I freely admit that I’m not a huge Sondheim fan. While I appreciate the wit, insight and acerbity of his lyrics, I can easily be daunted by the strident, often discordant musical progressions and unrelenting refrains which pepper his work.
However, being a ‘CCADS’ musical theatre performance virgin, and having heard so much of their reputation for excellence in this genre, I was determined to brave it out at their production of ‘Company’ at the cosy Station Theatre on Hayling Island.
The story (by George Furth, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) examines the pros and cons of marriage – and revolves around confirmed New York bachelor Robert (sensitively played by John-Paul McCrohon) as he hits his 35th birthday and comes face to face with his own insularity. Is it better to share your life with someone despite the drawbacks and compromise, or to be alone? His relationships with three girlfriends and a bevy of married (and semi-married) couples give him plenty of food for thought as he ponders the answer to this question.
This is ‘Friends’ with knobs on – New York social life in minutiae, proffered up in bite-size vignettes – and despite the potential confusion of ‘who’s who’ in a 14 strong group, the capable and talented cast are quick to establish the richness and individuality of each discrete couple and character. Slick choreography and high energy drives this tight ensemble piece forward at speed, punctuated by imaginative freeze-frame style groupings that tell as much of the interactions as the dialogue.
Every member of the cast is to be congratulated on their commitment and artistry – tunes note-perfect, accents flawless, timing impeccable. There’s a particular delight to be had in Helen Stoddart’s portrayal of Amy, the jittery bride-to-be whose epic breakdown and breakneck teeth-rattling delivery of (not) ‘Getting Married Today’ was magic to watch. The brittle Joanna, looking stunning in a red cat-suit and terrifying-when-drunk, was brought fully to life in all her steely clad vulnerability by Kerry McCrohon; hearts were moved by the sweet-voiced Danny Owen (Harry) with his warm and tender delivery of ‘Sorry-Grateful’; and the hilarious nonchalant teeth-cleaning casually-singing pyjama’d Tony Dart as David was enjoyed by all. A special nod too, to the musical trio tucked away behind a curtain on stage left, who delivered a flawless accompaniment.
While the pace slackened in the second half, this was more to do with the growing introspection of the central character and the storyline than a flagging cast. And although the Station Theatre is a perfect venue to allow the audience to share an intimate view into Bobby’s New York apartment and life – it did become a little too intimate for my liking as the knee-trembling encounter with April (the dim-witted airline hostess played by the brave, nearly naked Sally Goddard) left nothing to the imagination.
Despite going home with the burrowed-in earworm of “Bobby, Bo- Bo- Bo- Bobby” which repeats long after you’ve left the theatre, I’m glad I faced my Sondheim demons. CCADS are to be applauded for their sure-footed demonstration of why they’ve earned such an enviable reputation for excellence in non-professional musical theatre – it really is hard to believe these guys have day jobs…