Thus far, Bobbie (Katrina Lenk) has enjoyed her bachelorhood in New York City, fending off serious relationships while cycling through a series of kind, gorgeous idiots (Claybourne Elder, Matthew Murphy, and Manu Narayan). But when she turns thirty-five, Bobbie questions her decision to remain unattached, and she begins to listen to the almost cult-like appeals from her friends to settle down.
Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company is constantly playing with the tension between the intimacies and restrictions of being in a relationship and the freedom and loneliness of being single. The example set by Bobbie’s friends doesn’t necessarily offer a clear answer: Harry (Christopher Sieber) and Sarah (Jennifer Simard) have forced each other to (almost) forfeit the pleasures of alcohol and food, and still, they do seem to enjoy their playful tussling; Peter (Greg Hildreth) and Susan (Rashidra Scott) are getting divorced and yet remain loving friends and co-parents; Jamie (Matt Doyle) adores his fiancé Paul (Etai Benson) but gets cold feet on his wedding day; and Joanne (Patti LuPone) berates her third husband, Larry (Tally Sessions at the performance I attended), but Larry sees her meanness as insecurity, and he loves her for it.
It is the complexity of these relationships that makes Company one of the all-time great musicals. Sondheim, who remained a bachelor until he was sixty, is neither sentimental nor cynical about his subject matter, and the result is both musically and dramatically rich. Consider “Getting Married Today,” which pairs the slow, portentous singing of a chorister (Nikki Renee Daniels) and Paul (“Bless this day / Pinnacle of life / Husband joined to wife”) with Jamie’s lightning patter (“What’s a wedding? It’s a prehistoric ritual / Where everybody promises fidelity forever / Which is maybe the most horrifying word I ever heard of”). Doyle’s athletic performance here is a standout—he sings 478 words in four minutes, at one point 68 in eleven seconds, almost giving the audience a heart attack along with his character.
Then there is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” Joanne’s caustic takedown of complacent, upper-middle-class women who spend their lives playing wife and treating art like so much cultural capital. LuPone’s rendition is particularly sour—she practically spits “ladies who lunch”—but there is an added sadness to this reading of the song, since Joanne’s target is not only her peers but also herself: “And here’s to the girls who just watch— / Aren’t they the best? / When they get depressed / It’s a bottle of Scotch / Plus a little jest.” It’s one of the only times in my ten years of reviewing theater that I’ve seen a standing ovation for a single number.
And speaking of those who just watch, Bobbie is more reactive than active, and Lenk appropriately cedes the spotlight to her co-stars. The set designer, Bunny Christie, deposits the characters in large, neon-lined boxes, and whether one sees these boxes as cozy or imprisoning depends on one’s view of monogamy. The costumes, also by Christie, juxtapose a parade of sweater vests, polos, and shorts with Bobbie’s striking red jumpsuit. At least on the sartorial front, bachelorhood is preferable to marriage.
Thus, this revival is a perfect alignment of form and meaning; it is a production worthy of its author, and—in light of his recent death—a beautiful tribute to his transformation of the medium.
Company runs through June 26th at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. 242 W. 45th Street New York, NY. 2 hours 50 minutes. One intermission.