To celebrate its fortieth anniversary, The Crucible Theatre has chosen Stephen Sondheim's Company as its Christmas musical. When the theatre opened in 1971, Company swept the board at the Tony Awards, so it seems only fitting that this should be the choice of musical for the anniversary year.
The casting of Daniel Evans, the theatre's artistic director, in the lead role of Robert, and the inclusion of many faces familiar to those who've visited the theatre in recent years (including Claire Price, Ian Gelder, Anna-Jane Casey and Samantha Spiro) only serves to reinforce the feeling of this production being a celebration.
Whilst not perhaps as wide-ranging in its appeal as last year's Me and My Girl, Company's meditation on the nature of adult relationships offers characters that many of the audience will recognise and situations we will all have either been in, or seen others in. The fourteen-strong cast and the orchestra (hidden behind the New York skyline backdrop) do an admirable job with Sondheim's fast-paced lyrics and shift easily between speech, dance and song, never once letting the pace drop.
Evans is a charismatic lead as Robert, demonstrating wonderfully both his longings and his confusion. His wonderful on-stage chemistry with Claire Price, seen in The Pride earlier this year, is replicated here once more. However, whilst Evans is rarely off-stage, this is very much an ensemble piece. Every performer shines in both characterisation and vocal performance, from the hilarious Samantha Spiro and Francesca Annis to the sympathetic David Birrell and Anna-Jane Casey.
Christopher Oram's set and costumes perfectly evoke the feeling of early 1970s New York, alongside a range of 'interesting' period hairstyles and wigs. The set is complemented admirably by Neil Austin's superb lighting design, which very ably transforms a bachelor's apartment into a busy discotheque with no set change required.
Whilst Company is perhaps a brave choice for the Crucible's Christmas musical, the energy of this show, and the cast's evident enjoyment make it a very enjoyable and crowd-pleasing night out.
Company is at the Sheffield Crucible until January 7 2012.