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New(ish) Shoot the Glass Theater keeps good 'Company' at New Century

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The 250-seat New Century Theatre isn't the first venue that comes to mind when you think of a place to stage a Broadway musical, but Shoot the Glass Theater makes it a perfect home for Company, Stephen Sondheim's cozy comedy about a perpetual third wheel who bounces among his married friends' homes.

Company

New Century Theatre
$38

Bobby (Ryan Nielson) borrows both physical and emotional couch space from his friends as he wrestles with his own feelings about marriage. Turning 35, Bobby is everyone's favorite friend to drink with and to flirt with. The five couples in Bobby's life would all like to see him happily wed, but their positions are complicated by the fact that their own relationships demonstrate just how unsettled "settled down" can be.

One of the many charms of this 1970 musical is that George Furth's book dispenses with a conventional plot. That frees Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics, to focus on small encounters and character observations, unencumbered by forced exposition. Director William Pacholski knows what this show does best, and his staging is fluid without glossing over the awkward moments and open questions.

A new company with a process "focused primarily on actors," Shoot the Glass is off to a promising start with Company, their second show. (The first was Rabbit Hole, presented this past summer at Dreamland Arts.) The cast wear their characters as comfortably as old shoes, with the women in particular reveling in the humor and the pathos.

Sarah (Dorothy Owen), who's picked up on the era's karate craze, is an energetic foil to her easygoing husband Harry (Daniel Greco). Joanne (Emily Jansen, perpetually wearing a facial expression of infinite irony) likes to test her patiently doting third husband Larry (Doug Petty). Jenny (Quinn Shadko) is a nice girl who might just be ready for a walk on the wild side after her husband David (Kyler Chase) gets her to toke up, while Susan (Sarah Zuber) and Peter (Eric Heimsoth) love each other so much, they get a divorce to prove it.

The most fully-developed relationship among Bobby's friends is that of love-sodden Paul (Joseph Hitchcock) and his fianceé Amy (Kaitlin Klemencic), whose wedding-day cold feet might have something to do with her attraction to the best man -- guess who. We also meet three of Bobby's girlfriends: progressive-minded Marta (Alice McGlave), long-suffering Kathy (Lizzie Rainville), and simple-minded flight attendant April. Karissa Lade finds a warm humanity in that disappointingly stereotyped character, and "Barcelona," her tender duet with Bobby, is a musical highlight.

Nielson has the right look for Bobby and demonstrates a nice touch with his character, but the portrayal could be more sharply defined: When it comes time to build dramatic momentum for his climactic solo, it's too little, too late. Still, it's a generous performance in the sense that he leaves space for his castmates to shine -- and they do.

An added source of enjoyment is music director Randy Buikema's small pit band, who are positioned behind the stage and become part of the action. When they're not interacting with the characters (in one case, even finishing an abandoned drink), it's fun just to watch the players react to the onstage shenanigans.

The set is virtually nonexistent, leaving lots of room for Lauri Kraft's varied and amusing choreography. The costumes are attractive, and help to define the characters (a dignified jacket for the mature Larry, a short springy dress for the neurotic and vibrant Amy). Though some of the production's updates to this material are welcome, it nonetheless seems a missed opportunity to set the show in the present, when its preoccupations are so redolent of its era.

Sondheim's famously fast-paced, complex songs are like Olympic gymnastics routines: Executing them properly takes lots of practice and great concentration, but if they're not executed with style and personality, it's all for naught. The Shoot the Glass cast don't quite stick every landing, but they get such high marks for expression that this Company earns a gold medal.