"Company," show #838
When the recent London production of Company transferred to Broadway, complete with gender-swapping characters and new lyrics, some diehard fans of the 1970s Sondheim/Furth classic commentary on marriage didn’t want anything to do with it. Others felt excited for a fresh, updated take on the musical. I fall into the rare category of people who do not care for this play as a musical. While Furth’s book offers a slew of hilarious and poignantly delivered scenes, Sondheim’s music rarely, until the standard “Being Alive” appears, pushes the plot, which is fine for most audiences. The breadth isn’t there, and the depth seldom transcends the surface. This new take on Company does little to redeem my distaste for the show as a musical, even with impeccable casting.
(Patti LuPone (Joanne) and Katrina Lenk (Bobbie); Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
As a company, this cast delivers what most audiences want: comical and emotionally-driven scenes and songs, even if the lyrics aren’t as supportive as the cast. The opening title number establishes director Marianne Elliot’s concept for the production, with little wiggle room for diversion by the cast. The vocals are consistently stellar when the songs calls for multiples, namely in “Have I Got a Guy for You,” “Getting Married Today” (which is led at a stellar pace and with frenetic giftedness by Matt Doyle as Jamie), and “Side by Side by Side.” Katrina Lenk does a fine job as Bobbie in leading the production, though her “Being Alive” is more acting driven than vocal spectacle, a choice which fits within Elliot’s direction but undercuts the emotional height that song can soar to. Patti LuPone kills as Joanne, leading a rousing lament of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and nailing every quip Joanne is given. Understudy Nicholas Rodriguez went on for Larry (typically played by Terence Archie) the evening I saw the show and gave as good as he got opposite LuPone in the club scene, giving a calm, calculatedly stern scene with LuPone and Lenk’s Bobbie.
(L to R: Christopher Sieber (David), Jennifer Simard (Sarah), Katrina Lenk (Bobbie), and Patti LuPone (Joanne); Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Jennifer Simard as Sarah and Christopher Sieber as David give an Olympic-sized feat of hilarity in their scene at the beginning of act one. Simard finds every ounce of funny the role allows, and elevates Elliot’s direction by way of physical comedienne and dynamite timing. Christopher Fitzgerald and Nikki Renee Daniels team up well as David and Jenny, respectively, with a wonderfully telling and amusing high scene with Lenk contributing in the laugh department. Claybourne Elder, Bobby Conte, and Manu Narayan, playing Andy, PJ, and Theo, respectively, impress with their superb song-and-dance, turn at “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” the choreographic highlight by Liam Steel. Elder and Lenk share a particularly hilarious scene when sex is at the top of the menu but is stalled by Andy’s storytelling. Conte leads “Another Hundred People” very well, with sublime vocals and nuanced inflection of the contextualizing tune, supported well by the cast and New Yorkers ensemble.
(Cast of Company; Photo credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenberg)
Other supporting highlights come from Greg Hildreth’s lovable Peter, Rashidra Scott’s sublimely lively Susan, and Etai Benson’s overly-understanding Paul serving as great foil to Doyle’s Jamie. Bunny Christie’s scenic design is at times swooning with space and context while other times comes across cramped in the wrong way. The pounding-over-the-head of how Bobbie’s life is cramped without love versus freer when engaged with others gets its point across rather early. Neil Austin’s moody lighting offers subtle visual pops of color and intimate shadowing of the club and balcony scenes.
(Katrina Lenk (Bobbie), Etai Benson (Paul), and Matt Doyle (Jamie); Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Company will forever be a favorite among many of my Sondheim fans, and I love that for them. While I am glad I saw this production, I may never again need to sit side by side with this musical. But should you love this title, then I encourage you to go see this show because, at times, it’s a hoot and a holler!