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Company at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 07 November 2006

I cheated, just so you know. All reviews I have ever read were based on attending one performance. This time I interviewed 11 people, some more than once, went to several auditions and rehearsals, and attended Opening Night.

Company, directed by Gregg A. Klein, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, is playing at the Masquers Theatre ending Dec 16th. See .

An astounding experience has been had watching ordinary folks turn into exotic individuals. It’s as though these characters started in a black and white television program, walking the stage, reading the words from the script in their hands. From this, they emerge as three dimensional, brightly coloured, fire-breathing dragons. That this is even possible is astonishing. The show that results is the combined effort of dozens of hard working creative minds. It boggles the imagination to think of the volume of concentration people have put into the details.

This show was written in the 1970s, so it’s full of old familiars: jokes about New York, clothing that assuredly came from several season ticket holders’ closets, shoes that will make you laugh, rugs that people mistakenly think were once appropriate hair styles, and the men have grown real sideburns for the occasion!

The set is bohemian in its simplicity, a clever arrangement of three-sided panels with a Rubik's Cube style of motion. Two panels use cadmium tones: warm yellows, oranges, and reds, once popular colours for bachelor pads. The furniture is spartan, except perhaps for the bed, Robert’s appalling altar, in shimmering leopard print satin.

At the very first audition, a person who shall remain nameless told me that Kris Bell, the choreographer, is fond of hats and canes, and would be sure to get some into this production. They were right. But there are many more moves, too. This is one of the reasons that I like musicals.

Robert (Kyle Johnson), a historically commitment-phobic guy approaching his thirty fifth birthday, is wondering if he has made the right decision about bachelordom. Kyle has always struck me as a likeable guy, whose basic goodness comes across when he sings. He has a 1,000 watt smile which would convince most people to sign up for whatever he was selling. If what he sold turned out to be rubbish, it would unquestionably turn out that Kyle had been duped too. You know, nice.

So, it comes as a surprise to see Robert (Kyle) portrayed as a scared rabbit, a man for whom embarrassment will be crushing (photo, centre, photo left by Jerry Telfer). Later we see Robert become a lecherous wolf, teeth bared in a ferocious grin, ready to sink those fangs into flesh, conniving at getting one of the girls into bed. Definitely, Kyle is getting more interesting to watch, every time I see him.

Robert has three girlfriends on hand, an amusing study in contrasts. The three convene for the song You Could Drive A Person Crazy.

April (Steph Peek, photo, top) is a ditzy blond stewardess. Steph has done an admirable job creating this entertaining bird brain. She is funny and bright and completely preposterous.

Kathy (Amy Nielson, photo, left) is a girl who turns out to be more conservative that she previously revealed, now wanting a more traditional future. It is a sweet performance, full of goodness. And a fine dancer.

Marta (Jennifer Stark, photo, right) is an earth mother, an Art For Art’s Sake kind of girl, and a brassy New York goddess. Bracing! And boy, can that girl belt out a song! More, I want more, I can take it, really!

Robert’s birthday is celebrated by friends, all couples. Susan (Michelle Pond) and Peter (Steve Yates) are a happy couple who just happen to want a divorce. Susan is a catty, scratch that, gracious, southern belle who swoons at the sight of blood, a part tailor-made for Michelle. Peter is warm and friendly, and surprisingly sympathetic. His response to his wife’s nighttime pillow-talk will make you hoot.

Sarah (Kathleen Dederian) and Harry (Robyn David Taylor) are a feisty couple whose squabbles escalate and get progressively more dramatic and farcical. As I mustn’t be giving away twists in the storyline, I will say only that they must be seen to be fully appreciated. They are wildly entertaining. I have watched the interaction between them develop, resulting in a perfectly normal, cantankerous couple.

Jenny (Jacqueline Anderson) and David (Michael Cassidy) are a couple who bring back great memories of smoking pot (true for the entire audience, if the laughter was any measure). Jacqueline well plays the rather strait-laced Jenny as she slips in and out of character. Her solo hymn is lovely. Michael’s renders a lantern-jawed, straight man so effortlessly, I thought it was natural. I’m sure I thought he was born wearing cowboy boots. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was neither taciturn nor dour!

Amy (Leah Tandberg-Warren) and Paul (Peter Budinger) have a surprising wedding breakfast. If I could fall in love with a pair, it would be these two. Paul, because he is charming, handsome, and a bit silly, even if he did slick down his unruly hair. He is the only character (other than Robert) where we get a scene of deep emotional trauma. I could fall in love with Amy because there can never be anyone else like her. Leah is completely unexpected: effervescent, sexy and talented. I could barely understand the words of Amy’s song, they come so fast; imagine how difficult it must be to sing them! Leah is a treasure and the gem of this performance.

Joanne (Tammara Plankers) and Larry (Larry Schrupp) are older than the couples of thirty-somethings, and they have jaded attitudes to match. Joanne is a bitch of the first water who takes out her frustrations with a stream of vitriol to the attractive young women. Although it may not be polite to say Tammara makes a great bitch, she does though. Just the right amount of blasée. Wealthy Larry, puts up with this abuse for reasons we discover later in the performance. Until then, he seems a bit henpecked which he carries with aplomb. Larry is diverting (and I love those turtlenecks). The scene in the disco is worth dying for.

Company is a bushel of laughs, from the set and costumes, to the moves and dialogue. Some of that laughter comes from a trip down memory lane and some of it comes from an appreciation of the silliness of the human condition.

The actors have the situation well in hand, they pause until the laughter stops before they deliver the next line. They know where we’re going and they want us to enjoy getting there.