In lesser hands, Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” would have come out as little more than a comedy about relationships, with single man Bobby (OJ Mariano) spending time with a revolving group of married friends and potential girlfriends. But director Topper Fabregas and his cast successfully reveal the sheer loneliness within the material, complicating its already dizzying score with a handful of bravura performances.
Though “Company” may have premiered on Broadway in 1970, Sondheim’s lyrics and George Furth’s book are just as incisive and painfully relatable now as they were then. A musical like this ought to seem too mopey; instead, it’s genuinely funny and entirely empathetic, building a vivid ecosystem of friends and lovers that’s at once warm, reassuring and highly manipulative.
Wealth of material
No matter how briefly these characters appear on stage, they never leave it one-sided. Each of them colors in a new aspect of Bobby’s fear of and desire for affection.
In other words, “Company” gives its actors a wealth of material for them to work with—with varied results. Vaguely American accents come and go in this production, and some performers carry their weight more than their scene partners. Mariano’s (or perhaps Fabregas’) choice to make Bobby reserved and unassuming for most of the show has clear intent: this is a protagonist who views himself as a background character. But this choice may also be too much of a good idea, as Bobby threatens to become more cipher than character as the musical keeps going.
Still, it’s easy to forgive some of the production’s decisions when Bobby finally gets his standout moment: the massively cathartic “Being Alive,” which Mariano pulls off majestically. In fact, every time “Company” needs to land a big moment, the show delivers.
As Amy, Cathy Azanza-Dy’s masterful performance of “Getting Married Today” is hysterical, made all the more poignant with her character’s moment of clarity immediately after.
As Joanne, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo becomes impossible to ignore—whether she’s sitting on a corner bench, studying Bobby with unblinking intensity, or destroying the theater with the devastating “The Ladies Who Lunch” (well worth a ticket alone).
With so much going for it, the production’s biggest obstacle, unfortunately, is the very stage it’s mounted on. Fabregas’ admirable attempt (with set designer Joey Mendoza) to convert the Maybank Performing Arts Theater into an in-the-round venue doesn’t quite work. Even with a dozen performers on stage, the action always feels concentrated in certain areas—meaning that the seat you select might actually hinder your experience rather than enhance it. Fabregas frequently blocks his actors around the elevated stage, but they function merely as passive scenery. One could argue that this only accentuates the show’s theme of loneliness, but the act of viewing the production can still be more laborious than immersive.
None of this takes away from everything else that Fabregas and his team get right. Meliton Roxas’ paneled lighting design and Jethro Joaquin’s soundscapes effectively ground “Company” in an urban setting without the clutter.
Meanwhile, the show’s minimalist visual design not only allows us to imagine its settings any way we see fit, but it also makes Bobby’s circle of friends seem more like ever-present judges of his actions. And Fabregas guides small interactions skillfully, letting humor give way to profound sadness and back again.
All of this greatly serves the busy score of “Company,” which is more than enough of an achievement for Upstart Productions to take pride in. There are harmonies and turns of phrase in this that can be studied and picked apart for days, and musical director Rony Fortich does them justice. That the musical remains so effortlessly charming and accessible despite its complexity is a minor miracle. That we even have a great, new version of “Company” to enjoy is another. —CONTRIBUTED
“Company” has final performances today and tomorrow, Sept. 22, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City