Sunday, January 23, 2022

Inhospitable: Marianne Elliott’s Revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Patti LuPone and Katrina Lenk in Company. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

There’s something undeniably poignant about seeing a Sondheim musical about New York in New York weeks after his death and mere months after theaters have opened up again. In the new revival of the 1970 Company, the fact the book (originally by George Furth) has been updated (by director Marianne Elliott, working in collaboration with Sondheim) and many of the roles have been gender-swapped raises no alarms with me, mainly because I think the material, despite its acclaim and legendary status, has never worked, so why not mix things up? What are Company’s faults? First, Bobby, the main character, is largely a cipher. He doesn’t even have a profession – all he does is have dinner with friends. Second, the central mystery of Bobby to his friends – why he isn’t married – is no mystery at all. If his friends are examples of what marriage is, it’s an unmitigated disaster that no one in his right mind would undertake. And third, the big moment when one of those friends, the uber-sophisticate Joanne, suggests that he needs someone to take care of him, leading him to ask, “But who will I take care of?,” feels less like an epiphany than a writerly conceit. It also doesn’t seem like the result would be to convince him he’s ready for marriage, especially when there’s no spousal candidate in sight.