COMPANY – Broadway, November 6, 2006
Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company contains some glorious music. A Broadway show’s music is what makes a Broadway musical different from a Broadway play without music. Someone ought to have informed the British hack director John Doyle of these seemingly obvious facts. Mr. Doyle should also return any directing fee he received for this purported Broadway production for this is not a Broadway production by any means. It is a literal transfer of a regional production (from the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) which obviously had audience on two sides of the playing area. It looks as though the set has been dropped through the open roof by helicopter onto the proscenium stage of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
Picture, if you will, a square. No not a town square but the mere shape of a square perhaps ten feet on each of its sides. Now, drop it from a height onto the stage so that the point of one of its corners is down stage center. Now drop a white column (Corinthian) upstage in that square. Roll on a big black grand piano stage right of that. In the upstage left and right areas place black risers for musicians/actors. Also in the “playing area” (the square) place three Lucite cubes on feet to serve as ubiquitous furniture. Around the base of the column build an encircling radiator. Off to the left and right of the main square place two smaller squares of Lucite raised perhaps four inches. Get your hopes up that these extra squares will be lit from beneath to connote elevators or discos or SOMETHING. Have your hopes dashed. For these lesser squares are merely to fill up the space where the audience used to be. Rather than redirect this show for Broadway as he should have done, Mr. Doyle, it appears, took a vacation.
Mr. Doyle must be discouraged from directing any more musicals except in the hinterlands. This actor/musician conceit worked for much of last year’s Sweeney Todd but the concept could not completely buoy the material. However, devotees of Mr. Sondheim cheered – for a teeny Todd is better than no Todd at all, is it not? But a teeny Company seems redundant. The script is bare to begin with. The musical itself is conceptual and non-linear. So is there a need to point that out? No, friends, no. But Mr. Doyle is the most literal of theatrical minds. If it’s on the page it’s on the stage, and no subtext will be brooked. Bobby is a loner and he shies from commitment and relationships, so place him as often as possible outside of the main square on one of the smaller non-lighting up squares like maybe he is in another show. Also, be sure to have the actors present the piece in representational mode, never looking at each other but looking out through the fourth wall. Get it? Get the disconnect? Don’t let it be entertaining, make sure it’s pedantic. Oh, and who cares about the damn music? Make sure you, as a director, wear your savvy on your sleeve and eschew musical theatre convention just because you CAN. Have the actors sing their little tails off and then before there is applause jump right into the coming dialogue. That’ll teach those damn audience members to pay attention, won’t it! They paid their money, why let them appreciate the performances?
This ain’t Ibsen, Mr. Doyle.
As a one-time actor, I harbor some small contempt for those who ply their trade on the wicked stage. However, my spite is nothing compared to this director’s sadistic loathing of his own cast. This is the only explanation I can muster for a person who would direct the very talented and attractive Barbara Walsh to belt out a very glamorous rendition of that anthem “The Ladies Who Lunch” and then rip right into the next dialogue like she’s biting the head off a chicken. Yes, we aficionados will always adore Elaine Stritch’s original version of the song – even though we’ve never seen it. But give this actress her due. She’ll get applause. Not everyone knows the original. And she’s good. But you hate actors so pull the rug right out from under her.
Oh, and John, the endless marching with instruments all around that square shows an utter lack of imagination. But you don’t care if your actors look silly as long as they’re carrying instruments while doing it. Certainly the money saved by firing the orchestra could have gone toward a choreographer. God forbid a musical should have anything resembling dance in it. Be sure to cut “Tick Tock” because Donna McKechnie is too old.
Oh, and be sure to keep the pacing slow and steady just like you did in Sweeney Todd. Don’t ever pick up the pace. Make the show drag out to 2 hours and 40 minutes (with intermission) because, hell, tickets are expensive. Oh, and just like you did in teeny Sweeney, stage the curtain call wrong so that one last time you can keep the performers from getting the applause they have earned. We get it, Mr. Doyle! There’s a square on the stage, but for the bows, let’s have everyone walk UP stage (in full view of the audience) and then downstage center because this takes time – which you must think grows on trees.
“The Little Things You Do Together” is staged with the married combatants at opposite corners of the square so that when they do their judo moves they are each facing out but not touching. It does not work. It is merely jokey staging.
Joanne plays the triangle sarcastically. I guess the lead female character in a cheaply staged actor/musician John Doyle production always plays the triangle (see Mrs. Lovett). Cute that she uses her cocktail glass at first. But you did it before. So you’ll do it again.
What was that marching band version of “Side By Side By Side” besides lack of choreographer? It looked like the end of The Music Man when the kiddies play their instruments for the first time. And the endless parading of the instruments, including the double bass with the wheel on the bottom, up and down and around that square. Just because the actors are moving doesn’t mean the show is. Or is that your point? Do you even have a point? Do you actually think you are creative? Are you sleeping with Stephen Sondheim? Are you blackmailing him? How do you get these jobs?
The performers in this production, aside from redefining the word “game,” are all just wonderful. Raul Esparza as Bobby is sexy and quirky and has a fine voice. However, when he launches into the beginning of “Being Alive” while sitting at the piano (from where I was sitting I saw only his back), again the director has robbed the audience of the ability to care for the character. It just doesn’t make any sense for the character to be playing the piano for himself unless the character is a pianist or is in a gay piano bar. No sense. Whatsoever. And since when he stands up to come down stage center to finish the song someone else is playing the piano – do you see what I’m getting at? This staging-the-show-with-actors-as-musicians-too-at-any
-cost-to-the-sense-of-the-material has got to end.
Having the three ladies who sing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” play the “Doo doos” on saxophones rather than singing them is cute as hell and looks to be dangerous to their expensive dental work. You’ve also had to slow down the song to make up for this. It is also obvious that Marta is not actually playing her instrument.
Let us discuss the material as written for just a bit. I have loved the music in this show for years. This is the first original Broadway cast album I ever purchased (I liked the logo). I remember studying the script in college. I never realized how boring it can be. This production gives much weight to the PLAY of the thing. Thus the cutting off of applause before it begins. And the scenes are lengthy. And dated. They all seem like audition material for young actors. Again, Mr. Doyle needs to learn how to make things move along.
One of the most ridiculous scenes in this production is the scene leading up to “Barcelona.” Bobby and April are supposed to go to bed together. We get this by having him sort of press up against her on the keyboard of the piano. It looks completely uncomfortable and awkward. Not to mention that if you don’t know that they are supposed to have been to bed together (because “Tick Tock” has been cut) then “Barcelona” makes little sense. Why is Bobby’s “Oh, GOD” at the end of the song so over large as if he is a gay borscht belt comedian? Really bad. April’s monologue about the butterfly is so precious and tedious (yawn) like she’s auditioning for Anna Karenina. Get through it people! But, again, it’s not her fault, it’s the director’s. Is “Another Hundred People” split into three separate sections interrupted by scenes in the original? Not well-sung squatting on top of a piano.
As Amy, Jane Pitsch is the standout of this Company. Her portrayal makes one’s heart ache as well as giving the best laughs of the production. But I see she’s only in the show until November 12.
“Marry Me A Little” has been added to close Act I. Great song, but why? If he’s ready to make this statement then there’s no point in Act II, is there?
Please someone give me a Broadway musical that is treated as a musical and not a mere play. There is a difference – there ARE shouldn’ts and shoulds.