Arts Club Theatre Company

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Dates 13 September – 14 October 2007 Venue Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Reviewer John Jane

Director Bill Millerd knocks the ball out of the park with the Arts Club Theatre’s season opener, Company. Millerd has assembled an excellent cast who thrive as actors and singers of substance. As soloists they are simply polished professionals; however, it’s their performance as an ensemble that sets a new high standard in Vancouver musical theatre.

When Stephen Sondheim took on the institution of matrimony in Company, his first major attempt at a musical in the early seventies, it was considered to be a ground-breaking show. Its absence of any chronological order (the ending and beginning are concurrent) caused it to be different and even revolutionary.

Millerd is respectful of the show’s original time and place, New York City in the seventies, though he does allow his talented cast some freedom of musical interpretation.

The central character, Bobby (occasionally referred to as Robert) is a marriage-shy, single white male. He is lonely without being alone; lamenting on being another year older, he uses the occasion of his 35th birthday to ponder whether he is missing something in life by not being married.

Matt Palmer is near perfect as the slightly hebetudinous Bobby. True, he has some difficulty matching his voice to Sondheim’s challenging tunes, but there's no denying that the songs sound fresh. When he closes the first act in declaring his semi-readiness for a committed relationship with “Marry me a Little,” the audience responded with unfeigned approval.

Palmer is fortunate to play alongside a bevy of beautiful and talented women, even if they do get to deliver the best lines and sing the best songs. Veteran actor, Karin Konaval, who plays the wise and worldly Joanne, nails a delightfully cynical interpretation of "The Ladies Who Lunch." She later reveals in the same scene, “We are too old for the young, and too young for the old.”

Alison MacDonald, Cailin Stadnyk, and Debbie Timuss play a disparate trio of Bobby’s girlfriends. Marta (MacDonald), a capricious New Yorker, does an amazing job on the incomparable "Another Hundred People," while April (Stadnyk), a kooky flight attendant, turns in a knock-out performance with my personal favourite, “Barcelona.”

Timuss could claim to be under-employed as Bobby’s solipsistic girlfriend, but somebody has to play Kathy. The three girls come together in a scintillating send-up of their shared beau with “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

Ted Roberts multi-level set, complete with a working elevator is attractive and functional. The elevator also serves as a portal that allows the central character to interpose and observe the intimate lives of his married friends.

Musical director Bruce Kellett leads his team of fine musicians, heard but not seen behind the stage panels, in an ambitious re-orchestration of Sondheim’s difficult score. For anyone who loves American musical theatre and the music of Sondheim in particular, this is a stunning tranche de vie and a must-see.

© 2007 John Jane