Stephen Sondheim’s gender flipped revival of ‘Company’ is on tour and playing to full houses at Forrest Theater in Philadelphia, starring a fine vocal cast and lusty orchestra delivering one of Sondheim’s most vibrant scores.
However, sublime the music and lyrics are, though, there is no getting around George Furth’s dated brittle script- Basically, a stitched together series of skits about single life and marriage set in the not so swinging early 70s.
This revival, originally conceived in a West End production with Sondheim’s participation transforms the central character Bobby, a single man dreading turning 35 into Bobbie, an African American woman resisting the notion of a committed relationship in the 2020s. But unlike And she is not surrounded by a gaggle of white couples and singles. This company is a diverse mix of millennials. A gay male couple sings ‘Not Getting Married Today; . The ‘Little Things We Do Together’ pair are now a black middle-aged couple. The ‘you can drive a person crazy’ trio, is not female, but single men frustrated with Bobbie’s non-committal ways, singing out in vintage 3-part harmony.
We know nothing about Bobbie’s family or her career, the songs she sings ‘Side by Side’ ‘Marry Me A Little’ ‘Someone is Waiting’ all express her inner struggle answering the question ‘What do you get.” Cue music, indeed.
This production opened in London’s West End, with Sondheim participating in the makeover- notably with cuts to Furth’s baked in misogynist text, but also erasing dated lyrics. And the improvements have resulted in a spirited reboot, that made it a hit as Broadway staggered back to business after the pandemic. Sondheim was able to see it in previews just days before he died in 2021. The gender and diversity reboot just illustrates that Sondheim’s score is more universal than one would have imagined had it not for this concept and script revisions. Among the outstanding performance are Tyler Hardwick’s PJ , from Brooklyn who loves the city so much he ‘kisses the ground of it.” Sings ‘Another Hundred People’ with such stirring heart and soul.
Judy McClane, as Joanne, the boozy cynic on her third husband whose acid tongue, and bitter pathos in ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ makes it the ultimate 11 O’clock belter. McClane claims it as her own, even as her upper range seems like it could crash at any moment, her rendition is triumphant.
Bobbie’s trio of would-be lovers- Jacob Dickey, Tyler Hardwick David Socolar- express their frustrations in ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ in 40s era 3-part male harmony and some jaunty dance moves in concert with vintage orchestrations. Actually, all of the orchestrations in this production are to be savored as is Liam Steel’s choreography on several of the group numbers is warm and witty.
Director Maryann Elliot and Steel beef up several scenes with physical theater elements and potent dance numbers. The ‘Little Things we do together’ with Katherine Allison and James Earl Jones II, their Ju jitsu bout is a riot. Matt Rodin and Ali Louis Bourzgui play the gay couple in the “getting married today.” with Marina Kondo popping into their kitchen as Jamie gets cold feet and Bobbie, their best woman start slugging out of a wine bottle to cope. Eventually everyone weighs in, as they pop out of cupboards, closets, and the refrigerator.
First-rate production design all around starting with Bunny Christie’s sets, in tandem with Neil Austin’s lighting design conjures a gallery of transit spaces and through the looking glass urban colors. And the cramped space of Bobbie’s apartment is emblematic of things closing in on her as she turns 35 and has become surrounded by couples as her dating life becomes more unfulfilling.
One insert that didn’t really work was the mis-en-scene before the duet ‘Barcelona’ between Bobbie and Andy, the self-effacing airline steward with a great voice played by the very game and buff Jacob Dickey. The set up ‘Poor Baby’ that originally leads right into ‘Barcelona’ is sidetracked while Bobbie and Andy are in bed screwing and a ‘fantasy’ projection of what might be going through Bobbie’s mind, of domesticity of trapped domestic mayhem. It runs out of steam fast. But other than this forced ponderance, this reboot of Company has lots of legs.
Even though this ‘Company’ tour has a great ensemble cast, so much still rides on Coleman’s performance. And her Bobbie is quirky, and charming as she tries to figure out her own heart’s desire. at her own desires as she is unable to figure out own heart. As a singer-actor Coleman brings vocal thunder on ‘Being Alive’ in an altogether a thrilling performance. The audience at the Forrest wholeheartedly agreed.