Phone rings, door chimes, in comes Company!
It’s not uncommon for a musical revival to play with its original source material. The recent Broadway revival of the original groundbreaking 1970 show played with ideas and concepts of gender and society’s expectations of women, primarily by swapping the gender of the central character Bobbie (originally Robert), as well as swapping her girlfriends to boyfriends and crafting her group of friends as more reflective of modern New York City. This revival production won several Tony Awards, and is now touring the country, allowing audiences across America the opportunity to experience this new retelling of one of Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpieces. This revival has a lot of good things going for it, but while some of the updates improve upon the original, others dilute the messaging; thankfully,the talent on stage keeps the show deeply engaging and highly entertaining.
Bobbie (Britney Coleman) is turning 35, and going through a crisis of conscience as the only single person in her group of married friends. She is surrounded by all of her “good and crazy people, [her] friends” who all want her to get married. Bobbie’s story is that of self discovery: she works through her issues and concerns with commitment, marriage, and the meaning of life itself. The show doesn’t have a fully narrative plot, and instead uses a series of scenes,songs and conceptual internal revelations to explore complex ideals about marriage and relationships.
What makes this revival a joy to watch is the insanely talented cast. Led with aplomb by Coleman as Bobbie. She brings joy and optimism to a character that is so often played as riddled with self doubt and uncertainty. Her Bobbie is amiable, constantly thinking and maneuvering her way through a world that isn’t designed for her. Her voice is crystal clear and soars through the score, making Sondheim’s songs sound fresh, like they’ve been written just for her.
She’s supported by a stellar cast, playing all of her friends and boyfriends. Marina Kondo as Susan steals every scene she’s in, with a sense of humor that can’t be beat. Matt Rodin brazenly plays Jamie (gender-swapped from the OG production’s Amy) as the neurotic twink settling down, whether they’re ready or not. Rodin then is lucky enough to engage in a remarkable rendition of the fast paced patter song “Getting Married Today,” which brings down the house. David Socolar also shines in the small but truly heartfelt role of Theo, one of Bobbie’s boyfriends who is finally choosing to settle down. The scene between him and Coleman’s Bobbie was one of the best of the show, truly getting to the deep human connection and struggle to connect that is at the heart of this show. Judy McLane plays the acerbic older friend Joanne, who has been imagined in this production as someone that could be one of the next cast members of Real Housewives of NY (think more Sonja Morgan than Dorinda Medley). She is superbly dry throughout, but her “Ladies Who Lunch” sadly lacked a bit of the venom and pathos needed to make that number a standout.
It's a City of Straight Strangers.
This production is wonderfully designed and directed, utilizing space in ways that exacerbate Bobbie’s struggles and showcase some very inventive stagecraft. As this is a revival, several moments have been re-conceived, most successful being the oft-cut song “Tick Tock”. Originally a dance number to showcase original cast member Donna McKechnie, director Marianne Elliot has restaged it as an abstract exploration of what Bobbie’s life could be, and the contradictions between what society expects of her and her own internal wants. There are also some really layered explorations of different types of masculinity and femininity that are explored by how the production flipped some of the characters' genders.
Where the revisions don’t land as successfully, for me, is the seemingly odd removal of a lot of queer subtext. Yes, the show now includes a queer couple in Jamie and Paul, but disappointingly, the way they are framed throughout the show still feels extraordinarily binary and plays into traditional gender roles. Jamie sings with the ladies, does all of the feminine versions of choreography and is generally considered “one of the girls,” while Paul stays with the boys. It plays into the harmful stereotype that in queer relationships there is still a “man and woman.” It feels like a huge missed opportunity to not subvert that stereotype more, especially when bringing a queer relationship to the forefront.
Other versions of Company also have some pretty clear subtext that Bobby (male version) is at least somewhat questioning his sexuality, a debate that has been hotly discussed in regards to this show (some productions with a male Bobby include a male “Marty” instead of “Martha” amongst his lovers). However, Bobbie here is strictly straight; the revival has even removed a scene in which one of their newly divorced friends expresses their queer desires to Bobby/Bobbie. In previous versions (although admittedly, cut from the original text), Peter (post divorce) even hits on Bobby, a moment that was shocking and touching in its exploration at the hidden desires of queer people in that moment in time. This revival production switched the characters in this scene, so that Bobbie speaks not with Peter, but his wife Susan. So Susan now could have potentially hit on Bobbie, and create again a really interesting dynamic between the two. They’ve instead replaced it with a commentary on couples finding out they sometimes work better as divorced rather than married. It’s a conversation that feels slightly out of place, while also just being weirdly written, ending in a surprise pregnancy reveal instead of any real substance.
Overall this production soars more frequently than it confounds. Bobbie’s story overall feels more hopeful in this production, in large part due to her excellent portrayal here. Her self assurance at the end is more through the lens of joy and confidence, as opposed to the traditional breakthrough created through anger and resentment. While some of the changes made might take a bit of the layered queer nuance out in favor of “sitcom” style gay representation, and there’s still the fact that the gender swapping ended up with fewer female roles overall, it still succeeds as a moving show. The story of Bobbie and her friends rings as truthful and honest as it did in the 70’s, and will leave you thinking for days to come about your own connection to your friends, your relationships, and yourself.
Company is on stage at
the Forrest Theatre (1114 Walnut Street) from now until December 10th.
For more info visit kimmelculturalcampus.org