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Company, Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago, at Theatre Building Chicago. The contrast between the ambivalence of five more or less married couples and the fecklessness of their seemingly confirmed bachelor friend fuels this early, episodic Stephen Sondheim musical: Bobby, unyoked at 35, has witnessed his friend's drug taking, boozing, infidelities, and threats of divorce. But his lust life of interchangeable dates produces its own midlife crisis. Sondheim and bookwriter George Furth cleverly chronicle the story's complications and contradictions in showpieces like "Sorry--Grateful," "Marry Me a Little," and "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and the warmth of true affection in "Side by Side by Side" and the title song.

Though the cast members are too young for their parts and some voices are unseasoned, L. Walter Stearns maintains his touch for Sondheim in this playful, bouncy, fluid tribute to New York in all its nuttiness. Company is a hungry show eager to assert its sometimes borrowed wisdom; Porchlight's rough-and-tumble urgency fits the bill. An instantly likable antihero, Charlie Clark as Bobby conveys both the curiously unattached bon vivant who fascinates his friends and the haunted loner who aches for connection in the enthralling "Being Alive." Other standouts include Rebecca Finnegan, whose bibulous ferocity in "The Ladies Who Lunch" makes one reconsider prohibition; Christa Buck's winsome stewardess (very moving in "Barcelona"); and Lina Kernan as a date too independent even for freedom-loving Bobby.

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