by Elizabeth Ann Foster
I hope to take you figuratively to the performance I witnessed. An amazing thing about live theater is that it is gone with the curtain, and each time it is performed, it is different. “The live effect of theatre is undeniable in carrying the story and touching people’s lives,” says composer Lebo M. of Lion King fame.
The messages on the cellphone are numerous from well-wishing friends as Bobbie (Katrina Lenk) begrudgingly tries to hang up her birthday “35” balloons. The doorbell ring, and in comes Company! Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 groundbreaking musical comedy has been given a few tucks to hide its actual age.
In need of a complete facelift, Company is back on Broadway, transferring from the West End production. Lyrics were updated in the 1990s, and 2021 has also seen the roles updated. A further update sorely needed is the number 35. All of Bobbie’s friends keep asking why she isn’t married yet. When is she going to start a family? All the pressure as she reaches the ripe old age of—35 seems unrealistic today. 55 is the new 35. A mere 35 seems almost as if you are still in grad school.
We travel into the mind of Bobbie and see her thoughts and dreamscapes as she turns the big 35.
As Jamie in one of the updated roles, Matt Doyle stole the show. He managed to get a more extended, louder standing ovation than even Patti Lupone (Joanne) the night we attended. And for a good reason – the entire “Getting Married Today” song had the audience in an uproar with the priest popping out of appliances and Doyle’s frenzied antics. One of the audience members commented, “The gay guy always steals the show.” Doyle could easily be cast as Bobbie’s next incarnation, making Joanne’s offer of her third husband for a tryst even more decadent.
“It took 25 years to achieve a dream, to be in a Sondheim musical. Interpreting any great artist elevates a performer. We stand taller, we become more serious, precise, and disciplined, and Steve was the master,” says Lupone. She belts out the iconic song “The Ladies Who Lunch” as if written for her. I never had the opportunity to see Elaine Stritch as Joanne, but I am sure Lupone is giving her a run for the money.
Chris Fisher’s mirage and illusions were brilliant, including the thunderstorm and downpour that thankfully kept the audience dry. Tune in – watch the scenic design by Bunny Christie and identify the recurring theme of 35 in each of the changing sets. From creative works of art encapsulating the numbers to the actual time 3:05 or 5:03 for the second half. How many three and fives can you find?
Another impressive touch is the rearrangement of the neon letters “COMPANY” set on wheels and rolled around the stage by the cast. At one point, they spell “NYC,” and the cast is hanging onto straps from the letters as if on a subway train. “Y” is always a martini glass with the olive and toothpick forming an exclamation point. Many clever devices appear in this production, so stay awake and go easy on the Bourbon, Bobbie’s signature drink.
The orchestra was suspended above the action on stage, a welcoming scene. After seeing one too many plays with recorded music, this was indeed a homecoming – back to Broadway with a full live orchestra.
Katrina Lenk cast as Bobbie possesses a broad canvas of a face where expressions can be painted for all to see–like the scene where Bobbie goes on and on about their neighbor, how old and lonely they are to Jaime–only to realize she was putting her foot in her mouth. Lenk’s expression is priceless with those wide-set eyes and brow furled to the left saying it all – “Oooops.” Rarely does one find an actress possessing a nuanced look that conveys so much. Louboutin’s signature red soles would have enhanced her outfit and matched her red ensemble.
To be seen in NYC on Broadway since it’s based on the scene in the city of the 70’s.
Larry Kent who played the bachelor Robert aka Bobbie in the 1971 production stated, “Company is all about how difficult it is to be married and how much more difficult it is to not be married.” The play is a fast-paced romp in the lives of five of Bobbie’s coupled friends as she ponders the virtues of marriage and fantasizes about herself with her current lineup of potential suitors.
