Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 concept musical is an exploration of love, lust, and whether it’s better to be single or married. Due to its unconventional nature, Company will not be everybody’s cup of tea and those expecting a mainstream sing-along affair will be disappointed. The show has no linear plot, but rather examines its central themes through a series of sketches. However, famed local director Hossan Leong believes that now is good time to put on the show in Singapore as there are a lot of single people in the country who are wondering the same thing as Company’s protagonist, Bobby (Peter Ong) – ‘Should we just find a nice girl and settle down, or will we be happier with an endless string of girl/boyfriends?’
In an attempt to make the musical even more relatable, Leong has decided to move the location of the show from New York to Singapore. While this is successful on some levels – the references to hawker food in one scene got plenty of laughs, for instance – there are also times when it feels forced. When one of Bobby’s girlfriends, the Filipina Marta (Mina Ellen Kaye), says that she came to Singapore because ‘it is the heart of the universe’, it didn’t quite make sense. Yes, this Little Red Dot is great, but Singapore is no New York.
The sketches, which form the backbone of the show and portray Bobby’s interaction with five pairs of his closest friends, are meant to show us what different aspects of married life is like. Some couples are fantastic; the soon-to-be-married Paul (Tim Garner) and Amy (Petrina Kow) share a tangible chemistry as the former tries to be doting and reassuring while the latter has a nervous breakdown on their wedding day, and Sarah (Candice de Rozario) and Harry (Juanda Hassim), who are supposedly on a diet and on the wagon respectively, also make a brilliantly comical pair.
The others, however, are mostly sweet but frankly quite forgettable, as their characters were not fully developed. Tan Kheng Hua, as great an actress as she is, overplays her character Joanne, as she seems too confident to play an insecure character who is both too young for the old crowd and too old for the young crowd. The skit with David (Brendon Fernandez) and Jenny (Karen Tan) getting high with Bobby is also confusing and highly unconvincing, particularly as their animated rants and fast-paced dialogue is not a characteristic commonly associated with the effects caused by marijuana.
Ong’s interpretation of Bobby comes across as one-dimensional. There is very little character development throughout the first act especially; he is far too easy-going and laid back to be the protagonist, and his friends apparently have nothing negative to say about him, which makes him a rather unrealistic character. His character shows more depth in the second act, however, and he finishes on a strong note as he sings the well-loved classic ‘Being Alive’ with heart-felt emotion.
One of my favourite parts the show is Kow’s rendition of the notoriously difficult ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’, which she nails as she successfully brings out the vulnerability and terror of a bride-to-be without overdoing it. Another highlight is Seong Hui Xuan’s performance as Bobby’s well-endowed bimbo girlfriend April, as she manages to be dim and adorable in equal measures without coming across as annoying. I also very much enjoyed the sexily delivered ‘You Can Drive A Person Crazy’ by Seong, Ngim, and girlfriend number three Kathy(Glory Ngim).
The minimalist no-frills set, designed by Eucien Chia, screams bachelor pad, and the pull-down bed is ingenious. It achieves its purpose of providing a backdrop without overshadowing the action going on.
Does the production accomplish what it sets out to? Yes and no. It does make for a fun night out at the theatre, but I didn’t come away feeling the love it’s supposed to convey, and Bobby’s revelation that he would like to get married seems too sudden and unfounded. That said, considering how difficult a musical Company is and the fact that the cast had only spent six weeks on rehearsals, this is not too shabby a performance. Were they able to dedicate more time to understanding these very complex characters, I believe it has the potential to be a much stronger show.