In Review


4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars - 'Right on the Money'
San Francisco Playhouse
Stephen Sondheim - music and lyrics
George Furth - book
Review by

Company opens with Robert (Keith Pinto) silently musing so intently into the future that you can smell his bourbon. For a brief moment, he’s alone on the set, with its projected drop of a black & off-white Statute of Liberty and martini glass complete with etched skyline, and you know you’re in for a good ride.

Three years ago, San Francisco Playhouse pulled off a small miracle – the ticket to the (hopefully) good theatrical life. Their tiny cast of My Fair Lady (MFL) won fans among theatre and non-theatre people, going places that MFL has never gone before while exercising complete fidelity to the original. Some of us who try to keep a finger on the pulse on Bay Area theatre thought it could not be repeated.

Hah! I love being wrong.

Since then, SF Playhouse has brought us some of the best moments of Bay Area theatre. Not like My Fair Lady – Bill English and Susi Damilano are too smart to try to repeat that – but qualitatively different best moments – Jerusalem, Tree, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and more. This Company echoes these past successes while remaining entirely itself – which is the sweet space for any show.

Company - San Francisco Playhouse Review
Engaged couple Paul (John Paul Gonzalez) and Amy (Monique Hafen).

This SF Playhouse Company (one of Sondheim’s most lauded shows – although there’s plenty of room for competition) also goes places that no production of Company has gone before.

You’re not looking at some 1970 set piece. Company remains so vital you have to pay attention to this microscope on everyone’s marriage, complete with ironies, compromises, and connections for which we all keep looking. Minor updates – like smartphones – quicken the snappy pace and give the thing an edge that’s not entirely obvious in the original – at least from a 45 year distance.

Company - SF Playhouse - Stark Insider Review
Paul (John Paul Gonzalez) prepares for his wedding.

Taking on pass on the full orchestration was a another smart move; instead SF Playhouse repeated the two-piano thing that worked so well in MFL, this time bringing them onstage where they framed the multi-platform set upon which the cast moved so nimbly. The sharply dissonant step-and-a-half musical motif (“Bob-by”) demands your attention. This Sondheim score works its magic better when articulated on piano than drowning in lush mix.

Company - SF Playhouse - Stark Insider Review
Kathy (Michelle Drexler) and Robert (Keith Pinto) go for a walk together.

Choreography is tight, well executed, and complete with all the satisfying big signature flourishes. The SF Playhouse trailer opens a tiny window into this, but trust me, it doesn’t do the choreography full justice.

You’re not looking at some 1970 set piece.

Company brings back Monique Hafen as Amy, whose scene toward the end of the first act is so loaded that it almost feels like a whole act unto itself. The same is true for Joanne Prentice’s Lady’s Who Lunch, which feels infinitely more vulnerable and savage than the original 1970 recording. Once again, one marvels anew at how Sondheim gets women.

Company - San Francisco Playhouse Review
Amy (Monique Hafen) starts to have second thoughts about her wedding,

And then of course, there’s Keith Pinto, who also doubles as dance captain. I could happily watch this thing in its entirely just to watch Pinto pull off his note perfect trick of appearing entirely distant and simultaneously engaged.

Company plays San Francisco Playhouse through September 12. This one’s good enough to take in twice.

Photos by Jessica Palopoli.

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.
  • Bill Elias

    You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve attended really good SF Playhouse performances in the past. This isn’t one of them. By partially updating the story with cellphones and (really?) references to Madonna’s cone bra – it just makes the entire story reflect how out of date it is. There was so much going on in 1970 when the original premiered on Broadway – and you can’t take it out of that period – the sexual revolution, the fight for women’s rights, the breaking out of stricter societal morays from the past. All of that is lost in this half-modernized production. Do we blame the director for that decision? And someone please have a discussion with wardrobe (or perhaps give them a budget to work with). Doesn’t matter how hard the cast tried to make this show relevant, it was a stinker.