For a musical that was once described as being “too New York for New York,” Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical comedy “Company,” now at the Bernard P. Jacobs Theatre, is the perfect antidote for Gothamites who have survived the pandemic. It’s a potent reminder that without “company” around us – whether they be friends, lovers or spouses -- we are not fully alive.
But don’t go just for the message; if you’re willing to take this “Company” on its own terms, it is often extremely entertaining. Admittedly, though, switching the gender of the lead character, many of the questionable staging choices by director Marianne Elliott, and even some of Sondheim’s updated lyrics will likely enrage those with a deep attachment to previous productions of the show (and perhaps perplex even newcomers). But the performances of a top-notch cast often banish one’s unhappy thoughts.
Now updated to the present, the piece remains essentially a series of vignettes; they now focus on the female Bobbie (Katrina Lenk), who is about to immediately turn 35 and is still unmarried, much to the chagrin of her “good and crazy” best friends – four couples in varied states of matrimonial bliss. (There are also three male suitors on hand, though not all of them have marriage on their minds.)
Quickly, one sees why Sondheim -- who always favored “actors who can sing” over “singers who can act” -- approved Lenk for this tricky role, even if there are plenty of actresses who could sing Bobbie’s big ballads, “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive,” far more comfortably than she can. Resplendent in a red two-piece outfit (by Bunny Christie), Lenk is magnificently charismatic yet deeply vulnerable. We fully understand why everyone adores her, while we also sympathize with her reluctance to make a lifetime commitment to another human being (especially given the less-than-perfect unions around her). Indeed, her Bobbie is anything but a cipher, a problem that has plagued other productions of the show.
In one of the production’s final scenes, Lenk even goes toe-to-toe with the peerless Patti LuPone, who perfectly embodies the deliciously acidic, obviously unhappy Joanne. Further, her brilliantly pointed rendition of the show-stopping diatribe “The Ladies Who Lunch” more than does its job (as in, it absolutely stops the show) and could help LuPone score her third Tony Award.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Simard proves (again) to be the ultimate scene-stealer as the judgmental Sarah, earning swells of laughter from her unique vocal delivery and unabashed physical abandon. (She gets some competition on the female side from Nikki Renee Daniels and Rashidra Scott, both excellent, as Jenny and Susan.)
As for the men, Matt Doyle is deliciously frantic as the nervous groom-to-be Jamie, making a three-course meal out of the tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today”; Christopher Sieber shines as Sarah’s often-exasperated husband Harry; Christopher Fitzgerald is delightful as the sweet-natured David (even making us believe we’re watching him get stoned for the first time, a scene that has never really worked before); and Claybourne Elder slips into the revamped role of none-too-bright flight attendant Andy just as easily as he slips out of his clothes (revealing the best physique currently on Broadway).
In the Act I song “The Little Things You Do Together” (sung in this production by LuPone along with the entire company), Sondheim rather snarkily outlines the many joint activities “that make marriage a joy.” However, it is the many things we do together – like going to a theater and reveling in a great musical like “Company” – that truly make life in 2021 a joy.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Katrina Lenk, Patti LuPone, Matt Doyle, Christopher Fitzgerald, Manu Narayan, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Terence Archie, Etai Benson, Nikki Renée Daniels, Claybourne Elder, Greg Hildreth, Rashidra Scott, Bobby Conte Thornton, Kathryn Allison, Britney Coleman, Javier Ignacio, Anisha Nagarajan, Tally Sessions, Matt Wall
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036