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Love, marriage side by side in SF Playhouse’s lively ‘Company’

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Keith Pinto, left, and Ryan Drummond appear in San Francisco Playhouse’s engaging production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli)

Looking for a musical summer cocktail? Blend five parts marriage with three marriage prospects and pour over one challenging bachelor. Shake with a standard-filled Stephen Sondheim score and you’ve got “Company,” the groundbreaking 1970 musical that helped redefine the genre.

The show, which just settled into San Francisco Playhouse for the summer, is director Susi Damilano’s second date with Sondheim after last summer’s “Into the Woods.”

In her staging of George Furth’s sharply written vignettes, Bobby’s (Keith Pinto) girlfriends come and go, but Damilano keeps him and those “good-and-crazy people,” his married friends, literally ever present on the multi-level set. It’s a nicely subtle nod to the constant pressure on her leading man to “want something” as one character exhorts in the finale.

The couples are a wonderful mix of Bay Area talent plus a few new faces. Music director Dave Dobrusky does an excellent job blending the rich voices with a two-piano accompaniment.

Bravos go to Jenny (Abby Sammons) and David (Ryan Drummond) whose pot-smoking scene is beyond funny, with Drummond giving a master class in how to wring laughter out of stillness.

Sarah (Velina Brown) and Harry (Christopher Reber) expertly hold up the other side of the physical comedy spectrum with their knock-down karate session, and Susan (Nicole Weber) and Peter (Michael Scott Wells) are sweetly giddy as the couple who breaks up to stay together.

It’s clear that Larry (Richard Frederick) genuinely loves Joanne (Stephanie Prentice) in spite of her insecurities, and Prentice has an easy grasp of her character’s bitterness and frustration in the dialogue, but could dig deeper for a more varied delivery of “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Handsome, sweet, so in love, Paul (John Paul Gonzalez) breaks hearts as he crumbles when Amy (Monique Hafen) melts down and calls off their wedding. Hafen, with “Getting Married Today” and the subsequent scene, fearlessly breaks out of her heretofore utterly respectable ingénue mode and brings a golden, full-throttle bravura comedy performance.

The charming trio of Marta (Teresa Attridge), Kathy (Michelle Drexler) and April (Morgan Dayley) deliver a chipper “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” showing off the best of choreographer Kimberly Richards’ work.

Attridge nicely plays the character’s requisite spunk and sass but “Another Hundred People” doesn’t land like it could; Drexler is lovely in one of the show’s most poignant and revealing scenes; and Dayley is spot-on as the self-deprecating flight attendant, though her spotlight moment in “Barcelona” feels awkwardly staged.

The show, of course, is all about Bobby-bubbie-baby. In Pinto, the role is blessed by a handsome, enormously talented song-and-dance man with megawatts of sparkle. What it lacks is that crack in the veneer, that hint of vulnerability that justifies all the fuss. It was palpable in his Baker in “Into the Woods”; Pinto needs to find that piece again to make this character whole.

Presented by San Francisco Playhouse
Where: 450 Post St., S.F.
When: Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Sept. 12
Tickets: $20 to $120
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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