If there was at any time a great time to dislike “Company,” now isn’t it.
No, the loss of life on Nov. 26 of the composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim can make this extra adequately a time for sorrow and gratitude. He was, right after all, the gentleman who wrote these feelings into a attractive “Company” track — “Sorry-Grateful” — and, in so doing, released ambivalence at an practically cellular stage to the American musical theater.
But let’s confront it, the revival that opened on Thursday night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater is not the “Company” Sondheim and the ebook writer George Furth (alongside with the director Hal Prince) unleashed on Broadway in 1970. Absolutely sure, the rating stays great, and there are a couple beautifully etched performances in supporting roles, primarily Patti LuPone’s as the undermining, pickled Joanne.
As directed by Marianne Elliott, even so, in a gender-flipped model abetted by Sondheim himself, what was the moment the tale of a gentleman who is terrified of intimacy will become some thing much less intriguing: the story of a woman who is justifiably fatigued of her buddies.
That girl — now Bobbie rather of Bobby, and played by the winsome Katrina Lenk — no lengthier hears the active signal of missed emotional connections that pulsed by the music in their initial incarnation. This time, what accompanies her as she scientific studies five partnerships and samples 3 lovers is the ticking of a organic clock.
Reframed that way, and with heaps of oversize symbolic baggage piled on top rated, the story comes to feel overwrought and incoherent. Absent is the affirmative lesson Bobbie learns from the smothering couples attending her 35th birthday celebration — a milestone she’d alternatively disregard. As an alternative, as if to demonstrate that “Company” enjoys misery, this creation drags her off the pedestal of her aloofness and into the mud of a prolonged, dark night of the soul. At 1 level she vomits into a bucket.
Not that coherence was ever the material’s strong stage. From the start out, critics complained about a principal character who seemed dangerously recessive, observing other people’s foibles in loosey-goosey comic sketches that barely extra up. No marvel: They begun everyday living as independent just one-act plays.
Remembering Stephen Sondheim
The revered and influential composer-lyricist died Nov. 26, 2021. He was 91.
In just one of these sketches, the lower-level friction concerning a husband and spouse erupts in a jiu-jitsu match in a further, the seemingly best glow of marital bliss turns out to be the glow of impending divorce. A 3rd few learns the indicating of devotion when smoking pot a fourth few — now configured as two homosexual adult men — experiences hiccups on the way to the altar.
Even now, as strung with each other by Sondheim’s diamantine tunes, “Company” supplied a groundbreaking way of wanting at its matter, less via a microscope than a kaleidoscope. Sarcasm warming into insight was the hallmark of the design, which borrowed the nonrepresentational procedures of midcentury drama and wed it to a psychological acuity seldom prior to seen in American musicals. The result was a new process of storytelling in which thematic consistency trumped common plot — and almost obliterated it.
However fascinating in principle, and really worth considering as a way of reorienting the original’s out-of-date sexual politics, Elliott’s plan that the materials could be regendered for a new era fully disrupts that regularity. Apart from Sondheim’s customized new lyrics, only a number of of the alterations manufactured to accommodate the thesis scan. Just one involves the gay few, Jamie (formerly Amy) and Paul. For them, obtaining married truly is the terrifying not known described in the showstopping, tongue-twisting “Getting Married Now.” Outlining his determination to cancel the ceremony, Jamie (Matt Doyle) claims, in a line that is been included: “Just due to the fact we can does not indicate we need to.”
That instant rings true. But when Bobbie takes benefit of Jamie’s jitters to suggest that he marry her rather of Paul, she doesn’t look needy or wolfish, as Bobby did when propositioning Amy she would seem foolish and disrespectful. That Lenk fails to make perception of the second is not her fault. There are no lines or logic that would let her to do so.
Even much more flummoxing is the scene in which, as at first written, Joanne, tired of Bobby’s passivity, and most likely her very own, suggests they have an affair. Quick of turning Joanne into a lesbian, which may possibly have been extra interesting, Elliott has minimal alternative but to flip her into a pimp, goading Bobbie to “make it” with her spouse, Larry. Maybe if Larry ended up not a tertiary character, barely fleshed out in Furth’s script, this could possibly not seem to be like a directorial hail-Mary move.
Yet it is astounding what a very little LuPone can do to distract from these types of points. Whether or not swinging her legs like a mischievous child or squatting on a rest room — yes, Elliott’s staging goes there — she brings her precision comedy and riveting charisma to each second she’s onstage. Her two huge figures, “The Tiny Points You Do Together” and “The Girls Who Lunch,” each remaining rather substantially on your own, are uncommonly taut and unique.
Too bad that Lenk, so beguiling in “The Band’s Visit” and “Indecent,” is not as lucky, both equally miscast and mishandled. Bobby’s transformation into Bobbie has been achieved at the expense of a handful of ribs, turning the character into a rag doll. Not able to satisfy the spectacular and vocal demands of the purpose, Lenk looks just pummeled by it. To be reasonable, Elliott’s staging, comprehensive of athletic busywork and “Alice in Wonderland” contortions of scale on Bunny Christie’s almost too-fascinating established, is very a work out. Possibly that is why Christie, who also designed the costumes, has oddly offered Lenk simple white sneakers to wear with her dressy scarlet pantsuit.
But in seeking to disguise the show’s revue-like construction by centering the action in Bobbie’s brain, Elliott paradoxically causes her to recede even even more than regular. (At one particular stage she brings on a battalion of Bobbies, as if to compensate.) In response, you develop into uncommonly grateful for secondary characters who have very clear issues to do and do them neatly, like Jennifer Simard as the jiu-jitsu wife and Claybourne Elder as a himbo flight attendant.
At some point, though, the present operates out of distractions.
Sondheim was collaborative to a fault it is no contradiction that he hotly resented criticism of Furth’s get the job done on “Company” and nevertheless (just after preliminary skepticism) eagerly endorsed Elliott’s renovations. “What keeps theater alive is the chance usually to do it in different ways,” he explained to The Moments soon just before his dying. This was no mere bromide Sondheim allowed a masterpiece like “Sweeney Todd” to be slice to ribbons for Tim Burton’s film and saw the cult flop “Merrily We Roll Along” by way of a lot more surgeries than Frankenstein’s monster.
In that perception, this “Company” is flawlessly in line with his intentions: It is new. And truth be informed, I was by no means fewer than riveted — if normally in the way Bobby is, eyeballing messy marriages. Nor is the probability to hear the wonderful rating stay with a 14-piece orchestra to be taken evenly is there a more exciting opening variety than the title song?
So I guess I’m sorry-grateful. Sorry for not liking this model of “Company” superior — and grateful to Sondheim for furnishing the possibility to come across out.
At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, Manhattan companymusical.com. Managing time: 2 hours 50 minutes.