Theater & art

Stage Review

A rousing ‘Company’ at Lyric Stage

John Ambrosino (seated) and the cast of “Company.”
Mark S. Howard
John Ambrosino (seated) and the cast of “Company.”

When “Company” debuted on Broadway in 1970 (after working out the kinks in a run at Boston’s Shubert Theatre), it was very au courant. Written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, it’s a slice of upper-middle-class life on the wrong end of the generation gap — a comic portrait of the white-bread folks living on the other side of Central Park from the similarly privileged types Woody Allen would begin chronicling obsessively later in the decade.

There’s pot smoking, a touch of homosexual intrigue, and a cynical view of marriage. And while the presumption was (and is) that a musical comedy should detail the route by which boy winds up with girl, “Company” is about a man trying to decide whether he indeed wants to wind up with anybody.

What’s made clear in the spirited production now at Lyric Stage Company is that the musical by now is more familiar than it is fresh.

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Spiro Veloudos directs a production that gives Sondheim junkies every opportunity to savor what they love about this classic. A strong cast deals well with the book-heavy material; its series of talky vignettes pull their dramatic and comedic weight between brightly performed showstoppers like “Side by Side by Side” (which preserves the kick-line but ditches the hats and canes of other stagings) and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

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But the territory here, even if fresh during Richard Nixon’s first term, is now well-trodden. It’s already more than a decade since the women of “Sex and the City” un-ironically declared themselves the “Ladies Who Lunch” as a badge of honor. (Leigh Barrett’s slyly anguished performance of that sarcastic indictment is one of the present production’s highlights; so, too, her whole cynical amble as a woman who’s always in control, though always vaguely boozy.)

At center is Robert (John Ambrosino), a fashionable bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday and, you guessed it, struggling with whether he wants to progress from emotionless couplings to a committed relationship. You’ve seen him before. During sex, April (Adrianne Hick) decides she loves him and he decides her name is June.

Robert’s group of friends, five committed couples, insist he’s great to be around, but he’s a cypher — an in-demand companion who is the hollow star at the center of their social universe. Men project their fantasies of single life onto him; women use him as an object of low-stakes flirtation. He begins the show insisting he’s ready to get married, and we’re meant to intuit that his repeated affirmations are in fact premature. So the character’s emotional arc is there but written in invisible ink. (It’s a much richer show if Robert is understood to be gay — an interpretation Sondheim rejected for decades before working with director John Tiffany a few years ago on a revision to that effect.)

Ambrosino does make sure we see Robert’s pained winces when he brushes against the fact of his loneliness, and commands the stage with solo showcases “Someone Is Waiting” and “Being Alive.” In “Barcelona,” Robert and April’s yearning bedroom duet, Ambrosino and Hick wonderfully cover the emotional feints and parries that grant Robert the misfortune of getting what he wants.

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Janie E. Howland’s abstract set evokes a series of urban interiors with movable blocks. Rachel Bertone’s choreography shines in Maria LaRossa’s balletic solo dance, which mixes gracefulness and desperation.

Though Sondheim’s mouthfuls of wordy wit are found aplenty, the bombastic orchestrations here are as dated as the show’s slang and smoky bars. The whole business feels very relatable but never contemporary. Yet Veloudos sets things in the present day, so Rafael Jaen’s costumes reinforce a sense of anachronism.

Perhaps this show is better played as full-on period piece, so its forward-looking elements may seem prescient rather than passé. But in the hands of this team, it certainly remains welcome company.

COMPANY

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston, at Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon St., through Oct. 9. Tickets: $36-$73, 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@
jeremydgoodwin.com
. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.