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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Its original 1970's Broadway run garnered six Tonys out of a record-setting fourteen nominations and has been revived numerous times on Broadway and London most notably. In fact, 17 years ago Boyd directed it at BSC's old home in Sheffield. It was a terrific production then, but the intervening years have added texture and relevance to the classic score.
Wth a marvelous cast of friends surrounding Tveit's cipher-like Bobby who mirrors whatever persona is projected on him, this incarnation should not be missed. Bobby is always happy to be an observer to his married friends' lives. They confide in him and use him to defuse glitches in their relationships as he spins from relationship to relationship, maintaining his longing to be like them, but always remaining safely beyond the periphery of commitment.
The show is a series of vignettes tied together utilizing Kristen Robinson's scenic design of double stairways and terraces. Characters sidle in from the wings, eavesdrop, depart, connect and sing without breaking the pace of the dynamics set in motion.
The five couples are close, caring, almost smothering in their concern for their friend's happiness. At times they hover and bemoan his single status while also salaciously evincing a subliminal envy over his bachelorhood and imagined sexual escapades.
"Bobby baby, Bobby baby, Bobby baby" . . . The subject of this pleading mantra repeated though-out the show, is celebrating his 35th birthday. But this time something is different. The candles won't blow out and the repeated calls for him have become more frenetic. Bobby is the perennial single, man/child — always the genial escort or dinner guest — the extra man. But he is really sort of a professional "pet" and best girl friend who assumes other people's lives and abets their fantasies.
In spite of the retro motif, everything old is new again. In the 70's, the flirtation with the counterculture, drugs and human sexuality, both hetero and homo, may have been a novelty. Boyd mainly focuses on the agony of finding, wanting and keeping — or not — a special monogamous life's companion. The actors sing the lyrics that reflect the ever-present conundrums of mating. Each character whirls in his/her own web of discomfort and neurosis. The marrieds bicker, fight and over-compensate in trying to sell Bobby on the idea of wedded bliss. It's a story about problematic relationships and compromise that still seems pretty relevant.
Because it is a concept musical all of the songs underscore the stories of the personalities involved. The dialogue is minimal so it is the music and lyrics that move the plot along. The numbers are memorable, often a commentary on modern life and sometimes are mini-plays within themselves. Each number is beautifully limned by the talent Boyd has assembled.
Ellen Harvey as the older and perpetually disappointed Joanne has that classic sardonic face (Think an attractive Dame Edna May Oliver). Her delivery which makes "The Little Things You Do Together" a stand out. When she belts out "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch" her fabulous and cogent salute to the idle rich, her luminance is breathtaking.
Joanne's husband Larry, Peter Reardon's explanation for his love and devotion to her in the face of her patronizing tone and self-centered disdain is one of the most moving moments in the story.
Amy's fear of commitment matches Bobby's. The vibrant hysteria of fabulously comedic Lauren Marcus's "Getting Married Today" as she spits out one of the funniest and most difficult of Sondheim's songs is met by the soothing counterpoint of her husband-to-be Paul (Joseph Spieldenner) with his sincere declarations of undying love.
Nora Schell's Marta sings Another Hundred People" in a mellifluous celebration of a vibrant city, never sleeping, alive with possibility and yet expresses the pathos of the ever-present need to connect in a sea of anonymity.
As April, Bobby's ditzy stewardess, Mara Davi's "Barcelona" is a paean to the conflicts faced within every human encounter. Her vocalizations and gestures are pathetically humorous in a way that indicates April's awareness of her own shortcomings.
Jeanette Bayardelle's Sarah and husband Harry (Lawrence Street) share addiction problems to food and alcohol and act out their love-hate relationship in a wonderfully physical karate scene to great farcical effect.
All fourteen actors are multi-talented and each makes his/her role an integral part of the cast dynamics. However, it is Aaron Tveit's Bobby as he quietly glides about and absorbs the energy of those around him who drives the show to its rich and satisfying conclusion. His facial reactions are empathic and he truly becomes the human each of the others believes him to be. Yet he knows that this is not satisfying and is destructive to his own development.
Tveit's "Being Alive summarizes the dichotomy of the human longing to connect while remaining free of responsibilities. When he sings In the final line "Someone to force you to care/ Someone to make you come through/Who'll always be there frightened as you /Of being alive," the electricity is palpable and breathtaking as he realizes "...The unlived life is not worth examining."
Jeffrey Page's choreography maneuvers the actors smoothly from scene to scene so that everything just melts together in a flow of pleasurable song and movement. The cast moves cohesively like a sensual organism", throbbing and swirling to Dan Pardo's direction of nine musical geniuses who create the sound of a full Broadway pit.
Though Sara Joan Tosetti's costumes incorporate 70's themes, they are updated and made more eclectic and timeless. The lighting abilities of Brian Tovar resonate with the of emotional force of the music.
Barrington Stage's Company is so right, so fresh and so stimulating it retains its profound ability to provoke an audience to think while under the hypnosis of this dazzling Sondheim score.
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Book by George Furth; Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Choreography by Jeffrey Page
Music supervision by Darren R. Cohen
Music direction by Dan Pardo
Cast: Aaron Teveit (Robert) Kate Loprest (Susan) Paul Schaefer (Peter) Jeannette Bayardelle (Sarah) Lawrence Street (Harry) Lauren Marcus (Amy) Joseph Spieldenner (Paul) Ellen Harvey (Joanne) Peter Reardon (Larry) Jane Pfitsch (Jenny) James Ludwig (David) Mara Davi (April) Rebecca Kuznick (Kathy) Nora Schell (Marta)
Scene design: Kristen Robinson
Costume design: Sara Jane Tosetti
Lighting design: Brian Tovar
Sound design: Ed Chapman
Hair and Wig Design: Liz Printz
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; 1 intermission
Barrington Stage Company Boyd-Quinson Main Stage, Union St., Pittsfield,, MA
From 8/10/17; opening 8/13/17; closing 9/2/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 13 performance
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