Only in live theatre can some mishaps happen. My view was totally blocked by a latecomer seated after the overture. My ticket was not discounted for an obstructed view so at intermission I requested a seat change. They positioned me standing along the rails in the rear of the orchestra section as there were no available seats left in the house. I joined a dozen or so fellow vertical patrons with my arm in a sling holding a hat, gloves, scarf, winter coat, program, and drink. My phone turned over and the faintest light appeared for a nanosecond from under my coat. From behind me an usher barked that I should immediately turn off the phone because the actors can see that light– “You cannot have your phone on!” She was so loud that three rows turned around to glare, one shushing her. Putting my coat down to address the phone issue another terse command salvo was discharged, “You can’t leave your coat there!” “I wasn’t planning on leaving my coat as it’s below freezing outside”, was not the response the usher desired. She dedicated the rest of the show time to monitoring and correcting the location of my coat, scarf, gloves, drink, hat, playbill, arm sling, and phone. She reprimanded me six more times during the second act. To my credit, I was not caught with my mask worn improperly – a minor victory of sorts. She didn’t make me sit in the corner, list my name on the chalkboard, or write the definition of “uncooperative” 500 times tonight and have my mother sign it.
The other ushers were likely trained by the same disciplinarian. They diligently patrolled the aisles every 15 minutes to shine their flashlights on mask violators. I found that surprising as I was led to believe light disturbed the actors. I wonder if this strict regimen of theatre discipline is part of the new usher training of which I’ve heard rumors. They were more than intrusive than a regular theater-goer might expect at this performance. They seemed off.
The bars are open again as of Tuesday, February 2, 2022, in all Shubert theaters.
Opening Night.Online and The Front Row Center recommends seeing Company now in memoriam of Stephan Sondheim, as these are the last updates officially sanctioned by the original lyricist and music composer. However, we also recommend seeing future revisions as our culture, dating, and marriage customs change with each new generation. This is “Being Alive” as Bobbie sings, ending the production for this generation. What a genius is Sondheim to create a piece that can be transformed and adapted so no one can say they changed this or that – it simply morphs, and each person takes away their own lessons, or not.
“You have to be in it to win it – the lottery; you have to see it to discuss it – the theatre. Join the discussion and go see the production.” – Elizabeth Ann Foster.
Company was originally presented by Harold Prince in association with Ruth Mitchell, at the Alvin Theatre, New York in April 1970. Sets and projections by Boris Aronson, costumes by D.D. Ryan, lighting by Robert Ornbo, Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical direction by Harold Hastings, musical numbers staged by Michael Bennett, dance music arrangements by Wally Harper, and direction by Harold Prince. Cast: Dean Jones (Robert aka Bobbie 2022), Barbara Barrie (Sarah), Charles Kimbrough (Harry), Merle Louise (Susan), John Cunningham (Peter), Teri Ralston (Jenny), George Coe (David), Beth Howland (Amy), Steve Elmore (Paul) Elaine Stritch (Joanne), Charles Braswell (Larry)
Company opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company, New York City in October 1995 after 43 previews and ran for 68 performances. Sets by Tony Walton, projections by Wendall K. Harrington, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, sound design by Tony Meola, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical direction by David Loud, musical numbers staged by Rob Marshall, and direction by Scott Ellis. Cast: Boyd Gaines (Robert aka Bobbie), Kate Burton (Sarah), Robert Westenberg (Harry), Patricia Ben Peterson (Susan), Jonathan Dokuchitz (Peter), Diana Canova (Jenny), John Hillner (David), Diana Canova (Jenny), John Hillner (David), Veanne Cox (Amy), Danny Burstein (Paul), Debra Monk (Joanne), Timothy Landfield (Larry). This production was nominated for the Tony Award, Best Revival of a Musical.
