The Carnegie Is Off to a Fresh Start with 'Company'

It’s anambitious artistic director who opens her first full theater season with a showby Stephen Sondheim. But Maggie Perrino has show biz in her blood — her father,Tim Perrino, is the force behind Cincinnati Landmark Productions — so shedoesn’t do thing

It’s an ambitious artistic director who opens her first full theater season with a show by Stephen Sondheim. But Maggie Perrino has show biz in her blood — her father, Tim Perrino, is the force behind Cincinnati Landmark Productions — so she doesn’t do things halfway. Producing Sondheim and George Furth’s Company at The Carnegie in Covington is a sign that she’ll proceed with confidence. While the show is a bit uneven, it has plenty to recommend it.

First and foremost is Zachary Huffman’s performance as Robert, the bachelor whose friends buzz around him, trying to find the right girlfriend, extolling the virtues of marriage and enjoying vicariously his single status. Robert (or Bobby or Robby or Bobby bubi, he answers to all these nicknames) has avoided commitment and spent much his time as the third wheel socializing with his married friends. He’s in most every scene in Company, but as several characters point out, he’s always aloof, always “on the outside looking in.” Huffman, tall and raffish with a winning smile and a comfortably casual presence, seems like the kind of guy who would be everyone’s friend.

Huffman, however, can also sing with power and emotion — as he proves in “Marry Me a Little,” the number that concludes the first act with an appeal to move beyond his present lonely state, and again in the show’s finale, “Being Alive,” when Robert has an angry emotional breakthrough, recognizing that he needs to share himself in a more connected way to feel truly engaged in life.

He gets there following a series of scenes with couples in his acquaintance: Director Carrie Danieley tweaked the script a bit for the first of these, replacing the role of Harry with “Harriet” (Kathryn Zajac) to create a more contemporary lesbian couple. The spouse remains Sarah (Marta Backman Hyland), and they still clash over alcohol and food, as well as waging a karate contest that ends up with the two of them and Robert piled on the floor. The truth is that the gender change isn’t distracting, and the comedy remains intact.

We watch Robert get startled by an announcement from Peter and Susan (Will Reed and Clarisse Minter) about their decision to file for a happy divorce. He smokes pot with David and Jenny (Jeremy Montana Long and Mary Kate Vanegas) and hangs out pre-wedding with Paul (Wes Carman) and Amy (Sara Kenny) whose anxiety is conveyed with considerable humor and physicality in the rapid-fire number, “Getting Married Today.” We meet his three girlfriends — nice girl Kathy (Kathryn Miller, who dances a seldom-included number, “Tick Tock”), free spirit Marta (Aiden Marie Sims) and space cadet stewardess April (whose daffy scene in Robert’s bedroom is naively hilarious). And we watch bitter Joanne (Stephanie Louise Park) pick on her nice guy husband Larry (John Langley) and raise the roof with the iconic song, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

A few of these actors are a tad young for their roles, but they’re all able performers. Park needs more venom to land the show’s penultimate moment. But Huffman brings it all home with his bravura performance.

Ron Shaw’s scenic design — an abstract New York City skyline — looks fine on the Carnegie’s small, tight stage. Choreography by Jennifer Martin works well in the early going when the friends move as one, leaning and swaying in a synchronized way that reflects their unanimity of purpose; it gets a bit too busy in later scenes. Erin McCamley provides fluid musical support conducting a pit band of six musicians; the tempos in the opening numbers felt unusually slow on opening night, but by the second act, everything seemed to be moving at a steady clip. Sondheim’s jazzy pop score sounded good, and the vocal work was generally well supported.

Perrino has demonstrated an ability to assemble a solid production. She’ll continue the Carnegie’s theater season with the award-winning mystery Sleuth in November, a concert staging of The Wizard of Oz in January and Jason Robert Brown’s musical about a marriage that comes undone backwards and forwards in time, The Last Five Years, in April. I’m eager to see what she comes up with.

COMPANY , presented by The Carnegie, continues through Aug. 30.