‘Company’ A Sensational, Triumphant Revival

The Broadway cast of Company (Matthew Murphy)

Five days before his passing on November 26th, and almost two weeks after the long awaited Broadway opening of director Marianne Elliott’s West End transfer of Company to Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Stephen Sondheim discussed the revitalization and revision of Company’s updated music and lyrics (with book by George Furman and additional dialogue taken from his work). During this time when many question the direction of theater going forward, we need to remember Sondheim’s parting words.

“What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It’s not just a matter of changing pronouns (related to the protagonist gender switch from Bobby to Bobbie) but attitudes.”

Beyond refreshing, the revival of Company is thought-provoking, expansive and groundbreaking. The female character update of Bobbie (the entrancing, adorable Katrina Lenk in a full on bravura performance) is the linchpin around which five couples revolve and have their being, conceptualized in Bobbi’s mind. As the ironic magnifier and savvy observer of her friends’ relationships, during Bobbi’s quest for herself, the shibboleths of marriage, divorce, partnerships, love and their attendant fears and isolations become exposed with LOL insights and revelations. Then, Bobbie kicks herself clear of them.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Bobbie’s “surprise” thirty-fifth birthday, which her friends hold for her at her apartment initiates the conflict and sets Bobbie musing about herself at “35,” after she listens to their phone messages “spilling the beans” about the party. These are her crazy friends, her company which has been imprinted in our minds with the neon signage “Company” vibrant against the dark before the musical begins.

As her “company” emerges from the recesses of her mind arriving with gifts “she won’t like,” as they humorously excuse their selections telling her to “return them,” they importune her. They underscore how they love her and need her in their lives, singing over and over the searing refrain “Bobbie baby, Bobbie Bubi, etc.” (the phenomenal titular song “Company”). Only when she tells them to, do they wish her “Happy Birthday,” but she can’t blow out the candles of her cake with them watching, ever.

The neon lights in the lettering and bars that swiftly form into frames around the rooms in hers or her friends’ apartments (flashback events) are symbolic and thematically clever, carrying throughout the musical. They suggest the compartments in her mind which consider the strictures binding the couples’ relationships as she reflects about who they are, what they mean to her and whether she wants to be married like them, as they insist she be.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

A square neon box frames Bobbie’s grey one-room kitchen in her NYC apartment where the couples crowd in like in the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera as she doesn’t make a wish for a husband and the candles don’t go out on the cake when she tries to blow them out. For some of the couples, Bobbie visits later in the musical, the neon boxes symbolically underscore that the couple has placed their lives in their own defined “box,” confined, without freedom. For Peter (Greg Hildreth) and Susan (Rashidra Scott) the definitions and ties that bind are inextricable, even after they divorce.

Thanks to Elliott’s conceptualizations effected by her technical team (Bunny Christie {scenic design} Neil Austin {lighting design} Chris Fisher {illusions}) the clever, sliding neon staging (frames, lettering) becomes the driving force/development of the musical as we realize that the frames contain Bobbie’s reflections about herself in the company of her friends who are married and who push the institution on her to be as “happy,” as they are in their quasi misery and resentment of her freedom as a single person in New York City.

Additionally, Elliott uses door frames as a set backdrop for the men she has relationships with, all of them well built and gorgeous, but of a superficial type. These include the dim flight attendant Andy (the riotous Claybourne Elder) the nice Theo (Manu Narayan) the young, hip PJ (Bobby Conte). Each get to harangue Bobbie superlatively in the “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” ironic song and dance number choreographed by Liam Steel. Interestingly, they do not see Bobbie for who she is, perhaps, because she doesn’t want to be seen for they wouldn’t accept it.

(L to R): Claybourne Elder, Manu Narayan, Bobby Conte in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The question of safety and security in a relationship, dependence upon a man, the need to be nurturing and maternal by becoming a mother are thrown into chaotic array during Sondheim’s incredible exploration of Bobbie’s inner self, as she expresses her need to define herself beyond the traditional folkways which her friends have unequivocally embraced and expect her to as well. Importantly, we note her journey on this increasingly dire thirty-fifth birthday (check out the sinister balloon in Act 2) in flashback vignettes prompted by songs which reveal her perspective of the couples’ relationships as she questions their experiences pegged against her own choice to be single.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The songs and cast are spectacular without any dead spots to slumber the audience. Highlights occur as Bobbie visits with each couple and we find out Bobbie’s perceptions about these crazies. Indeed, they are fortunate they have her love as Lenk’s Bobbie is charismatic and sweet, though probing, traits which belie her courage, independence and questing heart for a worthy partner who will really “get her.”

