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Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” At The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Saturday, March 26th, 2022, 2PM, Reviewed

Stephen Sondheim was the greatest musical theatre composer of our generation. In a world of Stephen Schwartzs and Alan Menkens, Sondheim was well beyond their middling talents; the only living composer to come close to Sondheim’s grasp is Adam Guettel and he hasn’t maintained it. There is no one else left. There are plenty of Broadway bounds, and usually a hit every season or two, but musically just about none of them stand up to the golden age from Kern and Hammerstein’s “Showboat” in 1927 to Sondheim and Lapine’s “Passion” in 1994 (“Kiss Of The Spider Woman” was 1992).

The 1970 “Company” is among Sondheim’s greatest work in a career that includes “West Side Story”, “A Little Night Music” and “Sunday In The Park With George” (here).

I first saw “Company”, the Roundabout Theatre Revival, in 1995 and regret missing the 2006 version with the terrific Raúl Esparza as Bobby. But I initially skipped the late 2021 revival at the Bernard B. Jacobs because I didn’t think it sounded right changing Bobby to Bobbie, I wouldn’t have minded an entirely male cast because the musical appears to be Sondheim’s most clearly shaded closeted gay show, but a woman didn’t quote make sense. As Bobby reaches a milestone 35 years of age, his married friends throw him a surprise birthday party and worry about him not finding someone for holy matrimony. In the original production Bobby and his married friend Peter suggest they try having homosexual sex together and it doesn’t take a leap to imagine the 35 year old Bobby is attracted mostly to men. Obviously, that at the very least won’t work if Bobbie is a female (for some reason, the spectre of Bobbie interfering in Peter’s marriage is more disturbing than if it was Bobby).

Anyway, with Sondheim passed into the great beyond, and unable to get tickets for the revival of “Assassins”, I bought a nosebleed for the “Company” revival to pay my respects a month ago and was so overwhelmed that I bought second row for yesterday’s matinee and if anything I loved it more. Yes, having a female lead as Bobby loses subtext and while in 1970 showing a woman in New York City juggling three lovers might have been considered daring, it is self evident now and easy to switch the sex of the lead without showing a damn thing. I don’t believe anybody is shocked by Bobbie seducing her flight attendant airhead David with a telling of the butterfly story (about how she went to a motel with a man for a one night stand, went to get booze, and couldn’t find the motel again), so really in 2022 the switch of sex doesn’t add all that much; it remains a critique of marriage in Manhattan.

Her married friends throw Bobbie a surprise party for her birthday and here the staging will blow you away, her kitchen appears from the floor up and she slithers into the room as though she was putting on a tight dress. Katrina Lenk’s Bobbie is an extremely difficult role, one which at the age of 47 she is too old for, and one which is so hard because at the centre of “Company” is an introvert and a cipher. Bobby isn’t married because he is homosexual (and gay marriage was illegal then), Bobbie doesn’t marry because she is deeply introverted, she might claim she is longing for marriage but she doesn’t act it. And while she is on stage just about all the time, only her final song “Being Alive” breaks through with a towering, rousing, showstopping vocal.

While changed sex of Bobbie neither hurts nor harms, changing the sex of Amy to Jamie is a masteroke that pays huge dividends for Matt Doyle’s star making “Not Getting Married Today”. Firstly because, incredibly, it has been legal for same sexers only since 2011 and look at the date this way: eleven years ago and also FORTY ONE YEARS since “Company” premiered. Jamie and Etai Benson’s Paul make a delightful couple and you can totally get Jamie’s paranoia and also why they are a great couple.

“Not Getting Married”, “The Ladies Who Lunch”, “Side By Side By Side” and “Being Alive” all stop the show. Also, “The Ladies Who Lunch” features the Queen of musical theatre (now that Elaine Stritch has left the building) Patti Lupone. We all have our Patti Lupone stories and here is mine, I caught her one woman show on Broadway in 1995, and she was half way through the first song when a cry came from the row in front of me. A man had had a heart attack and was dead. The EMS arrived, carried him out and his wife left sobbing and Patti came out and wondered if she continue the performance: “he would have wanted it that way” she concluded. I laughed myself sick. And that persona, that diva Lupone is at the heart of her performance, her “The Ladies Who Lunch” is both arrogant and self-abrogating.

If all this wasn’t enough to make it a great production, post-pandemic New York will revel in its love for the great metropolis, “Another Hundred People” reminds you of what to expect once the greatest city on the world comes all the way back (if office space dies it will be an even greater artistic hub (you don’t have to doubt my love for it here, just look at the name of the website), it is magically to hear how Sondheim loves what we New Yorkers worship. One of Bobbie’s boyfriends claims that you shouldn’t spend your life here, that you need to move to the suburbs. All I have to add is that Sondheim himself was born here in 1930 and never left. If we have to remove the homosexual subtext please do replace it with his great love for New York City. Stephen saw this production before he died and loved it, he was in tears according to the director Marianne Elliott. It is a beautiful show, a remarkably precise staging and from bossanova to big ballad adult ballad, the music is sublime.

It is great whoever you are but if you are a true New Yorker it is even better.

Grade: A

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