Theater review: Welcome ‘Company’ shines on VST stage

The cast of “Company” at the Virginia Samford Theatre. (Photo by Steven Ross)

There’s a party going on at the Virginia Samford Theatre – one filled with laughs, great music and interesting people – and you’re invited.

It’s Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” and VST’s take on the musical, save for a couple of dance scenes with ‘70s moves and some “period” costumes, seems as fresh as it must have when it came on the scene 50 years ago.

“Company” is one of Sondheim’s most accessible works, with some of his most hummable music. It’s set in New York as Bobby celebrates his 35th birthday. All of his married friends are trying to find him a wife, but they are not the best examples of marital bliss themselves.

Director Chelsea Reynold’s production of “Company” at the VST is a joy, from the beautiful Ben Boyer set to some stellar vocal and comedic performances by Birmingham theater veterans and newcomers alike.

Caleb Clark is Bobby, and despite dealing with some unfortunate sound issues on opening night, he is superb. Not only can he sing the heck out of a song like “Marry Me a Little” or “Being Alive,” but he’s a fine comedic actor, wringing more humor out of Bobby’s lines than in some previous productions of the musical.

He’s surrounded by a stage filled with talent, so much so that it’s difficult to figure out where to start.

Maybe with Lydia Yates, who takes one of Sondheim’s standards, “Another Hundred People,” and makes the most of it. Her Marta is funny and sassy, and oh, that voice – a strong belt but crystal-clear enunciation, so important when singing a Sondheim song.

And then there’s Jan Hunter, who brings us both sides of the character of Joanne, one of the funniest and most tragic of the show’s characters. She gets the big number – “The Ladies Who Lunch” – and brings the house down, but her comedic chops are also in great supply. (Barry Austin is a delight as her husband).

Likewise with Amy Johnson, so, so charming as Amy, the reluctant bride in “Getting Married Today.” She’s fearless with her physical comedy, and she does a fantastic job with Sondheim’s manic patter song (as do Virginia Barr and Richie Lisenby, rounding out the “Married” trio).

And there’s more: Jeff DeGarmo, Jonathan Skaggs and Barry Austin teaming up for a wonderful “Sorry-Grateful”; a delightful “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Callie Hunter, Abigail Williams and Yates; and laugh-out-loud moments from Dana Porter, Savannah Hudson and Charlie Bryant III.

The bottom line is there’s not a clunker in the bunch, and that certainly includes choreographer Jared Max Wright and music director Debbie Mielke. A Sondheim show must be among the most difficult to navigate for a music director, and Mielke (and her fantastic band) make it look easy. The band included Christy Vest, Maury Levine, Sarah Freed, Ryan Murrell, Ian Ellis, Matthew Barron and Brent Cooper.

Yes, there’s a party going on at the Virginia Samford Theatre. And despite some opening-night sound issues, it’s a fun one. You don’t want to miss it.

 “Company” runs March 31 through April 10 at the Virginia Samford Theatre, at Caldwell Park, 1116 26th St. South. Tickets are $43 ($23 for students). Bottom line: Four stars out of five.

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