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THEATER REVIEW: Cygnet’s “Company”

Poor Robert (Andrew Wells Ryder). No matter how many times he tries to blow out his birthday candles, he never succeeds – and you know what that means.

Robert (aka Bobby) hangs out with five couples and seems depressed to be the odd man out, though when you meet his friends you may wonder why he isn’t thanking his lucky stars he’s never hooked up.

The 1970 multiple Tony-winning musical “Company” (book by George Furth, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) plays through Aug. 18 at Cygnet Theatre, directed by Sean Murray.

Let’s see, there’s Sarah (Melissa Fernandes), with an eating problem and an alcoholic husband, Harry (Andrew Oswald). And Susan (Wendy Waddell), a Southern belle with fainting spells, with Ivy League Peter (Kürt Norby), who announce that they’re divorcing but staying together for the children.

Self-admitted square Jenny (Athena Espinoza) and oh-so-hip David (Andy Collins) provide an amusing scene when Bobby arrives with some pot and they all get stoned.

Neurotic Amy (Eileen Bowman) and Paul (Matthew Naegel) have been together forever and are about to tie the knot. And cynical Joanne (Linda Libby) speaks ill of everyone, including her accommodating third husband Larry (David Kirk Grant).

Then there are Bobby’s three girlfriends: flight attendant April (Katie Whalley), whom Bobby hopes to bed; hip but vulgar Marta (Ashlee Mayer), who “just loves” New York City; and small-town Kathy (Mary Joe Duggan), Bobby’s longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend, soon to leave New York to marry someone else.

Murray seems to be playing this production for laughs, and indeed many in the opening-night audience laughed uproariously. I must admit that for me the humor seldom rises above sitcom level.

But Sondheim shines as a lyricist, and two songs here are especially worthy of note: Eileen Bowman’s sensational rendition of the nearly impossible-to-sing “Getting Married Today,” which goes like the wind and requires both extraordinary diction and phenomenal breath control. It’s a tour-de-force performance.

And Linda Libby is wonderfully sardonic in Joanne’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” making fun of women who waste their time on meaningless activities (rather like Joanne herself).

Bobby is a difficult person to care about. He seems to be a bit of a blank slate, waiting for life to find him. Someone should clue him in. And I had the same response to Ryder’s voice, which seems to be either waiting around for a melody to sing or just of an infelicitous range for the music he’s given.

But there’s no problem with Patrick Marion’s six-member band, nor with Jeanne Reith’s ’70s costumes. David Brannen’s choreography adds to the visual effect.

Ryan Grossheim’s multilevel set works well, the Murphy bed with red bedding getting the point across, if not subtly. The lighting by Chris Rynne and sound (by Ross Goldman and Matt Lescault-Wood) are fine as well.

“Company” has been called the first concept musical, meaning one in which the situation matters, not the plot. There’s some fine choral and individual work here, but I confess to being old school where musicals are concerned. I want a story and I want to be able to leave the theater singing a great song or two.

The details

“Company” plays through Aug. 25 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.