With Harry and Sarah in a comfortable living room, boxed in the defined neon frame, Christopher Sieber is Harry, a “recovering” alcoholic who slides a drink down his throat when no one is looking. Jennifer Simard is Sarah who exercises on chairs and sofas to continue her weight loss regimen while scarfing a brownie or two quickly in secret openness because she’s (emotionally) “starved.” This couple’s scene reaches the height of hysteria as both compete in a wrestling match with each other, while Joanne (the unparalleled Patti Lupone) serenades their gyrations, blocks and flips, ironically singing “The Little Things You do Together” which adds “fun” to the marriage.

Lupone’s assurance about “the neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together that keep marriage intact,” with Sieber’s and Simard’s enthusiasm for felling each other with each toppling twist more extreme than the next is well choreographed, paced and utterly priceless. As the other couples in Bobbie’s company sing their “wisdom” (“people that you hate together, bait together, date together make marriage a joy”) we note the evolution of Bobbie’s singularity and marriage avoidance. The couples’ sardonic refrain “shouting ’til you’re hoarse together, getting a divorce together that make perfect relationships,” closes out the song with a directed punchline of “kiss kiss.”

(L to R): Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Katrina Lenk, Patti Lupone in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As Bobbie thanks Sarah and Harry for an “entertaining” evening, her quest bubbles up and she asks Harry about regretting his marriage. His, David’s (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Larry’s (Terence Archie’s) reply in the lovely and humorous “Sorry-Grateful” confuses Bobbie with its opaque conflicting uncertainty: “Why look for answers where none occur? You’ll always be what you always were. Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.”

From the husbands’ perspective in their marriages, there’s terrible regret intermingled with gratefulness which puts Bobbie no closer to defining her life differently than she already has. Being single is the best selection for her at this point in her 35th year review, but she acknowledges that despite her “company” wanting to introduce her to someone in “Have I Got a Guy for You,” she must choose for herself, a combination of the men she has gone out with and the someone out there just for her, “Someone Is Waiting.”

Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Bobbie’s fear and confusion about marriage referenced by her zany friends is paralleled with Jamie’s in the vignette of Jamie and Paul’s marriage preparations. In Jamie and Paul’s kitchen, dressed in white for their wedding, Jamie has a panic attack and refuses to go through with it. As Jamie, Matt Doyle is riotous in his lightening speed delivery, spewing out his terror to Bobbie’s listening ear.

(L to R): Etai Benson, Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Doyle is letter perfect, articulate, not dropping one word, making “Getting Married Today” a show stopping number that raises the stakes for Bobbie whose reply is “Marry Me a Little,” which Lenk sings with sylph-like tenderness and beauty. Her adjurations along with the couples popping out of various doors in Jamie and Paul’s kitchen appliances, another brilliantly funny feature, help stir Jamie back into Paul’s arms. Elliott has outdone herself in the direction, pacing and staging of this scene which Lenk, Doyle and the “company” perform to perfection.

By the time Act II rolls around, the balloon “35” is hugely sinister, almost crowding out Bobbie from her kitchen, and the lighting shifts to a Satanic reddish glow. As she attempts to get rid of the balloon, questions in her conflict continue: where is her life heading and who can she mentor when her friends are wacko? Jamie comments they are different,, that she is afraid of not getting married, when indeed, he has misread her; as she tells him, we feel the same about marriage. But when he marries, this, too, proves he is following in the footsteps of their friends, the coupled company. She is solo and alone. This may be a good thing, for as her company has sung, it is not that being a couple prevents alonenness, it just magnifies that in a couple one is more alone. The questions continue, who is Bobbie like and why are these individuals her “friends?”

Katrina Lenk, Claybourne Elder in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Andy is a possible marriage partner, until after sex, she realizes what their marriage would be like. The extraordinary sequence begins with “Poor Baby” sung by the couples projecting her “deficiency” as a single person, but actually envious of her freedom to be with many partners, in this instance Andy. It ends in “Barcelona,” where Bobbie convinces Andy to stay longer delaying his trip to Barcelona. How Elliott paces the scene with humor, coordinating the triptych of action that morphs to the scene when in bed she envisions her life (“Tick Tock”) haplessly drain its vibrancy into vapidity with Andy if she marries him. “Tick Tock,” unfolds as wives standing in for Bobbie, dressed in similar red outfits, go through various robotic motions of her marriage with Andy: routines of work, children, the drudgery, housewifery, etc. And thus, with him she watches as married, her life ebbs away into nothingness. But as a love partner, he’s just fine (“Barcelona”).

