Left – Emma Davis, Elethea Sartorelli, Heather Lawler and Brendan Hanson
Bobby. Bobby. Bobby baby. Bobby bubi. Robby. Robert darling. Stephen Sondheim’s pulsing refrain symbolises the pulse of life that courses through Company, his musical homage to all the beating hearts in the heart of New York City. Sondheim blurred genre lines and broke from tradition with this innovative and challenging musical; he gave the theatre world an open-ended, grown-up piece that continues to inspire musical theatre creatives decades on. The themes have a relevance and flexibility that keep this work infinitely appealing, to the extent that it can draw audiences and performers back to the material time and time again.
This is the case for ICW Performing Arts Association’s current production of Company, co-directed by and starring Brendan Hanson as Robert. This is a reprisal for Hanson, who played the role of Robert in a 2006 production by Yellowglass Theatre, and many of the cast played in a more recent production of the show at Old Mill Theatre in 2011.
Company 2013 is contemporary, clad in mostly black and white, with a bit of silvery sparkle and a tiny hint of colour here and there. There’s a jazzy trio on stage, led by musical director Jangoo Chapkhana, a few pieces of post-modern furniture placed around the set (also designed by Hanson and co-director Mark Barford), and a cascade of hanging lights at the back of the stage. The floor is painted with two large graffiti-style overlapping black and white circles. The effect is atmospheric and harmonious, evoking uptown apartments, cozy urban bars, and city living.
As the piece opens, we hear a solid ensemble of singers and musicians who are fully capable of handling the intricacies of Sondheim’s ensemble writing, and with that hurdle safely cleared, we are left free to enjoy the individual songs and couples vignettes that ensue. Each of these scenes offer lovely morsels of humour, although in serious moments, the scenes tended to drag. The overall pace of the first half was a bit unsteady, and transitions between musical numbers and dialogue were sometimes too abrupt or unclear, but this is one of the show’s most difficult aspects.
However, in the second half, which kicks off almost literally with a choreographed American football game in a lively staging of Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You? the show seems to finally find its legs with standout scenes/numbers performed by Heather Michele Lawler as April and Alinta Carroll as Joanne. Here Sondheim and Furth present very richly furnished female characters through book and song, and Lawler and Carroll are equally rich in their respective performances.
Lawler’s April was unique amongst the Aprils I’ve seen in other productions; she was a woman who was practiced at playing dumb when necessary to make her way in life, rather than actually being dumb. Carroll gave us a Joanne with such depth that I began to imagine the backstory of this jaded, bitterly funny character. She was truly unique and fascinating, exactly as described by Larry. These two women carried the second half of the show, and embodied what is truly special about Company, which is that it’s as much an acting piece as it is a musical.
There are some great moments in this Company, and fans of the work will certainly enjoy seeing how Hanson and Co. have put their own unique stamp on this Sondheim favourite.
ICW Performing Arts Association presents
by Stephen Sondheim
Co-directed by Mark Barford and Brendan Hanson
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre | 180 Hamersley Road, Subiaco
Dates: 7.30pm, May 1, 2, 3 and 4 | 2pm matinee May 4, 2013
Bookings: Ticketek 132 849 | www.ticketek.com.au