REVIEW: Life, Love, and the ‘Company’ You Keep is at the Heart of Avon Players’ Latest Production

How do you solve a problem like Bobby’s? That’s the question on the minds of his married friends and the women in his life. And what is Bobby’s problem? He’s 35 and still single (gasp!). Welcome to composer Stephen Sondheim’s Company; an eccentric look at modern love in 1970’s Manhattan and the closing production of Avon Players’ diverse 2018-2019 season, running now through June 1.

Back row (left to right): Cheyenne Johnson as Kathy, Sarah Milano as April and Veronica Dean as Marta. Front: Matt Cason as Bobby. Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

When Company debuted on Broadway in 1970, it earned a record-setting 14 Tony Awards® nominations, of which it won six, including Best Musical and Best Score. But unlike Into the Woods, another of Sondheim’s well-known works, Company does not follow the ‘book musical’ format. This simply means instead of having scenes where song and dialogue are effortlessly integrated to tell a single, straight-forward narrative, the plot relies on more of a feeling or essence to get its point across. So, while Company isn’t chronological, there is continuity and symmetry to what you see on stage, which in my opinion works better for the story being told.

As director Ryan Moore observes in his notes, “We all to a degree, construct our view of the world based on the relationships that are modeled for us.” In Company Bobby (Matt Cason) goes on an intimate tour amongst his married friends to get an honest look at the institution. And as is the case with most Sondheim productions, the truth is hilarious and brutal at the same time. It’s almost as if Bobby’s time spent with each couple is a therapy session — or intervention — depending on your viewpoint. First, Sarah (Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker) and Harry (Clayton Hargrave) kick the off ‘tour’ and really set the bar high for the remaining couples. Sarah likes to henpeck Harry, everything is a competition between them, and both are great at making uncomfortable situations funny. Hargrave constantly surprises me with the diversity of his roles and how easily he inhabits each one like it’s a second skin. He blew me away as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and did it again as Harry. I first saw Steinbrecher-Booker three years ago in Forever Christmas and she has me in stitches every time she steps on stage. She can hold her own when it comes to physical comedy. The smallest inflection, gesture, or pregnant pause is performed to perfection. I’d put her up against the legendary ladies of Saturday Night Live any day.

Bobby and all the couples during the number “Side by Side”/”What Would We Do Without You?”
Front L-R: Johannah Steinbrecker-Booker as ‘Sarah’ and Odera Office as ‘Jenny.’
Center L-R: Kirsten Renas as ‘Susan,’ Matt Cason as ‘Bobby,’ and Jenna Russell as ‘Amy.’
Back L-R: Clayton Hargrave as ‘Harry,’ Eric Rodman as ‘Peter,’ Joy Oetjens as ‘Joanne,’ Jamie Maurer as ‘Larry,’ Nicholas Frederick as ‘Paul,’ and Patrick Daniels as ‘David.’
Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook page.

After Sarah and Harry, Bobby is treated to a peek into Susan (Kirsten Renas) and Peter’s (Eric Rodman) marriage, or rather the ending of it, which they seem strangely civil about. David (Patrick Daniels) and Jenny (newcomer Odera Office) show Bobby that sometimes marriage requires sacrifice for the sake of the other person. Perhaps the most interesting couple is Joanne (Joy Oetjens) and Larry (newcomer Jamie Maurer). They are older and Larry is the ‘third times a charm’ husband for Joanne. The reveal of their relationship comes closer to the end and includes Joy giving a stirring vocal performance with the song “The Ladies Who Lunch” sure to rival Elaine Stritch who originated the role on Broadway or Patti LuPone who last played Joanne in 2018. Through it all, Bobby seems to remain optimistic that he hasn’t lost his chance at some version of love. Cason has the difficult job of portraying Bobby as someone who is likable, but also pitied a bit by his peers. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but when Cason sings “Someone is Waiting” with such heartfelt honesty, you can’t help but believe him. His character is growing; even if it is not obvious to everyone (even Bobby) yet.

Joy Oetjens holds nothing back as ‘Joanne’ in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company.’ – Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook page.

While there are lots of familiar faces in this perfectly-cast production, there are also a few fresh faces as well. In addition to the actors already mentioned, Veronica Dean (Marta) and Sarah Milano (April) each play one of Bobby’s neglected girlfriends. Their song “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” with the third jilted girlfriend Kathy (Cheyenne Johnson) sounded like something the Andrews Sisters might sing for the USO. It was a fun song. But the newcomer who had the crowd gasping and giggling was the neurotic Amy played by Jenna Russell. Poor Paul (Nicholas Frederick) is her patient and calm betrothed. Her big moment to shine comes near the end of the first act with the song, “Getting Married Today.” The speed at which she sings her lines is like watching a seasoned auctioneer working a room (when did she breathe?). It was amazing and she deserves every ounce of accolades she was given by the audience. Everyone in this production is to be commended for pulling off a complex musical of this scale. In addition to the actors who entertained on stage, those behind-the-scenes deserve praise as well. Specifically, John (JD) Deierlein and Brad Holoday for their set design which captured the vibe of seventies New York in a very hip way. Tracy Murrell was spot-on with all the costume designs and Louise Holoday supplied the finishing touches with hair, wigs, and makeup. Of course, a musical would be very boring without an orchestra. Extra kudos to conductor Matt Horn and all the musicians who gave Company such a vibrant presence. The only hiccup in a nearly impeccable opening night was when it came time for Cason to sing the final song “Being Alive.” From what I could tell it sounded like there was a problem with his microphone, which is a shame because the song is meant to be a powerful moment for Bobby. A sort of revelation for the direction he wants his life to take in the future.

If you’re married, you’ll identify with the characters and their conundrums. Same goes for anyone single who has had friends try to fix them up or just try to fix them. Company is a show that tells the sometimes painful truths about relationships, but in a way that can’t help but make you laugh. So, you can head to the cinema and spend way too much money for a movie that may be mildly entertaining, or you can come to support your local theatre and watch a show that’s guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

This show runs approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. Due to the mature nature of the show, it is recommended for 13 and older.

Tickets for all shows are $22. Seniors and Student tickets are $20 on Sundays. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org. Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved. Avon Players is located at 1185 Washington, Rochester Hills, MI.

Make a date to see one of the remaining performances:
  • Saturday, May 18      8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 19        2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 24          8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 25      8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 26        2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 31          8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 1       8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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