Dream World’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company got off to a blazing start at the National Library Drama Centre Theatre yesterday as the ensemble cast came together for an introspection into the intricacies of love, sex and all the jazz.
Director Hossan Leong was right on the money with the interplay of scent in the theatre, as he said in an earlier interview exclusively with Popspoken. One step into the theatre and you are greeted with a pleasant woody scent with floral notes — somewhat whimsical for a bachelor pad but very telling of the kind of person Bobby (played by Peter Ong) is. Set designer Eucien Chia has done a marvellous job taking advantage of the height of the theatre stage, with a 2-storey loft set-up that is shaped such that the corner of the apartment is facing the audience. The diamond-shaped floor plan is made even more interesting with the loft being elevated, leaving a strip of floor downstage free for non-linear scenes to be acted out, detached from the permanent loft set-up. Nice way also to stash small props underneath the platform without a huge blackout — a plus, in my eyes. (Sorry, I can be very critical of such small things. I did study theatre, so there, have at it.)
The live band on an elevated platform to stage right was a refreshing choice, considering they are usually hidden from public view or not even employed in lieu of backing tracks. Joanne Ho’s masterful piano strokes led to invigorating stresses and breaks as the ensembles delves into the opening intro and first song “Company” with a tad bit more choreography than in other Company stagings. Nevertheless, choreographer George Chan brings out the actor in the dancing, with a focus on actions and gestures rather than splits or pirouettes. Across the vignettes, there is a sense that although the plot suggests these characters are not interconnected, the familial camaraderie makes the show feel much more fuzzy and loving.
This also helped the charisma flow easy too. Malaysia actor Peter Ong delivers a stunning performance as Bobby as he makes you believe the lead role’s trials and tribulations in commiting to love someone forever. The intended superficiality in his suave tone and demeanour is mixed with a more mellow vigour not associated with the young playboy set. That Peter manages to make the sum of disparate parts believable is a superb anchor to the couples’ plots revolving around him. Jokes flow easier too, especially with Petrina Kow’s portrayal of worrywart Amy who panicks big time (AND I MEAN BIG. BLOODY. TIME.) on marriage day to Paul (played by Tim Garner). A super-fast rendition of “Getting Married Today” seals the deal. If Petrina ever leaves her DJ day job, theatre is the calling she should answer.
Special mentions to Joanne’s character (played by Tan Kheng Hua) singing (AND I MEAN SHE. BLOODY. SANG.) “The Ladies Who Lunch” with as much gusto and braggadocio as the one in the Broadway revival rendition. Peter (played by Ivan Choong) looks flamboyantly manly in his not-straight-not-gay role. Kudos to Daniel Boey for a polished wardrobe that is even better than other Company musicals elsewhere — you get a legitimate feel that Peter is in some really successful mid-30s company.
At the end of the day, Company will be remembered by young-in Seong Hui Xian who stole the show as the ditzy flight attendant April. Think a Singlish Barbarella who is willing to go the distance. Hui Xian almost upstaged Peter but the April-Bobby back-and-forth made their scene a standout. April says the most stupefying things but I had concerns if the butterfly dialogue that leads to some steamy between-the-sheets action was going to work, given the Singaporean humour April’s character was going for. While the delivery did not make much sense, the chemistry between Hui Xian and Peter pieced the scene well. For someone who has just been doing theatre locally for 2 years, Hui Xian is destined for the big time.
Company is one to watch not just to see Sondheim finally be staged in Asia, but to see a musical adaptation finally done right: not as deconstructed as other adaptations with some snazzy talk-sings and jazz hands but more intimate with the individual scenes and Peter Ong’s relatable acting. Trust us, his solo song for “Being Alive” will take your breath away.
Company runs from now until November 11 at the National Library Board’s Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets are from $57-$97. All ticket prices are not inclusive of the $3 SISTIC booking fee. Tickets are available at SISTIC.