To top off her understanding of what she would become, Joanne spells it out for her toasting to the squandering of her own life in the iconic song Lupone steps into with grace, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” This is another show stopper; the night I saw it, the audience cheered for about 2 minutes while Lupone waited as Joanne with wry “dissatisfaction,” because Joanne has a lot more to say and do and the clapping interfered. Lupone configures the dour, lush as part kid, part sadist, part ironist and altogether vulnerable in her sardonic snappishness. She is just grand.

(L to R): Patti Lupone, Katrina Lenk in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As she portrays what Bobbie will become married (her fourth time) she duns the idea of Bobbie getting hitched, with some of the funniest lines that Lupone expertly delivers with wit and pace. Interestingly, Larry (Terence Archie) reveals who controls and who gets the blessing from their union by the end of the song. When Joanne suggests that Bobbie and Larry “make it” Bobbie says “make what?” Indeed, at Joanne’s control, Bobbie would “take care of Larry.” Once again, Bobbie charmingly side-steps her friend’s manipulation, as she has side-stepped all her friends’ manipulations and influence with distractions and silence. In this instance, Bobbie cleverly replies, “but who will take care of me?” Joanne replies bluntly attempting the drunk’s insult, but Bobbie proves herself a sophisticate with humor, a high emotional IQ, disarmingly, subtly. It is a fantastic scene revealing the inner character of Joanne, Larry and Bobbie which Lupone, Archie and Lenk smack down with precision.

Joanne and Larry have presented an unwittingly convincing portrait of what their marriage is like and what marriage could be like for Bobbie, however uncertain and tripped up with problems, issues and unhappiness. And after acutely watching them, she arrives at the understanding that “alone is alone, not alive.” And unbounded with just herself and the darkness behind her, outside of any neon frame of bondage, Lenk’s Bobbie opens herself: “somebody let me come through, I’ll always be there, as frightened as you, to help us survive, being alive, being alive, being alive.”

(L to R): Rashidra Scott, Katrina Lenk, Greg Hildreth in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Lenk delivers an incredible moment, beautifully sung with heartfelt emotion and joy. And then it rains on her, proving it doesn’t matter what she does: it rains on the just and unjust. Though her “company” has attempted to control and influence her, her life’s decisions are wholly hers. She will be happy apart from their influence; she has that strength to know the difference and she has an incredible sense of humor which we have been watching through her flashback “frames” of neon reference.

In the end scene Bobbie leans against the proscenium outside the neon frame of her kitchen as in the first scene all her company crams in waiting and wondering “where” she is. The musical has been a reverie and an evolution toward affirming what the picture frames of her friends have shown her. She is her own person. After they wait for her, realizing the surprise party is over, they have the good sense to leave. Only then, alone, Bobbie is able to blow out the candles of her cake after making a wish, a wish that only Bobbie will ever know.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Ahmed Klink)

Elliott’s and Sondheim’s updated conceptualizations can be taken as far as the inner eye can see, into immutable human truths and modern trends of how women shape their being today. Unfortunately, some will not get this revival of Company which is smashing and with a female protagonist, audacious and courageous. What effrontery to show Bobbie with a smile on her face at the end when she alone blows out her candles without her “company” watching, carping and “wishing” for her. Such a simple yet profound look/gesture indicates Bobbie is satisfied with herself for being who she is. Indeed, this sly, smart, engaging protagonist might actually love herself, as she has shown throughout with her wry, ironic, humorous selection of crazy-funny portraits of her “company” “determining” her life for her. What an end stop to this wonderful, humorous treasure of a Sondheim revival.

The score with music supervision and music direction by Joel Fram soars into the heavens. Kudos to all creatives aforementioned which made this revival praiseworthy in its ethereal conceptualization of Bobbie’s interior being. For all of the cast, nothing more can be added except they seamlessly flowed as a “company,” thanks to the shepherding of their director Marianne Elliott. Company should be witnessed a number of times because all in the cast mirror “being alive” onstage. God, they are so on point!

Company should be seen at least twice. There is so much to see or to miss the first time around. Some audience members mentioned the night I was there that this was their second or third outing. That’s about right for this production which is written in the stars thanks to Sondheim’s forward thinking encouragement to revise, expand and deepen. This production should be digitally recorded. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1800 articles, reviews, sonnets and other online writings. Carole Di Tosti writes for Blogcritics.com, Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites. Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years. Some of the articles are archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NYC, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF, Athena FF. She also covers SXSW film. Carole Di Tosti's novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Power,' is being released in November-December. Her two-act plays 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics' in the process of being submitted for representation and production.

Posted on December 19, 2021, in Broadway, Global Theater News, NYC Theater Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Loved your review of “COMPANY”. The show was so “New York” and I loved that you pointed out the changes, especially the main character Bobbie. And as you noted, I just may have to see it again. There was so much to take in.

    Liked by 1 person

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