Classic Broadway shows are difficult to modernize. A vast majority of the shows that took twentieth-century stages are cut from the same humdrum, homogeneous cloth, offering little diversity in any sense of the word. They are stories about the same upper-middle-class people living average upper-middle-class lives, set to interminable ballads and show tunes with only a handful of true stand-outs. In a world as tumultuous and terrifying as our own, it can be difficult to retreat into a universe that contains no reflection of reality and instead focuses on presenting an artificial, polished facsimile.
Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical “Company” is no exception, with its main conflict centering around a man who just can’t seem to commit to a relationship and puts up with constant interference by his many married friends. Such a low-stakes show with such a cookie-cutter lead — how many movies and television shows have been based on the premise of a single man searching for a woman to call his own? — presents its fair share of adaptation obstacles, but Hoof ‘n’ Horn makes a spirited attempt to bring this story into 2018, one that ultimately results in an entertaining, if not very refreshing, crowd-pleaser.
The musical opens with Robert (played by first-year CJ Cruz), better known as Bobby, coming home to a surprise birthday party thrown by his friends. Bobby is unmarried but is currently juggling three girlfriends: outspoken Marta (first-year Multy Oliver), dull April (sophomore Kelly McLaughlin) and sweet Kathy (sophomore Sharon Kinsella). As he celebrates his 35th birthday, his friends — all married — grill him over his inability to settle down and find a wife of his own. Bobby contemplates this as he is swung from event to event and couple to couple and girlfriend to girlfriend (to girlfriend).
Meanwhile, his friends are also going through challenges: Sarah (sophomore Shaina Lubliner) and Harry (first-year Nicholas Chrapliwy) are trying to give up their respective vices; Susan (sophomore Holly Holder) and Peter (first-year Niall Schroder) are getting a divorce even though they still seem to be very much in love; Jenny (senior Clara Bird) and David (senior Savannah Lynn, playing a traditionally male role with expressive aplomb) are trying to please one another in spite of their different personalities; Amy (first-year Sarah Jacobs) and Paul (first-year Daniel Sprague) are getting married in spite of Amy’s manic breakdowns; and Joanne (sophomore Jenna Clayborn) and Larry (sophomore Tim Clayton) are suffering through what is now Joanne’s third marriage.
In spite of the unwieldy amount of characters and conflicts, the cast manages to keep the show’s vignettes fast-paced and the audience engaged. Every role is perfectly cast and played excellently — nobody ever dips in their commitment to their character or betrays their fatigue. They are high-energy until the final bow. The girls in particular are standouts, from Clayborn’s show-stopping performance of “Ladies Who Lunch” to Kinsella’s spellbinding solo dance in the second act to Jacobs’ hysterical, over-the-top breakdown during “Getting Married Today.” Cruz is a perfect Robert, delivering a performance that matches his unforgettable turn in “The Producers” in terms of impeccable comedic timing and strong vocals that fill the entire theater. It is the skill and enthusiasm of the cast that keeps “Company” running even when the show or score itself is lacking.
Attempts at bringing “Company” into the 21st century, however, are less successful. There is a fair amount of iPhone usage, from the replacement of answering machine messages at the beginning with voicemails on Robert’s phone to “Another Hundred People,” Marta’s big number, which features the cast walking through the streets of New York with their heads bent over their cell phones. While these moments are definitely impactful during their presentation, the underlying commentary isn’t quite sharp enough to be memorable and the entire effect ultimately falls flat. Some casting decisions, such as having Marta be black — which adds a new dimension to her spiel about befriending different people — are more potent and do a better job of updating “Company” for a 2018 audience. Today’s New York City is much more different than the New York City in which Sondheim conceived his musical and this production takes a stab at articulating this difference that sticks the landing.
“Company” itself is a very adult show, dwelling on themes of loneliness and companionship that are not always the most entertaining. However, the cast knows where to play up certain scenes to make them more dynamic and interesting, especially in the second act, which is one enjoyable number or monologue after another and helps the show zip along to its poignant conclusion after a somewhat stagnant first act. Everyone onstage is dancing and singing and acting their hearts out, an effort so genuine and jubilant that one can’t help but leave the theater with a smile on his face and a tune stuck in his head. “Company” may be far from a perfect Broadway show, particularly for a modern audience, but Hoof ‘n’ Horn has the spirit and talent to bring it to life.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect plot details for “Company.” The article has been updated with the correct details. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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