With its gleaming skyscraper windows, glistening TV panels, full-voiced cast, sharp choreography, scintillating songs, laughs aplenty, and killer house band, Signature Theatre’s nearly pitch-perfect revival of Company has enough going for it that it’s hard not to wish it were a tiny bit warmer, so that it could send out an audience that’s walking on air.
Warmth is not, I hasten to add, a quality for which Company has ever been noted. The 1970 Broadway reviews termed composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s and librettist George Furth’s tale—of a 35-year-old bachelor and his variously unhappy married friends—“sleek,” “slick,” “cynical,” “chilly,” “misanthropic,” and “immaculate.” All of those adjectives apply to this incarnation. Twenty years ago, when director Eric Schaeffer last tackled Company at Signature, he stumbled trying to cozy up the show’s aesthetic with tie-dyed pillows and other free-love accoutrements. This time he’s embracing its gloss—his palette is grey on grey, his performances polished—and while the show sparkles, it just doesn’t glow.
That said, it’s hard to argue with any of the particulars, from Daniel Conway’s steel and glass evocation of Manhattan to the spray bottle with which a hyper-nervous bride (an uproarious Erin Weaver) Windexes a piece of toast as she sings that she’s not “Getting Married Today.” Matthew Scott gives Bobby, the show’s central commitment-phobe, the overeager smile of a talented song-and-dance man who’s worried that he’ll forever be an understudy. Three of the couples surrounding him are married in real life (which doesn’t really add much to the proceedings on stage but doubtless made rehearsals easier). With John Kalbfleisch leading the pit band, the show sounds as deftly mixed—with vocals coming as much from overhead speakers as from mouths—as any cast album.
Schaeffer’s work is always more intriguing when he’s uncovering previously hidden strengths in a troubled show (The Fix, Allegro, Passion) than when he’s simply putting a hit (Les Miz, or the current Hello, Dolly! at Ford’s Theatre) through its paces. Company has always been a hit, and while it’s nice to see it done so sharply here, there’s nothing revelatory about the experience. The songs are as clever as ever but familiar enough that the actors sometimes have to oversell them to remind audiences of why they once prompted laughs.
Other times, it’s the production oversellsing—for example, by adding drumbeats to augment the husband/wife tap duets in “Side by Side by Side,” when Bobby’s dilemma of being unpartnered is made physical. When it’s Bobby’s turn, the second half of his duet is silence—a nifty musical-visual joke. But at a preview this past weekend, it wasn’t landing, I suspect, because it’s a different theatrical joke to have the drummer not assist Bobby than it is for him to not have a partner.
The next time Schaeffer tackles the show, that joke might be fun to tease out. Meanwhile, call me sorry-grateful for not walking on air when everyone’s doing so much right.