Wedding Bell Blahs

Only Stephen Sondheim or the devil could build an entire musical around a 35-year-old bachelor spending two and a half hours trying to decide whether he's ready for marriage. Get over yourself, jackass.

Come to think of it, apart from two or three sufferable songs in Sondheim's Company, now playing at the Arvada Center, this may just be the music they play in hell. Because "hellish" is the only word to describe watching some of the best actors in town try to sell this unfunny muck. This cast and director can't be blamed--they give it their all. No, Sondheim alone must be held accountable for all that is bad in Company.

The show's only saving grace is that most of the songs are not only bad, they are thoroughly forgettable. They won't haunt your sleep like the gorgeous "Ol' Man River" from Show Boat or the jazzy title song from 42nd Street (better musical bets currently playing in town). Sondheim's few good tunes here have little staying power, but at least they're not wholly unpleasant.

Sadly, there's nothing clever about the story. It has no plot, no character development, no conflict and nothing amusing, much less intelligent, to say about male-female relationships. Sondheim's not just a misogynist, he's a misanthrope as well. He apparently hates women a little more than he hates men, but basically, he despises everyone.

The story, such as it is, concerns our birthday boy, Bobby. All of his friends are married now, and each of them wishes Bobby their own measure of married bliss--except the husbands, who keep telling him he's better off as he is. In the ghastly ditty "The Little Things You Do Together," the couples celebrate mean-spiritedness as the secret to their marriages. Bobby, who has three girls on a string, is in no hurry to join them.

As he visits each of the married couples, he finds common threads of shrewishness, hostility and alcoholism. The men all look down on their wives, and the wives all torture their husbands. Only the soon-to-be-married Amy properly appreciates her fiance, who is likewise somewhat less of a jerk than the other men in the story. At the very end of the play, another husband reveals a long-suffering kindness toward his wife--hard-bitten Joanne, the worst of all the women in the play.

As Bobby slips in and out of relationships, the women he meets are all patently unsuitable for him: Cathy is fed up with his nonsense and decides to return to Cape Cod to embark on one more empty marriage in the name of "real life"; flight attendant April is a total twit; and artsy Marta is a screwball. When the aging Joanne comes on to Bobby in the last scene, her ardent intentions somehow wake him up to the importance of marriage, and he declares himself ready for a relationship. Marriage, it seems, is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Thaddeus Valdez plays Bobby as an affable if soulless dope--Valdez is attractive, has a pleasant voice and manages to move well through director/choreographer Len Kiziuk's classy dance routines. Glenna Kelly (who was terrific in last summer's Stanton's Garage) makes a highly convincing drunk as Joanne; the snide "The Ladies Who Lunch" is the most despicable song of the evening, but Kelly belts it out with pizzazz. Penny Alfrey as the bridal Amy is endearing as ever when she sings about getting the jitters in the almost-amusing patter song "Getting Married Today." Beth Malone has an unusual, striking voice that makes "Another Hundred People" one of the few not-so-low spots of the evening.

Director Kiziuk does his best to engender life in this deathly material, but not even a director of his talent can leaven the lump of Sondheim's cynicism. None of the characters has a reference point outside himself or herself, and while three is company in Sondheim's view of the marital universe, two is torment and one is a bore.


Company, through May 11 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 431-3939.


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