A great deal has changed since Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company opened on Broadway in 1970. Methods of human communication have evolved, and the ways in which people experience togetherness have shifted, but our desire for companionship and uncertainty about our lives remain unchanged.
While Company is undoubtedly a product of its time, it is not difficult to look past references to answering services or the occasional '70s pseudo-funk orchestration (by the legendary Jonathan Tunick) and home in on the enduring, discomforting, and irresistible gifts that lie at the center of this good and crazy masterpiece.
In this new production at the Lyric Stage, confidently directed by Spiro Veloudos, more is made to update its age than is necessary. The messages left on Bobby's answering machine are replaced with voicemails left on his iPhone. In choosing to set the show in the present, Veloudos has created an odd disparity between some of the show's material and the occasional reminder that this is all happening now. It's an alteration that raises more questions than it answers: If this takes place now, why isn't anyone texting? Are Mexican divorces still a thing? And wouldn't Bobby likely be on Tinder? Still, Veloudos has crafted a supremely moving, brilliantly performed revival of a show that is hard to get right.
Often touted as the first "concept musical," Company centers around the 35th birthday of Bobby (John Ambrosino), an eligible bachelor who finds himself unable to commit and settle down. For Bobby, the only thing more frightening than getting married is the prospect of never getting married. He's a seven-time godfather whose friends have all settled down and comment relentlessly on his singledom. They gather to throw him a surprise birthday party, and from there, Company unfolds in a series of vignettes and musical numbers that include three of his girlfriends and five married couples who are his closest friends. The scenes with his girlfriends Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa), and April (a heavenly Adrianne Hick) show us that Bobby's trouble isn't keeping women, but rather committing to one. And from his interactions with his married friends, he tends to see only the drawbacks of committing to one person.
The cast, comprising many of Boston's best actors, is largely impeccable. Kerri Wilson (Sara) and Davron S. Monroe (Harry) bicker over small details and indulge in their vices when the other isn't looking. Elise Arsenault (Susan) and Matthew Zahnzinger (Peter) delight as a quirky couple whose relationship seems to have actually improved following their divorce. (Peter later makes a pass a Bobby, where Bobby admits to having had a homosexual experience in the past. This side note has prompted some to view Bobby as a gay man unable to come to terms with his own sexuality, but Veloudos and Ambrosino wisely opt not to explore this possibility.) Teresa Winner Blume (Jenny) and Todd Yard (David) are memorable in an early scene when they get high with Bobby, showing that sometimes love is as simple as pretending to enjoy getting stoned.
Erica Spyres is just about perfect as Amy, who has a crazed meltdown the morning of her wedding to Paul (Tyler Simahk). Her "Getting Married Today" is a musical high point. And then there is Joanne, a boozy spitfire who has been divorced almost as many times as she's been married, played by the exquisite Leigh Barrett. Joanne is older than the rest of Bobby's friends, and she's got the scars to prove it. Her husband, Larry (a soft and charming Will McGarrahan), describes her as a "wildly conceited broad with no self-esteem." Perhaps she is all smoke and mirrors, but under her calloused exterior is a woman who is afraid – like Bobby – of both loving and being loved. Her "Ladies Who Lunch" is a thrilling achievement.
John Ambrosino brings a boyish charm to Bobby, and succeeds in remaining slightly detached without being icy. His expressive eyes seem to narrate each scene, and his performance feels, in many ways, effortless. There is a soft intensity to Ambrosino that is alluring, and his renditions of "Someone Is Waiting" and "Marry Me a Little" are among the best I've heard. Unfortunately, this does not extend to all of his musical numbers, as evident in "Being Alive," a song that should flood gates, but here we're left with a mere drip.
Veloudos is one of the finest interpreters of Sondheim in New England, and his affection for the material is clear. While Company can sometimes feel choppy, that is thankfully absent here. Veloudos makes sure this musical comedy is relentlessly funny.
The small band, led by Catherine Stornetta, is airtight and the musical numbers pop. Choreographer Rachel Bertone has refreshingly opted not to over-choreograph every musical moment and especially shines during the oh-so-'70s "Tick-Tock," which features a luminous Maria LaRossa.
While some may still call Company dated in a way that can't be remedied by giving Bobby an iPhone, to stall on those aspects of the show is to deprive oneself of the sublime rewards that the show has been dispensing for nearly half a century. The published version of the libretto begins with a quote by folk singer Richard Farina that reads: "Now in this age of confusion, I have need for your company." Similarly, I suspect that we, too, will always need Company.