The Academy Theatre keeps the edge on this 1970s Stephen Sondheim musical.

By: Stuart Duncan
   When Stephen Sondheim wrote Company in 1970, it was the fifth time he had written both music and lyrics. The critics were deeply divided about the show -— those who liked it wrote rave reviews; those who did not complained that it might be slick, but also brittle. Indeed it was a series of vignettes, involving uninteresting people, all seemingly following the same patterns.
   But everyone agreed that Sondheim’s score and lyrics were brilliant and well integrated into the action. The producers decided to advertise the show as a star vehicle for Elaine Stritch, who had stolen performance honors. When she left the show, the producers brought in Jane Russell and later, Vivian Blaine. Each time they profited from strong publicity.
   A revival at the Academy Theatre in Bordentown updates the show from the 1970s to the present. Director Brandon Szeker makes his first time with the directorial reins a winning one, principally by sticking to the show’s hard lessons, refusing to sentimentalize the disillusioned characters. He has noticed that each of the characters is seen primarily through the eyes of 30-year-old Bobby, a bachelor friend. And, more importantly, that that vision is skewed.
   Mr. Szeker’s cast is a strong one. You will have your own favorites among the 14 performers. I particularly enjoyed Alexandra Haas as Joanne, especially as she catches the nuances to "The Ladies Who Lunch"; Melissa Monzo, particularly in the touching "Barcelona"; and Jim Azzinaro Jr., as Harry, in every scene in which he appeared.
   Keith Nielsen is a natural clown who keeps his ebullience under control in this role (Larry) and therefore becomes more touching. Faye Meyer finds insights into Amy’s character not seen before. Director Szeker has rescued the second act from blandness by sharpening the realization that while relationships are seldom perfect, they are a necessary part of experiencing life.
   When Company opened in London, one of the major critics referred to it as "having the perfection and hardness of a blue-white diamond." Since that time, many productions have attempted to attract audiences by softening the hardness. This production allows some of the venom to show.
Company continues at the Academy Theatre, 146 Route 130, Bordentown, through Aug. 14. Performances: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Tickets cost $16, $12 seniors. For information, call (609) 291-9000. On the Web: www.theacademytheatre.com