‘Company’: The musical as intelligent comedy

When it first opened on Broadway in 1970, “Company” was seen by audiences and critics as a sly, subversive, funny exposé on relationship issues that the middle-class tended to shy away from.

The music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth takes a close look at marital discord, secrets in relationships, and religious, cultural conflicts.

One wonders whether such situations—which are now tackled matter-of-factly in many plays and movies—can still resonate with contemporary viewers.

The last time it was staged in the country was in 1997 by Repertory Philippines.

However, Topper Fabregas, director of Upstart Production’s upcoming version of the musical, believes the material has become more relevant now than ever.

“There is no perfect marriage or relationship,” Fabregas says. “You can’t just say, ‘I want the good stuff.’ If you want something, you have to work for it, and not just dip your toe in the water. But these days, when it seems like there are many options, it’s hard for millennials to commit.”

“Company” revolves around perpetual bachelor Bobby (O.J. Mariano), who sees how relationships play out for five couples who are his close friends.

There’s martial artist Sarah (Sweet Plantado-Tiongson) and her secretly alcoholic husband Harry (Joel Trinidad, Upstart cofounder); Southern belle Susan (Nicky Trivino) and her possibly gay husband Peter (Ariel Reonal); innocent Jenny (Bianca Lopez), married to the manipulative David (Chino Veguillas); Catholic Amy (Cathy Azanza-Dy) who is engaged to the Jewish Paul (James Uy); and the sarcastic Joanne (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) and her very understanding third husband, Larry (Michael Williams).

These couples goad Bobby to find the “perfect girl” and settle down, although some of them envy his independence.

The charming, if embattled, bachelor is dating three single girls: the free spirit Marta (Caisa Borromeo); the bimbo-like April (Maronne Cruz); and sensible Kathy (Jill Peña).

Audience perspective

Mariano, fresh from the success of Full House Theater Company’s “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” does not see his character as the leading man or the “boy next door.” Instead, “Bobby slowly represents the perspective of the audience as he goes in and out of his friends’ lives,” Mariano says.

“Their questions become his, and vice versa. He will have to reach that point—or not—when he has to confirm his bachelor status.”

Joey Mendoza’s in-the-round set design, squeezed into the theater, softens but does not totally break the fourth wall.

Fabregas promises that the “no-tricks” approach will allow viewers to become more immersed in the story and the performances: “It [will] make everything so vulnerable, while adding a sense of playfulness.”

Despite its serious themes, the musical won’t be grim and sober. After all, “Company” has been hailed for its intelligent comedy.

And while the set pieces will pay homage to the ’70s, the production design will reflect the musical’s timelessness.

Borromeo says, “‘Company’ speaks to you no matter what age you are or where you are in life. Do you want to settle down in your 30s? Do you want to get married at age 40 because all your friends are getting married? Will you and your partner have kids, though you are not married?” —CONTRIBUTED

“Company” opens Sept. 13 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City.

“Company” runs Sept. 13-22 at Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; performances Fridays at 9 p.m.; and Saturdays-Sundays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; ticketworld.com.ph

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