DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: “Company” at 5 & Dime Theatre

Downtown Jacksonville’s The 5 & Dime Theatre went back to 1970 – almost five decades ago – to present Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company,” which opened on April 20th, 2018. Remarkably, this Tony Award winner is just as relevant today as when it first opened on Broadway. The 5 & Dime’s production runs through May 6th, 2018, with evening performances on Fridays and Saturdays, a matinee on Sunday, April 29th, and both a matinee and an evening performance on Sunday, May 6th. See their Facebook page for tickets and additional information and tickets.

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“Company” revolves around Bobby, a New York man-about-town who is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday. His friends include five couples who are either married or engaged and three single girlfriends; they all wish the best for Bobby and hope he will decide to marry. Soon.

The show begins with Bobby’s party, complete with presents, cake and candles, and the show ends with his blowing out those candles. In between, he has repeated encounters of the troublesome kind with his friends which lead to his making up his mind on the topic of marriage. And of course, we are not going to tell you what he decided.

He visits Sarah (Jennifer O’Brien) who is addicted to food and Harry (Brandon Hines) who is addicted to liquor. Both cheat behind the other’s back, not sexually, but by succumbing to their cravings for addictive foods and drink. Their karate fight in the middle of Bobby’s visit is a laugh riot.

Peter (Mike Yarick) and Susan (Christine Phillips) are getting a divorce but are planning to continue to live together because they can’t stand living apart. Pete confides to a surprised Bobby that he has had several homosexual encounters.

Jenny (Jocelyn Geronimo) and David (Daniel Austin) are usually strait-laced; no profanity, devoted to the kids. But when Bobby visits, they end up sharing a couple of joints filled with marijuana, the drug of choice in the seventies. Jenny gets high (after a time) and curses up a storm, a very funny scene indeed.

Amy (Katie Swider McCloskey) a devout Catholic, is a reluctant almost-bride who declares on her wedding day she is not going through with marrying Paul (Rodney Holmes), the handsome Jewish would-be groom, and Bobby is caught in the middle of the ensuing chaos. Katie sings the comical “Getting Married Today” with zest and a great singing voice. Does she change her mind and decide it’s worth walking to the altar after all? You’ll have to see for yourself.

Larry (Matt Barnes) and Joanne (Amy Allen Farmer) represent the older crowd, as the characters are both over forty. Amy gets to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a fabulous showstopper. Although the song is acrid, Larry, her third husband, remains pleasant and sympathetic.

Bobby’s girlfriends are Marta (Isabella Martinez), who loves New York; Kathy (Carley Stickney), who hates New York; and April (Julie Harrington), a pretty airline hostess who describes herself as dumb and winningly sings the popular  “Barcelona.” The three unite to perform together in the rousing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”

Well-known actor Josh Waller is perfect as Bobby. He’s the right age, with wholesome good looks and a well-groomed beard. More importantly, Waller can act as we have see in many shows going back to his days at Jacksonville University. And his singing in this role is better than we have ever heard it done. Waller has a voice with a range that can handle the fine points of Sondheim’s scintillating music.

All the voices are splendid, as they must be for a successful production; this music can be difficult for less experienced singers. Band members included Music Director and Conductor Erin Barnes (Piano), Andrew Sardoni (Synthesizer), Alexander Hernandez (Woodwind), Tony Fidyk (Percussion), and Sean Tillis (Bass).

The talented Ron Shreve did a remarkable job of casting, directing, and musical staging, and also choreographed the spectacular dances with the aid of Daniel Austin, who was also dance captain.

The eye-catching set was designed by the team of Bryce Cofield, Tom Fallon and Lee Hamby, with creative lighting  by Austin Kelm. The walls were covered with color blocks of blue, gray, and black that emphasized the play’s modern urban setting. Movable painted wooden boxes were used to portray furniture. 

The costume design was a collaboration between the director and the cast. The costumes were colorful and appropriate for the stage action.

Stephen Sondheim is wildly popular, with his talents seen for fifty years in theatres throughout the world. He has won eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. He was the composer and lyricist for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeny Todd,” and “Into the Woods,” to name just a few of his works. He also wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

Additional production crew members included Katie Cress and Ashley Weldon (Stage Managers); Lee Hamby (Production Manager); Austin Kelm (Lighting Design); Jetti Godwin (Light Board Operator); and Blake Johnson (Costume Assistant).

Next up for the theatre is “The 5 & Dime LIVE! All That Jazz – May 18 – 20.”  See their Facebook page for details.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.