NEW YORK -- “Company,” like several shows arriving this year, had expected to be on Broadway in 2020. It shut down, however, and didn’t make its debut until December.
Time, thankfully, didn’t dim its creativity.
Reinvented by director Marianne Elliott, the Steven Sondheim musical features a female lead – Bobbie (played by Katrina Lenk) – who’s trying to avoid the landmines of relationships as she turns 35. (Why is 35 so traumatic?)
The switch required other tweaks – including a trio of boyfriends (played by Claybourne Elder, Bobby Conte and Manu Narayan) who give this such a fresh take it looks like the show wasn’t more than 50 years old.
As Bobbie blows out the candles on those years, she sees how friends handle life partners. Some, like Joanne (Patti LuPone), who has been married several times, are jaded. Some, like Jamie (Matt Doyle), who’s about to be married, are concerned.
People are also reading…
At one point, Elliott imagines several Bobbies going through the paces and the concept is so smart it immediately fills in some gaps in George Furth’s book. Christopher Sieber and Jennifer Simard get to goose the laughs (she’s a hoot in exercise wear); Elder manages to squeeze smiles out of lines that would have seemed dated coming out of a woman’s mouth. He’s a fine comedian, letting his time in the revolving door resonate a bit more than everyone else’s.
Lenk travels this path of least resistance with great aplomb, adjusting to each of the friends with grace. What doesn’t play quite right is the ancillary friendships. Why would these people be friends? The only one they have in common is Bobbie. Furth never answered the question; Elliott sidesteps it, too. A pot-smoking segment seems dated and a toilet scene is brow-raising, even today.
Still, Elliott gets maximum use out of Bunny Christie’s imaginative set and turns a kitchen into a Pandora’s box of possibilities. When Doyle sings “Getting Married Today,” he’s able to get ample use of every appliance within arm’s length.
Conversely, LuPone doesn’t need much more than a cocktail to help sell “The Ladies Who Lunch.” She drinks in the lyrics and spills out a life lesson. Lenk must be thrilled to have the best seat in the house eight times a week.
When Bobbie assesses her situation, “Being Alive” isn’t the big anthem it was when a man sang it, but a song of personal reflection. It lands differently than it did in previous versions, but it doesn’t mar the show. Instead, it says there are many ways to approach something as malleable as a Sondheim lyric.
While this version is much more fun than John Doyle’s 2006 revival (the actors accompanied each other on various musical instruments), it does have its flaws, particularly when it tries to squeeze meaning where there isn’t any. What isn’t explained is Bobbie. She needs to do more than react when put into play with her friends. Lenk makes her seem friendly.
But maybe she needs to show, sometimes, solitude can be better than company.