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You’re in good Company

Rep blows out all the candles
by Christopher Key

I suppose it is rather remarkable at my age that I had never seen a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company before last night. Good thing, then, that I saw the version opening tonight at the Mount Baker Theatre’s intimate Walton venue. It’s a Winter Rep production, meaning the estimable Mark Kuntz is involved, although mostly behind the scenes in this case.

Kuntz seems to have an unerring instinct for targeting the right people. In this case, he brought in Liisa Ivary to direct and scored a bulls-eye. Ivary has extensive Shakespearean experience, is a skilled choreographer and fight coach. She uses all those skills in this production, along with an impeccable eye for casting.

Company broke a lot of new ground when it debuted on Broadway in 1970. It was assembled from a series of vignettes written by George Furth and was one of the first Broadway productions to address adult themes. As Sondheim put it, “Broadway theatre has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, and then here we are with Company talking about how we’re going to bring it right back in their faces.”

It seems to have worked. The production was nominated for a record 14 Tonys and won six. Enough history.

The vignettes center on Bobby, a single man who is celebrating his 35th birthday. His married friends and girlfriends view him as (pick one) enviable, pitiable, lost, hot, cold, charming, bewildered, insane, smart, stupid, and, above all, malleable. He’s all of those, but the latter quality is what makes them all want to fix him. Bobby’s not sure he wants to be fixed, but doesn’t want to hurt his friends by telling them so.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Ivary couldn’t have chosen a better Bobby. Zach Harrison has the looks, the charm, the voice and the stage presence. Best of all, he’s a local boy made good. He’s working professionally in the Big Apple and elsewhere, but has deep Bellingham roots.

Keeping with the highly successful Rep formula, the rest of the cast is a mix of local and regional pros and amateurs, all of whom Ivary has molded into a very cohesive and dynamic group. They all deserve at least a paragraph, but I have a day job and will have to confine myself to some highlights.

Bobby’s girlfriend Marta is the ultimate New Yorker. Lauren Newell brings a sensational voice to the role and her take on “Another Hundred People” is simply brilliant.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Married friend Amy is played by Emily Milburn, who delivers a dementedly neurotic performance as the bride with cold feet and also delivers some of the most difficult lyrics since Gilbert and Sullivan.

The magnetic Sonia Alexis is wonderfully bitchy as Joanne and stops the show with the torchy “The Ladies Who Lunch.” How good is she? She’ll make you seriously want a cigarette.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

One of the finest comic moments involves local favorite Paul Henderson and Rachel Wachtveitl in a martial arts confrontation that shows off Ivary’s skills as a fight choreographer.

Jessii Arp, TJ Anderson, Beth Wallace, Patrick Newell, Tristan Carruthers, Noel Barbuto, Taylor Sundstrom and Chelsea LeValley round out the terrific ensemble and all deserve more time and space than I have available.

The inevitable Steve Barnes serves as Music Director and onstage pianist. Kuntz designed the clever set that invokes another 70’s sensation: Rubik’s Cube. Sondheim’s music is memorable, but Ivary supplements it with pre-show and intermission music featuring some of the most annoying earworms from a decade that was famous for them.

Company is a thorough delight and runs February 19 through March 17 in the wonderful Walton Theatre. For precise dates and times, see the MBT website. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased from the MBT ticket office at (360) 734-6080 or online.

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