****/ ***** 4.5/5
The passing of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim last month came at a fortuitous moment for producers and a public clamoring for access to his work. In addition to Stephen Spielberg’s remake of the film version of West Side Story (whose lyrics were written by Sondheim) two of his musicals just happened to have been produced this season: a lauded production of Assassins, playing off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Theater (which may soon be moving to Broadway); and, more importantly, his even more celebrated Company, in a powerhouse production starring two of Broadway’s greatest and award-winningest performers—Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone.
The story of Bobbie, a woman turning 35, and the birthday party her friends are throwing for her, this production of Company is equal parts A Christmas Carol and Alice in Wonderland. Bobbie is floating above and around the surprise party she doesn’t want—she is, at times, literally out of the frame, thanks to Bunny Christie’s brilliant sets, some of which consist of small rooms framed by soft neon lights, almost like a television set, which Bobbie often observes from without. Lenk is perfect for director Marianne Elliott’s sometimes ethereal production. Wearing an ominous, yet gorgeous red spaghetti-strap jumpsuit (costumes by Bunny Christie, too) and drinking bourbon like water throughout, her brilliantly controlled facial expressions reflect an inner monologue that’s now bemused, now beguiled, now fed up.
Bobbie’s apparent disdain for her birthday is part midlife crisis (Company premiered in 1970 when middle age was much earlier—35-year-olds are just leaving their parents’ homes now) and part feeling fed up by her friends’ constant hectoring.
They all seem to think that she should be married by now and want to know when she’s going to “settle down,” despite the fact that few, if any, of these friends are actually happy in their relationships. Whatever their circumstances—which we witness in small vignettes in which Bobbie visits each couple as if guided by the Ghost of Christmas Present—she seems utterly detached from these friends and not terribly interested in their advice.
The songs in “Company” satisfy both the Sondheim acolyte as well as those less familiar with his work. They are catchy, bassoon-heavy and differentiated, not a mass of songs that sound more or less identical. Both the title song “Company,” which is happily revisited throughout the production and “Getting Married Today,” impart message and mood, the latter a rat-a-tat word dance that takes a skilled performer just to get the words and pattern down right. Matt Doyle, as Jamie, delivers the song beautifully, making us feel the angst and connect with his cold feet.
But the real showstopper is Patti LuPone’s incredible “Ladies Who Lunch,” a strange, sad song that makes perfect sense coming from her, so much so that we feel like it was written for her personally (Elaine Stritch originated the role of Joanne).
Even at a two-hour, 45-minute run time, Company clips right along thanks to a rock- solid cast, whose physical comedy perfectly augments the show’s dark, clever humor. It’s a perfect showcase for both fans to celebrate Sondheim and for those less in the know to get a perfect demonstration of why the man is, and shall remain, so popular.