Review: In the ‘Company’ of fine interpretation

 In the foreground, Justin Guarini, with John Caliendo and Kate Wetherhead in the background in Bucks County Playhouse's production of 'Company.' (Photo courtesy of Mandee Kuenzle)

In the foreground, Justin Guarini, with John Caliendo and Kate Wetherhead in the background in Bucks County Playhouse's production of 'Company.' (Photo courtesy of Mandee Kuenzle)

“Company,” which won the best-musical Tony Award in 1971 and best revival Tony more than three decades later, contains some of Stephen Sondheim’s most inventive, breakout music. To me, the show itself is a cynical look at marriage that seems off the mark, but I’d see a production anywhere just for the songs 

So here I extend a virtual hand to actor Justin Guarini and director Hunter Foster, for the interpretation of Bobby, the role Guarini performs in a swell production of “Company” at Bucks County Playhouse. Bobby is the New Yorker at the center of “Company,” a single guy who runs around all the time with couples that want him to be coupled, too. These friends clearly love him. But they smother him with conflicting advice about marriage – enough to give any guy an approach/avoidance complex.

They don’t have to go too far with this: Even without their badgering, Bobby is scared to be married and also scared not to be. And that, in essence, is the plot of “Company,” a show about a guy who, in Sondheim’s lyrics, equates being alive with being frightened even in his best moments.

Bobby is 35 in the script, and Guarini is a year older, just right to play the character who’s become a juicy plum for males in musicals. He also delivers the role with a charming presence (and a smooth singing voice) that at least gets us on his side. Guarini never comes close to being the shlubby, aloof, brooding Bobby I’ve seen before. That Bobby’s a walking loser. Another 100 people who got off of the bus might want to seize him and throw him under it.

Not only is Guarini’s Bobby worth the affection his well-meaning friends shower on him, he seems to operate in the real world — and the current-day one, in this slightly updated production — even if it’s a deeply Manhattan-centric universe in the show’s book by George Furth and in Sondheim’s songs. You get the feeling this Bobby is smart about people and can take care of himself in the end – a revelation to me for this show.

Guarini is surrounded by talent that shines in “Company’s” more celebrated songs: Chelsea Emma Franco delivering “Another Hundred People” and Kate Wetherhead racing through Sondheim’s brilliant marathon song, “Getting Married Today”; Guarini and Anne Horak as they sigh in song about her character, a stewardess exiting a one-night stand to take off to Barcelona; Candy Buckley in a striking half-drunken performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the song that will forever be associated with Elaine Stritch from the original production. 

The show is greatly enhanced by Bart Fasbender’s crystal sound design and conductor Will Shuler’s 10-piece orchestra that lets everyone sing over it. Married folks and single ones, too, will have their opinions about the overall tone of “Company.” As for the overall tones — the music and performances – the opinions will be much more unified.

_“Company” runs through June 21 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.

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