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Bobby, Baby, We Love Ya

Company directed by Larry Carpenter at the Huntington Theatre

By Andrew K. Mandel

When you reach the end of a touching, thoughtful musical, you're always sorry, you're always grateful.

The Huntington Theatre Company's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Company" evokes emotion far beyond the squeals and sobs that touring companies of "Les Miserables" manufacture eight times a week. "Company," recently revamped from its 1970 original, explores the life of Robert (Davis Gaines), a New York bachelor who contemplates his 35th birthday. Robert is soon visited by his closest friends, five married couples, who show him that maturity represents an assumption of responsibility. The birthday becomes a symbol for the affirmation of Robert's willingness to look beyond himself, to make a commitment to the company that marriage offers.

The story is told through a series of flashback, in which the various couples lead Robert down a path of self-awareness that concludes in the birthday party. The couples' individual situations show Robert that married life indeed requires that which he fears--sacrifice and pain--but it also provides a sense of fulfillment and completeness.

These isolated incidents, often hilarious or moving, help convey the lack of cohesiveness to Robert's conception of marriage. The show's designers aptly depict Robert's "snapshot" image of matrimony through bold, oversized portraits and sudden photographic flashes. In "Someone Is Waiting," where Robert seeks a companion who embodies characteristics from each of his female friends, a slide montage serves as an extension of Robert's mind. Unfortunately, the number itself seems out of sequence in its position early in the show; the audience does not get the opportunity to become familiar with many of the women about which Robert sings.

Yet, through the powerful performance of actor Davis Gaines, the audience certainly gets to know the torn Robert. The audience innately wishes to emphathize with Robert's plight, but one soon learns that although he's a confused man and a good friend, he's also a pot-smoking womanizer. Gaines effectively teeters the line between likability and brazenness, allowing the audience to 'keep a tender distance' while evaluating Robert's quandary. Gaines, most famous for his 1,937 performances as the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, handles the vocal demands of the role with ease. "Being Alive" and "Marry Me a Little" show off both Gaines' understanding of Robert's dilemma and his strong, vibrant voice.

It is the women, though, who steal the show. It may be because of author George Fourth's genius for comedy, and a book that dictates the relative importance of the wives--not the husbands. But a stellar cast doesn't hurt.

There's Susan Cella's divine Sarah, queen of food cravings and karate skills, and Maureen Silliman's cutely whimsical Jenny, naively experimenting with marijuana.

Even more memorable is Tia Speros' portrayal of Amy, whose neuroses prevent her from committing to Paul (Dann Fink), her loving and caring fiance. Amy's anxiety culminates in the tongue-twisting "Getting Married Today." Speros executes the take-your-breath-away number impeccably, receiving thunderous applause from the audience halfway through the song. And Marie Danvers, who plays the stewardess April, should patent her ditz.

But nothing can compare to the theatrical feat achieved by Karen Mason. Ably filling the shoes of Elaine Stritch, the original Joanne, Mason is sultry and sardonic and performs "Ladies Who Lunch" with a touch of elegance.

The staging and choreography, coordinated by Larry Carpenter and Daniel Pelzig respectively, are inventive and add color to the show's surrealism. When Robert and April are in bed together, his female friends loom disapprovingly--from the edges of the mattress. The production boasts a visually provocative design, contributing to an overall finesse that makes the show not only worth thinking about, but also worth watching and enjoying.

Yet "Company" mainly reminds us that musical theater can feature substance as well as style. To watch "Company" is to enjoy a delectably inventive show; to see "Company" is to appreciate a piquing, satisfying evening of theater.

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