Wednesday 2 September 2015

Review of Company by KW Productions at Leicester Little Theatre

On a transfer from Leicester's bijou Upstairs At The Western venue KW Productions take a second shot at their production of Stephen Sondheim's musical masterpiece Company. The Little Theatre Leicester venue allows for slightly more breathing space and an opportunity for the KW performers to let their souls sing out in the Haywood Studio space. This artistically freeing move proves to be a huge success on their (second) opening night, this time at The Little Theatre.

Company, with its brilliantly brisk energetic score and sophisticated wit, is largely regarded as a trail blazer of the modern concept musical genre and has been the winner of seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Lyrics and Best Book. In 1995 the musical was revised and amongst other changes it was decided to drop the dance number “Tick Tock”. In 2007 the show was named Best Musical of the Year by New York Magazine for a production directed by John Doyle and starring Raรบl Esparza as Robert. In this production the performers not only sang, danced and acted but also played the instruments as part of the show.

Updating the original 1970s concept of the story of fractured relationships to include a modern young lesbian couple and humorous acknowledgement of the current trend towards selfies the KW version of Company proves as relevant today as it did when Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's piece was first aired. Leigh White directs this simply staged and classy production of Company. It is a funny, sophisticated, exploration of love and commitment seen through the eyes of 35 year old charming perpetual bachelor Robert and KW Productions do it proud.

Robert (Keiran Whelan) is about to celebrate his 35th birthday and all his friends rally round to give him a surprise birthday party. In this way we are introduced to all of Robert's (Bobby's) friends in the pulsating opening number “Company”. The KW rendition is sung with clarity and gusto by Robert and all the fourteen strong cast. Whelan as central character Robert does an exemplary job of holding the whole show together and has a fine singing voice and first rate American accent that is held nicely in check throughout.

Gradually throughout the first and second act we meet all of Robert's friends be they married or single. The highlights of this show's first act are the classy renditions of the following songs for both their witty and poignant aspects; “The Little Things We Do Together”, “Sorry-Grateful”, “Have I Got A Girl For You”, “Someone Is Waiting”, “Another Hundred People”, “Getting Married Today” and “Marry Me A Little”. There is not a weak link amongst the whole strong ensemble with professional standards throughout the piece.

The highlights of the first half are the cleverly put together staging of “Another Hundred People” and Amy's (Victoria Price) comically frantic “Getting Married Today”. Plus, Whelan and Nikky Leigh Brooks as Harriet add a whole depth of tenderness to the song “Sorry-Grateful” that is usually begun by the two male characters Robert and Harry.

As we reach the second act Robert and the company open with a rousing and inventive “Side by Side by Side” and “What Would We Do Without You”. As the piece takes on a more sombre tone the bitterness of some relationships takes over after the comical yet poignant number “Barcelona” between Robert and April (Liz Kavanagh). Kavanagh has a great talent for understated comic acting and is delightful as air hostess April. One of the highlights of any production of Company is the older character Joanne belting out “The Ladies Who Lunch”. This is a song with less of a smile and a whole lot of savage bile and Karen Gordon does a fantastic note perfect job of putting it over.

Optimism is the key to the ending of Sondheim's bitter sweet musical look at the complexity of relationships and both Robert and the company complete the evening with a stirring rendition of “Being Alive!” And that's what it's really about. Isn't it?

Directed by and live musical accompaniment by Leigh White - Company runs at Little Theatre Leicester from 2nd to 5th September.

Photographic credits and copyright Sally Evans.

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