Title of performance: Company (based on a Stephen Sondheim musical and book by George Furth)
Theatre Company: Dream World Productions
Date of performance: 6 November 2012
Performance venue: Drama Centre Theatre
One’s impossible, two is dreary,
Three is company, safe and cheery.
Hot on the heels of a spate of Broadway and West End musicals put up by local theatre companies this year, Company by Dream World Productions came in good time. Who would have guessed that adult dinner conversations on relationships could make such good fodder for a musical, still a classic, 40 years on? The tagline was a “musical comedy about being single”, but it was more of a case for being married.
The First Act was a riot, where the audience was treated to a very in-your-face opening number performed by the entire cast. Clever choreography (George Chan) and lighting (Adrian Tan) surely drew in the audience with a spotlight, literally and figuratively, on “what it [was] all about”. As the venue is smaller than your usual one for musicals, it was a pleasant surprise that the space was capitalized to bring the actors and actresses closer to the audience – which really worked because the participatory element came on strong.
And once again, Eucien Chia’s masterful touch on the set was spotted when the audience drank in the well-designed penthouse apartment which could almost be mistaken for one of those condo showrooms in Singapore, complete with pull-out bed, wall sconces for lighting, what looked like a wooden freestanding staircase, and a second storey to simulate a balcony. Even the Steinway piano from the live orchestra, elevated strategically on the stage perhaps for lack of space, didn’t look out of place. The gem of this set, hands-down, was the tall street lamp which the male lead used to slide down from the balcony during two of his musical numbers. Cute.
The opening scene exploded into a burst of song and smattering of speech by 5 couples who had planned a surprise celebration for their friend Bobby’s 35th birthday. We were introduced to our male lead Bobby, played by Peter Ong, a relative newbie to the Singapore scene, but an opera regular. Ong was good but not great, his vocal chops shining through his tepid acting, playing a bewildered observer to the 5 crazy married couples chanting around him to get a wife. He was less of a smarmy bachelor and more safe, presenting a very nice-guy kind of vibe to Bobby such that some of his flirting scenes didn’t seem right. At the end of the musical the character evolved a little such that I felt like I was watching Josh Radnor’s despondent and confused character Ted on How I Met Your Mother.
The couples were the backbone of this production, really. The ladies in the cast (Candice De Rozario, Petrina Kow, Karen Tan, Tan Kheng Hua and Rebecca Spykerman) seemed much stronger than the men save for Juwanda Hassim playing Harry – smooth vocals and comedic timing down pat. When asked by Bobby whether he regrets being married, Harry lead the beautiful song dripping with irony which summed up much of the play’s take on marriage:
You’re always sorry,
You’re always grateful,
You hold her, thinking:
“I’m not alone.”
You’re still alone.
You don’t live for her,
You do live with her,
You’re scared she’s starting
To drift away,
And scared she’ll stay.
Why look for answers
When none occur?
You’ll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.
Petrina Kow’s frenetic portrayal of phobic bride-to-be Amy deserves notable mention as she had the audience in stitches at some of her lines – “It’s raining. It’s a sign, thank God. Now tell him!” Each of the 5 couples presented a different quirk or pitfall of being together, but resigned themselves to the benefits of having companionship that outweighed the dreariness of having to constantly be with someone. The short vignettes in the play were perfect to showcase the strange creature that is marriage or couple-dom, with all its friendly competition and karate fights, divorces, embarrassing dancing, sardonic soliloquies, responsibilities that bind.
It didn’t help that Bobby was paired in the different scenes with three way off-the-mark girls: the one who got away, Kathy (Glory Ngim), boring but shapely flight stewardess April (Seong Hui Xuan), and the crude and narcissistic Marta who insisted that Orchard Road was the centre of the universe (Mina Ellen Kaye). It helped the comedy, though. Marriage is strange, but some single people are stranger.
It’s not rocket science that a single person can have a string of serial dates and no holds barred casual sex without the commitment, but face a kind of loneliness that gnaws into you at the end of the day. I think Company strikes the balance of not being overly didactic about marriage, yet acknowledges the fact that it is very difficult being a single person surrounded by married people.
The satisfaction of watching this production came surprisingly in the unresolved note to Bobby’s dilemma on marriage. Bobby had examined marriage, proclaimed it is “all that”, and questioned “what do you get for it”. Company makes few value judgments in the end, and under the meticulous and skillful hand of director Hossan Leong, is indeed a very enjoyable watch even if it’s just for the laughs. Musically, it may not have hit all the right notes when some of the cast went off-pitch or screamed their numbers a little. On the whole, however, the thoughtful treatment by the production of the choice to be married or remain single, will make you feel like you’re in good company. Catch this production in its extended run, and you will have a blast.
Jtbeans is grateful to Dream World Productions for the invitation and ticket to review the production. The views and opinions in this piece are purely the author’s own. “Company” by Dream World Productions is playing at the Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, from 1-17 November 2012. Tickets available from SISTIC.