Company Review: A Sublime Revival of Stephen Sondheims Beloved Musical12/10/2021
Half a century has passed since Stephen Sondheim and George Furth first dazzled Broadway with “Company,” their tartly astute 1970 musical about a single Manhattanite dogged by coupled friends to meet a mate. But director Marianne Elliott’s sensational new revival strikes like a lightning bolt, surging with fresh electricity and burnishing its creators’ legacy with an irresistible sheen.
It’s silly and sophisticated, intimate and in-tune with the currents of modern life, brilliantly conceived and funny as hell. “Company” is the best of what Broadway has to offer adult theatergoers: a playful slap, an honest tickle and one of the 20th century’s greatest musicals gorgeously realized — and refined — to reflect the moment.
Elliott’s revisions to the text, made in collaboration with Sondheim for the production’s 2018 West End run, only expand and invigorate its insights on love and imperfect companionship.
That singleton facing heat to settle down on the occasion of turning 35? She’s a woman named Bobbie (played with beguiling ease by Katrina Lenk), rather than a bachelor, as originally written. Given the disproportionate social pressures heaped on women to pair up (not to mention procreate), the central gender-swap lends “Company” a clearer contemporary logic. From Helen Gurley Brown to Carrie Bradshaw, the past 50 years of pop culture have charted a mythology of sex, single women and New York City that argues a seductive case for independence, individualism and the pursuit of pleasure.
A Bobbie who’s flying solo because she prioritized her own achievements, resisted the tyranny of compromise and keeps meeting yahoos online rings sympathetic and true in an updated context. It also makes the story a fair bit sexier.
Those ineligible romantic prospects? They’re swapped from women to men, like the flight attendant with a hot body and a head in the clouds embodied here as a textbook himbo (Claybourne Elder, daft and deadpan). When Bobbie’s trio of frustrated castaways harmonize with the sunny lament “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” there’s a satisfying comeuppance to men losing their heads over a noncommittal woman rather than the reverse.
Meanwhile, Matt Doyle’s marvelously neurotic rendition of “Not Getting Married Today,” a rapid-fire case of cold feet usually sung by a bride to be, nods at the universal terrors of commitment ushered in with same-sex marriage.
One monumental fixture of “Company” who retains her original form? Bobbie’s brutally honest and least pandering friend Joanne, who towers here like a totem of wry cynicism worthy of lifelong worship. Patti LuPone is so magnificent and so magnetic in the role, witnessing her performance is like an exquisite form of ecstasy. She gently swings her heels off a high barstool, demolishing the ode to metropolitan malaise “Ladies Who Lunch.” She shrugs a luxurious mink off one shoulder, a vain tick that conveys a subtle vulnerability. She savors every moment like an unmatched gourmand.
Lenk, a Tony winner for “The Band’s Visit,” has a cool, unforced charisma that anchors the story and charms viewers right into her pocket. Her Bobbie is a natural untethered protagonist, eyeing her married friends through a fun-house mirror and elbowing us to get a load of them — all the while slowly swelling with loneliness.
Elliott’s physical staging is imaginative, sharp and generous in visual surprise, a cosmic urban dreamscape with “Alice in Wonderland” physics. (Bobbie crawls into a too-small room or swims up through a hole in the ceiling, the set shifting around her.) Scenic design by Bunny Christie and lighting by Neil Austin invite audiences into Bobbie’s psychological point of view, with fluid movement, a glowy palette of soft color and clever minute details. (Funny how, at a certain point, you’ll start to see your age everywhere you look.) Christie also designed the smart and covetable costumes; Bobbie’s red silk jumpsuit ought to be sold as official merchandise.
The production beautifully spotlights Sondheim’s indelible score, its orchestra visibly suspended in the top quarter of the proscenium and generating lush, crisp instrumentals (music supervision and direction are by Joel Fram). Vocal arrangements tailored to the performers allow for new perspectives on familiar tunes. There’s a delicacy and fragility to Lenk’s turn in the eleven-o-clock number “Being Alive,” as Bobbie’s walls crack and then crumble into an earnest expression of resigned, fundamental need.
“Company” has always reached to the heart of what it means to be a person in the world. But rarely has our human desire for connection — in the theater, over drinks with friends, even with strangers on the street — felt as urgent and essential as it does right now. “Life is company,” so the song goes. And “Company” is sublime.
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