Stage Left: Cast of Langham Court's Company needs to let loose

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Langham Court Theatre deserves credit for possessing the moxie to tackle an ambitious musical such as Company by Stephen Sondheim.

The American composer/ lyricist — influenced by the likes of avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt and Maurice Ravel — is known for arty, angular music that’s often brilliant … and just as often difficult to perform.

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Sondheim’s lyrics are witty and dense and reflect a literate love of wordplay (a sample from Company’s The Little Things You Do Together: “It’s sharing little winks today, drinks together, kinks together… that makes marriage such a joy”).

When it debuted in 1970, Company was praised for its boldness and innovation. Rather than embracing a conventional storyline, Sondheim offered short vignettes based on the misadventures of 35-year-old Bobby, a Peter Pan playboy who is reluctant to get married.

Company examines the lives of upper-middle-class New Yorkers through a world-weary lens. Some of the content would be considered daring half a century ago — marijuana puffing and a family man who (gasp!) makes a homosexual pass.

It was a more innocent time in terms of popular entertainment — the chart-toppers of 1970 included Ray Stevens’ Everything is Beautiful and Close to You by the Carpenters.

We now live in a post-feminist age where social mores are goosed along by the #MeToo movement. In 2020, Bobby’s picaresque adventures seem quaint in a Neil Simon-ish kind of way.

Perhaps anticipating such a reaction, Langham Court director Heather Jarvie notes in the program that Company contains “misogyny and sexism” and that the lyrics and story “are dated.” (Significantly, in an attempt to modernize the show, a gender-flipped version recently played London and New York to positive reviews.)

Langham Court’s production of Company, continuing to Feb. 1, is a mixed success. Opening night boasted well-performed numbers, notably Ladies Who Lunch and Getting Married Today.

Yet there is no getting around the fact the musical is indeed dated — it reflects social conventions that have largely come and gone. And while the cast has worked admirably hard with tough material, the performance was somewhat muddied by a plodding pace and lack of energy.

There’s certainly talent in this cast. Francesca Bitonti, a veteran musical-theatre performer, impressed with her rendition of Ladies Who Lunch, dispensed by the vodka-stinger-swilling Joanne.

Oddly, when the song began, Bitonti was seated and poorly lit (the other actors are frozen in a stagey tableau, which doesn’t help). Joanne finally rose halfway though the song and, thankfully, was illuminated by the footlights.

Emilee Nimetz injected Company with a welcome dollop of zest as Amy, a young woman who suffers cold feet on her wedding day.

Nimetz fast-balled Getting Married Today with the bristling energy of an over-caffeinated auctioneer — her bridal meltdown was a comic treat.

Another notable is Langham Court newcomer Sadie Evans, who plays ditzy airline hostess April. Evans has a pleasingly idiosyncratic comedic knack that showed in her delivery and the way she managed physical business, such as cheekily nudging Bobby out of the way with her backside to make room on a chair.

Vaughn Naylor showed a dapper sense of panache as Bobby. On this particular evening, his acting surpassed his singing. As a vocalist, Naylor (who sings without a vibrato) certainly had good moments; his phrasing and use of dynamics impressed on numbers such as Being Alive. Yet there was often a sense of restraint and overcaution — sometimes, big Broadway songs just need to be belted out.

This criticism applies across the board. To fully ignite, this production needs more vigour, crispness and nimbler pacing.

An onstage quartet, led by pianist Joe Hatherill, navigates a challenging score. A live band is always a treat, but some tunes were marred by the occasional out-of-tune toot.

A pair of moveable faux-brick flats dominates the set.

The stylized silhouette of the New York skyline is a nice touch.

Over the past six years, Victoria’s Bema Productions has earned a reputation for staging worthwhile theatre at Congregation Emanu-El on Blanshard Street. Overseen by the plucky Zelda Dean, the company has just opened the Canadian première of O My God! by Israeli playwright Anat Gov.

The irreverent comedy is about God seeking treatment from a therapist for depression. O My God! will be staged at 7:30 p.m. tonight and continues to Jan. 26. Tickets are available via dash.ticketrocket.co.

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