Editor’s note: There are talks to bring London’s ‘Company’ to Broadway, and last we heard nothing was set. For now, tickets appear to be plentiful for the run at the Gielgud Theatre through March 30.
LONDON — The show that changed everything may never be the same.
Marianne Elliott’s gender-flipped Company is a wrenching, whip-smart look at contemporary isolation. Rosalie Craig stars as a female Bobby, rechristened Bobbie, the 35-year-old commitment-phobe at the center of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 basically plotless musical classic.
Sondheim and Furth brought the musical comedy into the vernacular and discarded archaic notions of story architecture that the cinema and literature had abandoned years earlier. The result is essentially a series of short plays in which Bobbie reacts to the practices of “those good and crazy people, my married friends” in their natural habitats. The trick to the role is being reactive without being uninteresting. Craig delivers.
As inspired and spunky as her performance is, she’s all but upstaged by terrifically talented supporting players. Music supervisor Joel Fram’s re-arranged, doo-wop version of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” Bobbie’s three lovers’ lament, is like a music hall number done in Sondheim patter. Jonathan Bailey, as a new version of the reluctant bride Amy, now part of a gay couple, is an explosion of sweat and swelling neck veins in “Getting Married Today,” a neurotic tour-de-force.
Patti LuPone plays Joanne, the role originated by Elaine Stritch. LuPone says this will be her last performance in a musical, and it’s sure to thrill her fans – though her angular, strangely accented delivery of the iconic “The Ladies Who Lunch” might discomfort Company acolytes.
It’s in that signature number that the weakness, such as it is, of updating the show is most evident. “Ladies,” which includes references to three-Martini brunchers traipsing to “fittings” and “Pinter plays,” hardly makes sense as a complaint about current-day femininity. Joanne wryly asks, “Does anyone still wear a hat?” They didn’t in 1970, and they certainly don’t now.
It’s true that today it’s easier to swallow a thirtysomething woman anxious about being single than a thirtysomething man (the biological clock has something to do with it) – and that’s an innovation Elliott uses fully to the production’s advantage. But the real sparks fly in Elliott’s cinematic innovations, just as they did in her stagings of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and last year’s Angels in America.
The set of Company is a void of inky black through which drift lonely, gray, practically undecorated apartments, designed by Bunny Christie. They crash into one another, attach and detach, before drifting off into the darkness again. Some critics have rightly noted that the lack of verticality doesn’t place the audience satisfactorily in New York, as did Boris Aaronson’s iconic crystal-palace scenic design from 1970. But Elliott and Christie aren’t trying to paint Manhattan; they’re trying to portray Bobbie’s confined and uncertain mind. And they place us there almost viscerally.
Elliott’s gift is for the staged image, the creation of stark, moving tableaux that do for the visual what great dramatists do for the spoken word. Every element of her designs is eloquent. And in giving Company a face that resonates today, she exposes those universal elements of the drama that will always reverberate. In casting Craig as Bobbie, she reveals that indecision, fear and loneliness are traits we all share – not just men. She tugs this revolutionary piece into the twenty-first century, leaving its perfection intact.