COMPANY on tour — across the U.S.

Britney Coleman as Bobbie leads the cast of COMPANY on tour
(Photo my Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

A 25-city national tour of Marianne Elliott’s recent Tony and Olivier award-winning adaptation of Sondheim’s 1970 hit Company is under way. The role of Robert has been transformed into Bobbie, a woman marking her 35th birthday. Elliott received Sondheim’s approval for this rearrangement; he provided some revised lyrics driven by the gender switching, and he was warmly enthusiastic about the production’s success. A preview of the Broadway production in November 2021 was the last performance Sondheim attended before his death. In the 21st-century Bobbie (formerly Robert) is surrounded by five quirky married couples who hope to inspire her to matrimony. They are more diverse racially, and one couple is gay. And instead of Robert’s trio of frustrated girlfriends — Kathy, Marta and April — Bobbie juggles relationships with — Andy (Jacob Dickey), Theo (David Scolar) and bohemian PJ (Tyler Hardwick) (IMAGE BELOW).

Britney Coleman as Bobbie, Jacob Dickey as Andy, David Socolar as Theo and Tyler Hardwick as PJ in COMPANY on tour. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

To make all this rearrangement work, Elliott needed to deconstruct much of the show created by Sondheim and book writer George Furth and reassemble it to explore issues faced by a single contemporary woman whose biological clock is ticking. Bobbie (Britney Coleman) is lonely, but she can’t decide whether she should be seeking a more permanent relationship. Several of her married friends don’t provide much in the way of inspirational role models — Sarah (Kathryn Allison), a foodie, and David (Jed Resnick), an alcoholic, compete with one another, physically and emotionally, while Peter (Javier Ignacio) and Susan (Marina Kondo) declare that they’ll improve their better relationship by divorcing. Bobbie’s boyfriends have issues with her unwillingness to step up to a deeper relationship; her one-night stand with Andy (Dickey), a handsome but empty-headed flight attendant now explodes in a riot of horrifying outcomes with multiple incarnations of the pair multiplying onstage and suggesting the many ways a relationship could go off the tracks.

Britney Coleman as Bobbie in the touring COMPANY sings “Being Alive.”
(Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Coleman, who understudied Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in the Broadway production, has her own frustrated, bemused take on the role and the right voice for the plaintive “Marry Me a Little” that concludes Act I and the revelatory “Being Alive” at the show’s conclusion. She wears floaty lipstick-red pants and top, a color not to be found dressing the characters around her, clad in monotones of grey, white and black. The show’s costumes were designed by Bunny Christie, also the production’s scenic designer. Her set of cramped boxes represent spartan New York apartments that slide on and off the stage; the show’s neon-styled title, C-O-M-P-A-N-Y, is used variously as a set of letters — “O” becomes a subway door, while “N,” “Y” and “C” form the backdrop for a particularly New York moment.

Judy McLane makes the acerbic Joanne her own without mimicking Elaine Stritch who originated the role or Patti LuPone who played it in Elliott’s productions in London and New York. She’s slightly softer, which makes her recommendation to Bobbie to avoid becoming one of those “Ladies Who Lunch” a more meaningful interaction. Her long-suffering husband Harry (James Earl Jones II) with a touch of being a “ladies man” seems a more natural mate.

The tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today” is the tour’s most entertaining number, with angsty Jamie (Matt Rodin) having a serious panic attack on the morning of his wedding to Paul (Jhardon DiShon Milton), while a “Priest” (Marina Kondo, again) pops unexpectedly and amusingly in and out to deliver the increasingly unhinged “church music.” Before that number ends, almost every cast member springs out of unexpected corners, cabinets and other aspects of the set.

The entire cast takes on Liam Steel’s complex, inventive choreography for “Side by Side by Side” at the top of Act II. The 1970 cast had only modest dance skills, even trained by legendary choreographer Michael Bennett, so it’s fun to see this lively number in the tour with everyone in weirdly crazy synch with one another.

The “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” number, now with Bobbie’s diverse trio of boyfriends, plays out on the doorsteps of three brownstones. It’s the space where uptight David (Jed Resnick) and already stoned Jenny (Emma Stratton) reverse the husband and wife who experiment with pot — in fact, they remain frozen during the scene while the trio sings. PJ (Hardwick) is back for a spirited rendition of “Another Hundred People” interpolated with other moments of illustrative action.

All of this happens as if we’re inside the mind of Bobbie, perplexed about turning 35 — despite the mylar “35” balloons of various sizes that haunt her (and need to be punctured as she builds momentum toward “Being Alive”). This adaptation is a fascinating take on the Furth’s tales from 1970: Instead of a commitment-phobic cypher, the central character now struggles with the expectations a woman needs to address a half-century later. It’s intriguing to see how Elliott’s reformulation of Furth’s script and Sondheim’s reshaped songs tell a very different but meaningfully contemporary story.

I saw the tour in mid-February during its one-week tour stop at the wonderfully ornate Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. It’s moving on to stops in Fayetteville, Arkansas; St. Louis; Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center in March; and Boston, Pittsburgh and Providence, Rhode Island, in April. Venues, ticket orders and more tour stops can be viewed at this website. Sondheim fans who didn’t get to see this production on Broadway should make the effort to catch it when it comes to a nearby city. Even if you don’t warm to Elliott’s concept, this is a fine production that will impress you with how Sondheim’s creativity shines through.

And if you need a refresher about Company, look it up in my Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia, now available in hardback and more affordable paperback editions.

LEARN MORE

Speaking of revivals that you ought to see: The much-lauded Broadway revival of Merrily We Roll Along starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez has been extended through July 8 with this excellent cast. If you can get to New York City, this is the show to see.

If you plan to see Company on tour, or Merrily and Sweeney Todd (now featuring Sutton Foster and Aaron Tveit) on Broadway, you might want to check out a set of provocative Zoom classes, “Our Time with Sondheim,” by Sondheim expert Gail Leondar to increase your appreciation and enjoyment. The three 90-minute classes are being offered on March 3, March 17 and April 7, from 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT/4 p.m. MT/3 p.m. PT Learn more at Gail’s Eventbrite page. Classes will be recorded for later viewing. The fee is$45 for three 90-minute classes.

The sessions on Sweeney and Merrily contain new content. However, the only completely new class is on Elliott’s gender-swapped Company. Anyone wishing to take only that class can do so for $15 with a request to Gail at TalkingSondheim@gmail.com.

HOME SWEET HOME

You’ve probably heard the news that Sondheim’s Manhattan home at 246 E. 49th Street in the historic Turtle Bay neighborhood has been sold. But its longtime illustrious owner is now memorialized with a “Medallion” from the city’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Center. In a Zoom event on February 14, hosted by the center’s Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel, thoughts about Sondheim were offered by James Lapine, Patti LuPone, John McWhorter, Jonathan Groff, John Weidman, and Liz Calloway.

If you have comments or questions about Sondheim, drop me an email at pender.rick@gmail.com.

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