 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (2 p.m. only Feb. 23).
  • Tickets: $29-$60, students and age 26 and younger $15.75; 412-316-1600 or ppt.org.

Accomplished New York actors Benjamin Howes and Nancy Anderson as Harry and Sarah get things off to rollicking start with a karate challenge that puts Bobby in the middle of their domestic antics, and Judy Blazer seems born to sing the booze-infused "The Ladies Who Lunch."

These friends of Bobby are people of wealth whose jobs are never mentioned. They live and play high above the fray of the bustling New York evoked in the song "Another Hundred People (Just Got Off of the Train)" and in effective aerial-view projections by Larry Shea. The multilevel set by James Noone reflects the Downtown PPG buildings' outer shell and is perfectly in tune with the atmosphere of people accustomed to high-rent high-rises.

The 11-piece orchestra is seen for a change of pace in the Public's thrust space, the pit adding to the sense of tradition for the musical that was nominated for a monumental 14 Tonys and won six. Derby hats and canes in one dance interlude are a nice nod to Michael Bennett ("A Chorus Line"), who with Bob Avian staged the original production.

The show burst on the scene in 1970, and I was thoroughly onboard with that era -- men in suits and ties, women in pumps, intimate dinner parties where the bourbon flows -- until a couple of characters pulled out cell phones, and it felt as if the whole production had time-traveled to the future in that moment. What the musical has to say about connecting with a special someone never gets old, but the relatively new cell phones were out of place.

It's also hard to figure the styling of the character of young Marta, Hannah Beth Shankman, so good on "Another Hundred People" (would it be "another million" today?). Her outfit would mark her as a refugee from "The Wild One," perhaps. She's the one person who talks about the pulse of the city and its diversity, someone whose idea of sophistication is a woman dressed in "black shoes, black dress, black hat," sitting alone in a bar and having a good cry.

The company Bobby keeps covers a lot of bases, and the Public's "Company" does the same. Unlike the pared-down 2006-07 Broadway show that won the Tony for best musical revival or the staged concert version that starred Neil Patrick Harris at the New York Philharmonic in 2011, the Pittsburgh production is a polished full-scale musical in a relatively intimate space.Bobby and friends are fine company for a night on the town.


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

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