THE ONLY MEASURE OF SUCCESS for a musical comedy is the amount of fun the cast can transmit to the audience in two and a half hours. Company, at South House, rings the bell at the top of the scale.
The show fares equally well when you break the "fun" down into its component parts. Stephen Sondheim provides at least seven super songs with highly humble melodies and clever, memorable lyrics that had the audience singing to itself in the intermission. The cast energizes the stage with strong, coordinated, full-company numbers and includes several very good individual performances.
The only disappointment is the book by George Furth. While it contains many funny scenes, the book ends with a dissipated defusing of the plot, in marked contrast to the explosive singing finale on stage.
Company is the story of Robert (Mark Morland), a single man amidst the five couples who are his best friends and who compete for his attention as they try to marry him off. Director Betsy King is expert, coordinating several simultaneous actions on stage. The stage itself, for instance, contains four or five different apartment interiors at all times.
King uses a freeze-frame technique to good effect in numbers like "Another Hundred People": the action alternates between Robert talking to different girlfriends as Marta (Jennifer Susan Burton), invisible, listens in; and Marta singing a commentary while the other two freeze in the background.
The main body of the musical is small scenes in different apartments, giving the opportunity for some excellent solo performances. Amy (Celia Jaffe), the neurotic bride, sings a hilarious, harried number called. "Getting Married Today," and her high-speed delivery deserved the spontaneous outburst of applause given by the audience. Jaffe's excellent caricature of a New Yorker, a sort of female Woody Allen, is periodically interrupted by a High Anglican chorus led by the almost operatic Erika Zabusky singing "Bless This Bride." Zabusky, as Jenny, plays a square woman chattering uncontrollably to her comically "potted" husband (Lance La Vergne) as she first gets high.
Carol D'Arcangelis puts in a solid performance as the fierce and sarcastic rich bitch, Joanne. Along with Amy and Robert, she is one of the most interesting characters in the show. Her drunken, jealous solo, "The Ladies Who Lunch," projects an exciting undercurrent of tragic intensity.
Morland plays the leading role with a casual coordination and energetic stage presence approaching that of Dick Van Dyke at his best moments, leading the rest of the cast in the opening song. "Company." At the end of the musical, in the full company number, "Being Alive," he radiates, making meaningful and heartfelt a song that teeters on the brink of pure schmaltz. He is also competent delivering comic spoken lines, "smiling even as he dies from drinking boiled orange juice," for example. His solo numbers, however, while still satisfactory, are a little hoarse by Saturday's late performance.
THE MUSICAL has a few other problems, too. The choreography is uneven: the first dance number is uninteresting and, during an otherwise good kickline number called, "Side by Side by Side," it is obvious that the cast is imitating tap dancing rather than performing it.
The Overture scene is uncoordinated, with the cast speaking fragments of lines as they race around like a collection of mechanical birds. And towards the musical's end the weakness of Furth's book gives the impression that the show is not heading in any direction that could lead to a conclusion.
The ending is salvaged by the cast's energy and musical strength. The Vocal Minority (Catherine Josman, Susan Minter, Heather Moore, Jennifer Bryant), the choral backup, swells the musical numbers and fills in the gaps with an unflagging stream of beautiful singing. Equally indefatigable was the professional performance of Laurence Sobel on the piano, with Rich Dikeman on an electric keyboard that provided ice-skating-rink music to humorous effect. Led by Morland, the cast rejuvenates for the last song, "Company," and launches a high-energy, Broadway-type finale to a 100-percent fun show.