‘Company’ Broadway revival puts fresh spin on classic Sondheim musical

The playbill for the original Broadway production of "Company" (1970) is pictured. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last November, the world lost a giant of musical theater when Stephen Sondheim died at the age of 91. His musicals, including “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984) and “Into the Woods” (1986), had a profound impact on generations of performers and theatermakers. His work lives on in last year’s film adaptation of “West Side Story” (2021) and a recent off-Broadway production of “Assassins” (1990), but perhaps the best commemoration of Sondheim since his passing is the revival of “Company” (1970), currently playing on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Compared to other Sondheim productions, “Company” may not be very well known to mainstream audiences. It first premiered on Broadway more than 50 years ago, and it’s never been adapted for film or television. However, the original 1970 production won 14 Tony Awards, and the current revival, which opened in December of last year, marks the musical’s fourth time on Broadway. “Company” tells the story of Bobbie (Katrina Lenk), a single woman living in New York, celebrating her 35th birthday. Since its 2018 West End run, the production has been gender-swapped; previous versions of the show featured Bobby, a male lead. Surrounded by her married and engaged friends, Bobbie is the lone bachelorette, and she’s unsure if she should just be happy with the company of her friends or seek out a romantic relationship. The musical comedy is presented in a series of short, disconnected vignettes that feature Bobbie’s conversations with her friends as she grapples with the pros and cons of marriage and the challenges of modern life. 

The production is skillfully directed by Marianne Elliott, who breathes new life into the classic musical without taking away any of its original appeal. She also directed the 2018 West End run of the show, before which she worked with Sondheim to revise the script, originally written by George Furth. 

The 2018 revision that changed Bobbie to a female character was a smart one that allows audiences to approach the show’s material in a different way, and Tony-winning actress Katrina Lenk gives a showstopping performance in the reimagined role. Lenk is a likable protagonist, keeping audiences engaged throughout the show. Additionally, one of the couples in the show was also changed in 2018 to a same-sex pair. In the newest revival, Etai Benson and Matt Doyle play husbands-to-be Paul and Jamie. Doyle gives an impressive performance as the cold-footed groom Jamie (originally Amy), and his rendition of the rapid-fire patter song “Getting Married Today” is one of the show’s high points.

There are plenty of other performances that stand out, like Jennifer Simard and Christopher Sieber as Sarah and Harry, a couple whose playful fighting turns into a wrestling match, and Claybourne Elder as one of Bobbie’s boyfriends, Andy. One of the best performances comes from Broadway legend Patti LuPone as Bobbie’s cynical friend Joanne, who brings down the house with “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a sarcastic toast to the lack of meaning in many wealthy womens’ lives.

The production is elevated by clever set design, made up of interchangeable neon boxes that move on and offstage between scenes, keeping pace with the show’s whirlwind script. Minimalist at times, intricate at others, the set takes audiences on a journey through Bobbie’s stream of consciousness as she jumps from one setting to the next. Additionally, the show features colorful costumes that stand out against the set’s muted palette, and the musical’s script is full of humor, which still resonates with audiences more than 50 years later.

Of course, at the heart of the show is Sondheim’s timeless score, with ingenious lyrics and musical motifs throughout. The musical crescendos to the end with one of its most famous songs, “Being Alive, in which Bobbie comes to terms with her life and decides to take a chance on love. After an 18-month shutdown, it’s fitting for Broadway to reopen with a heartwarming musical about togetherness and connecting with the people in our lives. Now more than ever, we could all use a little “Company.”


Summary

A joyful celebration of Stephen Sondheim, “Company” entertains audiences with an updated script, intricate set design and superb performances from Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone.

4.5 stars
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