Company opened at the Donmar Warehouse, London revival in December 1995. Designed by Mark Thompson, lighting by Paul Pyant, sound design by John A. Leonard, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical direction by Paddy Cunneen, musical numbers staged and directed by Sam Mendes. Cast: Adrian Lester (Robert aka Bobbie), Rebecca Front (Sarah), Clive Rowe (Harry), Clare Burt (Susan), Gareth Snook (Peter), Liza Sadovy (Jenny), Teddy Kempner (David), Sophie Thompson (Amy), Michael Simkins (Paul), Shiela Gish (Joanne), Paul Bentley (Larry).
A videotaped recording of the Donmar Warehouse production was broadcast by BBC Two on March 1, 1997. On Sunday, November 7, 2010, a one-off concert of Company, starring most of the 1995 London revival cast, including Adrian Lester as Bobby, was held at the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, to commemorate Sondheim’s 80th birthday.
A new revival had try-outs at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Robert S. Marx Theatre in March through April 2006. The cast featured Raúl Esparza (Bobby) and Barbara Walsh (Joanne), with direction and choreography by John Doyle. This production opened on Broadway on November 29, 2006, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The actors themselves provided the orchestral accompaniment. Esparza plays percussion, Walsh plays Orchestra Bells and percussion, and Heather Laws (Amy) plays French horn, trumpet, and flute. The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The musical closed on July 1, 2007, after 34 previews and 246 performances. The production was filmed for Great Performances and broadcast in 2008.
A West End revival was staged at the Gielgud Theatre in previews from September 26, 2018, and officially, on October 17. The production was part of Elliott & Harper Productions’ debut season, a production company formed by director Marianne Elliott and producer Chris Harper. The revival featured changes to the genders of characters. The character of Bobby was changed to Bobbie, a female role, and was played by Rosalie Craig. Additionally, the production featured a same-sex couple for the first time, with Jonathan Bailey as cold-footed groom Jamie (originally written as the female character Amy) and Alex Gaumond as his devoted fiancé Paul. Sondheim approved both changes and worked on revisions of the script with director Marianne Elliott.
Company had the most 2019 Olivier Award nominations with nine including Best Musical Revival. The production closed on March 30, 2019.
A Broadway transfer of the 2018 West End revival, Marianne Elliott once again directs, and Patti LuPone reprises her role as Joanne, with Katrina Lenk as Bobbie, choreography by Liam Steel, music supervision and direction by Joel Fram, scenic and costume designs by Bunny Christie, and lighting design by Neil Austin.
Originally slated to open on Sondheim’s 90th birthday (March 22, 2020), the production began previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 2. After nine preview performances, the production came to a halt due to COVID. Previews resumed November 15, 2021, with Sondheim in attendance shortly before his death. The entire run is dedicated to the late composer. The revival opened on December 9, 2021.
Five days before he died, Sondheim discussed the revival’s change of the lead character’s gender from male (Bobby) to female (Bobbie). He expressed how theater is distinguished from film and video because “you can do it in different ways from generation to generation… What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It’s not just a matter of changing pronouns, but attitudes.”
COMPANY – music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth; directed by Marianne Elliott
FEATURING: Katrina Lenk (Bobbie aka Robert); Patti Lupone (Joanne); Matt Doyle (Jamie); Christopher Fitzgerald (David); Christopher Sieber (Harry); Jennifer Simard (Sarah); Terence Archie (Larry); Etai Benson (Paul); Bobby Conte (PJ); Nikki Renée Daniels (Jenny); Claybourne Elder (Andy); Greg Hildreth (Peter); Manu Narayan (Theo); Rashidra Scott (Susan); Kathryn Allison, Britney Coleman, Jacob Dickey, Javier Ignacio, Anisha Nagarajan, Heath Saunders (New Yorkers).
Scenic and costume design by Bunny Christie; lighting design by Neil Austin; sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph; illusions by Chris Fisher; hair wig and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates; music supervision and music direction by Joel Fram; Choreography by Liam Steel.
Runtime: 2 hours, 40 minutes with 1 intermission.
Bernard Jacobs Theater
242 W 45th St., New York, NY 10036