'Company' review — a welcome reinvention of the classic musical
The traditional Broadway revival is dead, and good riddance. Over the last few years, classic musicals like Oklahoma and West Side Story have been reimagined for the Broadway stage to critical acclaim in order to engage new audiences and add current nuance and perspective to the shows' original books.
Company, now at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, is the latest production to reinvent a classic musical. The late Stephen Sondheim's bold musical is about Bobby, a single man who tussles with the concept of love and marriage on the cusp of his 35th birthday. Under the imaginative direction of Marianne Elliott, the genders are swapped, Bobbie's name now ends with an "ie," and the story becomes an overstuffed whimsical blend of the false reality of The Bachelorette and the mystified adventure of Alice in Wonderland.
Look, casting Bobbie as a woman makes sense and offers the plot more relatability for the women in 2021 who unequivocally recite Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" as their national anthem. For better or worse, American women today are waiting longer to marry than they did in 1969, the year Company was originally written. There are many reasons for that: school, career, dreadfully waiting for "the one," or just simply choice. If Company were repurposed for today's audience and left in its original glory, the musical wouldn't be as believable as it was in the '60s when an unmarried man over 30 was considered bad for business.
These days the unhitched bro is respected and deemed lucky. While the story serves the influence of its updates, Bobbie — played by former The Band's Visit it girl, Katrina Lenk — works in parts, but she often proves to be disinterested and detached. It's hard to tell if Bobbie is content in her singledom or feeling guilty for what her life has become as she enters her mid-thirties.
She affirms "I'm not avoiding marriage, it's avoiding me" one moment, then questions if her married friends regret their nuptials. What helps move this story beyond one life-sized Maker's Mark television ad for the lonely 30something, is the superb ensemble cast that include the comical brownie-stuffing, calorie counting Sarah (Jennifer Simard), the sassy vodka-drinking, bodycon dress-wearing Joanne (Patti LuPone), and the nervous "not getting married today" Jamie (Matt Doyle). Every one of Bobbie's friends offers a forecast of what her life could be outside of her chosen singleness (happy marriage, divorce, children, or all of the above); however, Bobbie never truly connects with anything past her own emptiness and self-inflicted loneliness. With every note she sings, the feeling inside the melodies of "Marry Me a Little" and "Being Alive," arguably two of Sondheim's greatest songs, tend to evaporate like the uninterested men she attracts.
The dreamlike set design by Bunny Christie, when working, beautifully plays on the coming-of-age search for self, inspired by the childlikeness of Alice In Wonderland. Bobbie's home is contained in a box that emulates the bite-sized square footage of real NYC apartments. Colors are limited and stick to mosaics of white, black, and gray, except for Bobbie's signature red jumpsuit and exquisite lighting design by Neil Austin that adds on additional hues of purple and blues.
For the single women attending this show, it's impossible not to feel something deeply for this story. I am just like Bobbie, single by choice and moving into my 34th year of living. The pressures of life and family to marry for love, or company, exist. Any time you turn on ABC on a Tuesday evening for an episode of The Bachelorette or log onto any popular dating app you can catch a woman approaching her 30s trying to beat the marriage clock she built for herself. This vibrant reinvention is welcome and authentic, but Bobbie needs stronger conviction to make us truly care.
Company is at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Get Company Tickets on New York Theatre Guide.
Photo credit: Katrina Lenk (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
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