Douglas Mayo reviews Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Company now playing at the Gielgud Theatre in a new production by Marianne Elliott.
One can only imagine what Broadway audiences first thought of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Company when it burst onto the Broadway stage in 1970. The story of Bobby, a single New Yorker and his group of married friends told in a series of disjointed vignettes held up a mirror to the upper-middle-class theatre-goers and portrayed them in a musical for the first time in their warts and all glory. Directed by Harold Prince, that production would go on to win several Tony Awards including Best Musical.
This time around Bobby has become Bobbie, a single thirty-something girl in New York and with the blessing of Sondheim himself, Director Marianne Elliott re-imagined the piece swapping the genders of some of the characters and presenting the piece this time through the lens of a modern post Sex and the City society.
Designer Bunnie Christie has taken the bleakness and darkness of a city like New York and with a colourful costume palette and some lighting magic from Neil Austin given Elliott’s re-gendered characters an amazing playground upon which to spill their guts about relationship, marriage, love and life.
Rosalie Craig makes for a wonderful Bobbie. On her 35th birthday, she’s conflicted and it’s that conflict and her interactions with her friends (and lovers) that drive this show along. There’s great comedy in Craig’s performance but like most of the performances in this production, the truth beneath that comedy can be biting and crippling. It’s a journey that I found to be totally compelling.
The re-imagining of Company’s Paul and Amy as gay couple Paul and Jamie works phenomenally well thanks to Alex Gaumond’s blissfully happy Paul and Jonathan Bailey’s showstopping on-stage implosion in Not Getting Married Today.
Patti LuPone revisits the character of Joanne in this production and it’s a masterclass in delivering a character through song. Arguably the most devastating delivery of The Ladies Who Lunch I have ever witnessed. Sit up close and you’ll see right into her soul.
George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young are Bobbie’s potential suitors. Their wonderful You Could Drive A Person Crazy is a delight. Blagden’s Another Hundred people set against the bustle of New York and Fleeshman’s Barcelona are highlights. Liam Steele’s choreography for Tick Tock in the second act with illusions by Chris Fisher elevates this staging of Company way above anything that has come before it.
Joel Fram’s incredibly tight orchestra propels this tale of love in the big city forward at a pace. Perched high above playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations they perfectly compliment this amazing cast.
It is to his credit that Stephen Sondheim has allowed his musicals to be re-examined by modern theatre-makers and rather than be staid and static allowed his work to be treated as a living breathing entity.
Not all the tinkering works but on the whole it’s a remarkable new look at a musical I first fell in love with many moons ago. Marianne Elliott has created a once in a lifetime Company and we can only hope it will be around for longer than the exceptionally short season that seems to be proposed. Can we have a cast album please?