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Theater

Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of 'Company' is a witty experience

| Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
A scene from Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of 'Company.'
Pittsburgh Public Theater
A scene from Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of 'Company.'

To outsiders, other people's marriages are often baffling: What does she see in him? Why do they stay together? Why would anyone do this?

Guess what: Those marriages are often equally unfathomable to the couples themselves.

In 1970, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth took a wry, articulate and often funny look at the mysteries of marriage with the musical “Company.”

Forty-four years later, it still resonates with audiences, especially when given a thoroughly updated, entertaining and polished production such as the one Ted Pappas has staged for Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Producer and director Harold Prince based the original musical on Furth's 11 playlets about 11 New York marriages.

The musical begins on Robert's 35th birthday as five urban, affluent couples who are his closest friends throw him a surprise birthday party.

Asked when he's going to settle down and get married, Robert says he wants to get married, longs to be married, can't explain why he isn't married.

What follows is not a progressive plot but a succession of vignettes as Robert spends time with each couple and the three girls that he's dating.

Pappas, who directed and choreographed the production, has gently nudged the show into the 21st century with the help of scenic designer James Noone, projection designer Larry Shea, lighting designer Phil Monat and costume designer Martha Bromelmeier.

The huge cast of 14 creates vivid, individual characters, does justice to Sondheim's score and glides its way through Pappas' simple, but appealing choreography.

At points in the show, Noone's chic, contemporary gray and silver bi-level set becomes a backdrop for Shea's fast-forward views of Manhattan skyscrapers, uptown apartment buildings and streets filled with whizzing vehicles and fast-moving pedestrians.

The score explores the high and low points of relationships — the couples' long-standing ones and Robert's more ambivalent forays with some of Sondheim's most celebrated songs.

In addition to the show's title song, you're treated to Judy Blazer's Joanne toasting “The Ladies Who Lunch,” Hannah Shankman's high speed, well-enunciated “Another Hundred People,” the spirited ensemble renditions of “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You.” Three husbands played by Benjamin Howes, Daniel Krell and Darren Eliker render what's possibly the best song ever written about the push-pull of marriage — “Sorry-Grateful.”

But women will relate to it just as strongly.

As the show progresses, Robert's eagerness for a relationship seems to increase.

Jim Stanek's Robert showcases that desire eloquently and tunefully as his momentum builds from the first-act closer “Marry Me a Little” to the emotional urgency of “Being Alive” at the show's end.

So exactly what is stopping Robert from making the leap?

Many possibilities are hinted at:

He's definitely not gay, at least in this production, says Pappas.

It could be the women Robert dates.

Shankman's Marta, Lee Harrington's Kathy and Lara Hayhurst's April are all — through no fault of their own — portrayed as pretty and vivacious but shallow and silly.

He may be looking for the impossible: Someone who combines the best features of all the women he knows, as Robert implies in “Someone Is Waiting.”

Or, maybe the problem is Manhattan itself.

In a city with so many choices, Robert may be stalled by the unending supply of new faces and personalities yet to be experienced.

We'll never know.

The show ends without supplying a conclusion, leaving it up to the audience members to supply the answer.

But that doesn't keep it from being a witty, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining theater experience.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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