By Lucy Komisar
The 2006 version of “Company” was John Doyle’s spare, stylized, sophisticated production that was a perfect match for the text. Actor-musicians sat on swivel stools atop plexi-glass risers. Everyone was elegantly in black. Hanging above a white Greek pillar was a huge square chandelier with glittering bulbs. The floor was parquet and the baby grand a Steinway. The set was a pastiche of soigné Manhattan apartments.
The version that opened fifteen years later, is a mélange of pop and TV, with obeisance to current diversity rules. The book is by George Furth as before. Direction by Marianne Elliott. The main character is a girl and one couple is homosexual. There are some black actors, but’s that’s just today’s casting, not the script.
Sophistication is traded for garish, starting with huge silver balloons that spell out “35,” and Bobbie — not Bobby — (Katrina Lenk) is in red silk pants and top and (why?) white sneakers. She is drinking Drambuie and getting messages on a cell phone. It’s her birthday, and her friends are planning a surprise party.
The staging is curiously in framed lit squares that alternate with the tiny space of her apartment. Too small for gatherings, so scenes move outside to the building stoops and other apartments, a hotel room, even the subway.
Her neighbors are dicey. Harry (Christopher Sieber) is on the wagon after denouncing Southern California as a police state, because cops arrested him for drunk driving. Perhaps the most absurd scene is when his wife, with a deep New York accent and, in proper gym outfit, is exercising to lose weight and falls over him in a jujitsu match. Pure sitcom.
Saved by Patti LuPone singing, “It’s the little things you do together” as they lay on the floor “that make perfect relationships.” Nothing changes Sondheim’s brilliant music and lyrics, or the panache of an incomparable LuPone. But this is sophistication?!
Sieber has a good voice, “You ever sorry you got married? You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful.”
Another couple, Susan (Rashida Scott) is with her husband on a balcony. All the normal family chat, then they’re getting divorced.
On a stoop outside, doors all marked “35,” people are smoking pot, Jenny (Nikki Renée Daniels) is stoned, declares, “I have everything except freedom.”
Bobbie is seeing three men, flight attendant Andy (Claybourne Elder), Theo (Jacob Dickey on the evening I attended) and PJ (Bobby Conte). A great trio, they do “You could drive a person crazy,” a song and dance number with jazzy harmony choreography by Liam Steel). Then “100 people just got off the train,” Sondheim’s subway classic. Lenk/Bobbie has a fine rich voice, though too miked.
A show stopper is “I’m not getting married today.” In a stainless kitchen with a huge fridge, it was a heterosex couple, now two men, but it reflects the same fears of commitment with brilliant double-time patter by Jamie (Matt Doyle).
“Marry me a little,” good song by Bobbie. “We won’t have to give up a thing, we’ll stay who we are.” I like that idea.
But the second act gets a bit silly in the “What would I do without you” musical chairs kids games number at her party. She is drinking bourbon, the “kids” wear cone hats. Her friends are worried she needs a fella, while in a cutout bedroom she is seducing someone she just met.
He is a jerk. He tells a silly story about a cat attacking a butterfly. She takes off his shirt and pants. She tells how she had a one-night stand, went out for champagne and oil, couldn’t find the way back to the motel. Meanwhile, guys come into bedroom while her lover is under a blanket. Is this a Saturday Night Live skit? Was it really in the original?
Time passes, clock hands spin. It’s a bit amusing when Bobbie dreams/sees what could happen if she married him, got pregnant, wheeled a baby, did laundry. At first maybe she is saved by his planned trip to Barcelona, but then he stays. But you figure that is just comic relief in this sitcom.
Susan divorced Peter in Nevada, but they are back in the balcony apartment, because it’s too expensive to rent two places in New York.
As I was really getting tired of this hokey stuff, there was a great disco bar scene with LuPone in glittery sheath and fur holding a martini glass at a high round table. She tells all that first husband moved to Chicago, had meatpacking plant, “I don’t quite know where Chicago is. Over there…” (she points). A divorce.
To new husband, complaining about his dancing with another, “But I asked you to dance.” Joanne: “I only dance when you can touch.” Larry: “I love it when you’re jealous, kiss me.” Joanne: “I hated dinner, I hated the opera and I hate it here. What I need is more to drink.” So, quite the most interesting relationship. Joanne, loud, “Here’s to the ladies who lunch.” A bit drunk, her voice is filled with fury, anger. It’s another show stopper.
So far, the examples of Bobbie’s friends are not encouraging. She is strung out. But you need an upbeat ending. Turns out she’s not afraid of failure but of success. “What do you get, someone to hold you too close, hurt you too deep. Someone to force you to care, who’ll always be there.” It’s called “Being Alive” so the couples in the audience can leave on an upbeat. That’s what sitcoms are for.
“Company.” Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by George Furth; directed by Marianne Elliott, choreography by Liam Steel; Bernard B. Jacobs Theater 242 W. 45th St. NYC. 212-239-6200 Runtime 2:50. Opened Dec. 9, 2021, open run. Review also on NYTheatre-Wire.