Conclusion: “Company” offers an almost perfect revival


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“To be alive”, indeed.

The recent death of Stephen Sondheim undoubtedly marked a turning point in the history of American theater, as evidenced by the countless tributes and memoirs paid to the songwriter and his work. But for vital proof that Sondheim is, in a metaphorical sense, still with us, and still as relevant as ever, look no further than the absolutely dazzling Broadway cover of “Company” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.

The production, directed by Marianne Elliott – or rather completely redesigned by Marianne Elliott – cleans up the timestamps of that 1970 musical, with a book by George Furth, so completely that the show appears to have been written yesterday. While retaining the eternally relevant themes of the original, emotional uncertainty and the risks and rewards of marital status, the production refreshes them for a new century and a society that has changed dramatically in the past 50 years.

As most interested parties know, because the production opened in London three years ago and premiered when the pandemic shut down Broadway, the major change to the musical is the genre shift. of the central character. Originally a male, Bobby, who is 35, is now a female named Bobbie of the same age.

Katrina Lenk, Tony winner for “The Band’s Visit”, plays Bobbie, around whose birthday party the plot centers, though “Company” eschews the traditional narrative to come and go through time and allows characters to sing along or add comments to scenes in which they are not strictly participating. Guests at the party are Bobbie’s married friends, who, in the show’s kaleidoscopic unfolding, in various ways reveal the cracks in their unions, as well as the frayed or firm bonds that still hold them together. The actors portrayed in these roles – most notably the esteemed Patti LuPone as Bobbie’s oldest friend, Joanne – as well as those playing Bobbie’s boyfriend trio, give practically flawless performances; it is a set of musical theater which approaches perfection, like the spectacle.

Generally speaking, “Company” is a musical meditation on emotional ambivalence, the feeling that “the road you haven’t taken”, to quote a Sondheim saying from another show, might have been better. to the one you’re on. Virtually all married characters raise questions about the decisions they have made – especially the choice to devote their lives to their spouse – and for most of them, the answers to these questions will always remain elusive or ambiguous.

This general theme is first struck in the second scene, when Bobbie spends an evening with Harry (Christopher Sieber) and Sarah (Jennifer Simard), both struggling with addictions – him to alcohol, she to food – while they are not literally fighting each other, in jiu-jitsu demonstrations. Simard, a comedic actor with remarkable gifts, finds streaks of humor of unexpected richness in the scene – even without the slapstick socket for a brownie. But it’s when Bobbie is about to leave, and turns to ask Harry if he regrets getting married, that the theme of the series shines, in the song “Sorry-Grateful”. Sieber, who leads the song, captures with a beautiful street the response indicated in the title of the song and elaborated throughout the musical: that he is “always sorry” and “always grateful”, that is to say -to say always oscillating between satisfaction and the what- could have been.

Christopher Fitzgerald, as David, married to Nikki’s Jenny Renée Daniels, finds lively humor in his minor role. Sitting outside what appears to be a Brooklyn brownstone (the sets, by Bunny Christie, are minimalist but superbly detailed), they share a joint with Bobbie. Here, too, a minor but gratifying edit to the text has been made so that it’s David who goes crazy when he’s high, as opposed to Jenny. (When you read the original book today, she comes out a little dizzy.) The crowning glory of the comedic scenes is, of course, the portrayal of Jamie’s (Matt Doyle) pre-wedding nervousness, known as Amy in the original. Doyle delivers the completely delicious patter song “Getting Married Today” with dizzying breathlessness and a seismic sense of intensifying hopelessness.

Meanwhile, Bobbie’s boyfriends come in and out of the proceedings, with slightly ugly and athletic hipster Bobby Conte (Marta in the original) leading a beautifully staged “Another Hundred People”, in which giant letters spelling out the show’s title are reduced to spelling NYC. And making Bobbie’s flight attendant lover a man, played in brilliantly wacky good humor by Claybourne Elder in the scene featuring the charming lamentation “Barcelona”, once again erases the pinches of misogynistic condescension towards the character, admittedly dark, of the original.

But the first among equals stands, or rather struts, LuPone as Joanne, the acidic-tongued older woman whose every utterance oozes cynicism. It’s hardly surprising that this brilliant musical theater performer presides over her two major songs, the ironic “The Little Things You Do Together” and the slow searing “The Ladies Who Lunch” – both featuring some of the lyrics. the wittiest of Sondheim – with electrifying vocal aplomb. But what I found most remarkable and satisfying about her performance was LuPone’s shading of the character’s savagery, sanding the edges of Joanne’s bitter jokes to make her less of a quasi-gorgon than a painfully disillusioned – and wise woman. (Everybody get up !)

Over the years, reviews of “Society” have tended to focus on portraying the central character, who may seem peripheral to his own story, remaining a bland number on the sidelines. Lenk’s performance is thoughtful and pleasantly relaxed; you can feel Bobbie carefully analyzing his emotions and those of his friends all the time. (And Christie’s bright red costumes for Lenk, unlike the restrained ones of the other characters, reinforce her character’s understated centrality.) The natural gap between her sheer but light lyrical soprano and the song’s hymn quality, which often reaches a thunderous climax; here it is more reflective than raised from the roof.

This is, however, a very minor flaw in an otherwise zero production. This is not a banal revival, or just a superb Sondheim production, of which there have been many over the past two decades. He breathes new life into a classic show with such intelligence, spirit and care that he could and should become a model for future productions. Remarkably, we now have two different and equally viable versions of this historic musical.

“Company” opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on December 9, 2021.

Photo: Matthieu Murphy

Creation: book by George Furth; Music by Stephen Sondheim; Words by Stephen Sondheim; Directed by Marianne Elliott; Choreographed by Liam Steel; Stage design by Bunny Christie; Costume design by Bunny Christie; Lighting design by Neil Austin; Sound design by Ian Dickinson and autograph.

Producers: Elliott & Harper Productions, The Shubert Organization, Catherine Schreiber, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Crossroads Live, Annapurna Theater, Hunter Arnold, No Guarantees, Jon B. Platt, Michael Watt, John Gore Organization, Tim Levy, Grove / REG , Hornos / Moellenberg, Levine / Federman / Adler, Beard / Merrie / Robbins, LD Entertainment / MWM Live, Benjamin Lowy / Roben Alive, Daryl Roth / Tom Tuft, Salmira Productions / Caiola Productions, Aged in Wood / Lee, Sachs / Berinstein /Lane/42nd.club, Boyett / Miller / Hodges / Kukielski, Finn / DeVito / Independent Presenters Network, Armstrong / Ross / Gilad / Rogowsky, Boardman / Koenigsberg / Zell / Seriff, Concord Theatricals / Scott Sanders Productions / Abrams / May, deRoy / Brunish / Jenen / Rubin, Fakston Productions / Sabi / Lerner / Ketner, Maggio / Abrams / Hopkins / Tackel, Levy & Chauviere and Jujamcyn Theaters.

Actors: Katrina Lenk, Patti LuPone, Terence Archie, Etai Benson, Bobby Conte, Nikki Renée Daniels, Matt Doyle, Claybourne Elder, Christopher Fitzgerald, Greg Hildreth, Manu Narayan, Rashidra Scott, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Kathryn Allison, Britney Coleman , Jacob Dickey, Javier Ignacio, Anisha Nagarajan and Heath Saunders.

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About Shirley A. Tamayo

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