Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 9, 2021
Company. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince Directed by Marianne Elliott. Choreographed by Liam Steel. Music supervision, music direction, and additional vocal arrangements by Joel Fram. Scenic and costume design by Bunny Christie. Lighting design by Neil Austin. Sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph. Illusions by Chris Fisher. Hair, wig, and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates. Orchestrator David Cullen. Dance arrangements by Sam Davis. Associate directors Gina Rattan and Tanisha Fordham. Associate choreographers Simone Sault and Richard J. Hinds. Music coordinator Howard Jones.
Happily, my fears were unfounded. The changes to accommodate the shift have been handled with great care and precision, and for all the quirky adjustments director Marianne Elliott has made, this is a striking and original addition to the history of the show, which first appeared on Broadway in 1970.
My impression when I first saw it back then, and even in subsequent revivals, was that here was another Sondheim show that would always be remembered for its songs: "Being Alive," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," and, really, the entire score. But the format of self-contained short vignettes on the theme of relationships and marriage, and the lack of a through-plot to anchor the main character, have always driven this person crazy.
Perhaps Marianne Elliott felt the same way, because we are now invited to see everything entirely through Bobbie's eyes from start to end. That those eyes are befogged by Bobbie's chronic and heavy use of alcohol and drugs gives a trippy feel to much of the enterprise. Katrina Lenk in the role of Bobbie plays that aspect unreservedly, and while the vignettes remain, the lack of linearity now makes perfect sense.
If this reimagining of Company were merely about a 35-year-old woman feeling pressure to marry, urged on by "those good and crazy people, my friends" and the ticking of the biological clock, it would feel more than a little sexist and constraining. Instead, what comes across as an underlying theme is less "to marry or not to marry" than it is "to be or not to be."
Whether it's Bobbie or Bobby, the character has always been seen as a "cipher," unknowable by her friends or by us. But now we see before us a woman who has been anesthetizing herself with booze, drugs and sex for a very long time. We will never know what lies underneath it all, but it not hard to see a vulnerability that makes us wonder about what may have occurred in Bobbie's past that has led her to this state.
The entire cast does wonders in delivering the goods. And, while Katrina Lenk arguably does less well singing/selling Bobbie's big songs, the entire approach to the production rests on how well she is able to tread that fine line between breakdown and breakthrough. When we do finally get to the closing number, "Being Alive," those lyrics have taken on a whole new meaning, and Ms. Lenk steps up to the plate and delivers without going for the slam dunk or stepping out of character. In the end it works. We find we have come to care very much about this "cipher" of a person and wonder where the future will take her.
While we take the time to applaud the cast and director, we should also be very appreciative of the work of scenic designer Bunny Christie, who favors moody grays in her color scheme along with unpredictably shifting sets that reflect the shifting sands of Bobbie's mental state. Ms. Christie previously worked with Marianne Elliott on the design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and her work here, as it was in that earlier collaboration, is integral to this highly creative and imaginative production. Kudos all around, then, and, please, everybody rise!