Started by Leighton, Sep 21, 2017, 03:20 PM

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Stephen Sondheim loved how gay Broadway's 'Company' revival is, says star Matt Doyle

"Getting Married Today" really is one of this production's triumphs: the sterling performance, the crackerjack staging, and even the script's lone all-new line addition ("Just because we can doesn't mean we should") which, among its other virtues, sounds not unlike something Amy might have said.

In her case, it would have been a kind of crazed non-sequitur -- and one of the pleasures of Matt Doyle's performance is that, capping a series of laugh lines, it indeed sounds almost facetious at first: it takes a fraction of a second to register that the line actually lays bare a world of uncertainty that is both universal and specific.  Audiences new to Company respond to the line's vaguely heretical ambivalence about same-sex marriage while, for those of us who know both versions, the similarities between Amy and Jamie, as well as their differences, snap pleasingly into focus.

Likewise Bobbie's proposal to Jamie near the end of the scene, though I'm on the fence as to whether Doyle's comic line reading of "Why don't we [get married], Bobbie??", echoing her question back to her in a pinched falsetto squeak of disbelief, might elicit ever-so-slightly too big a laugh.  Several critics have complained about the unlikeliness -- or even the supposed offensiveness -- of a straight female Bobbie brooking such a suggestion to a gay male Jamie in 2021.  But, even more than several other scenes where the gender-swap effectively stretches conventional norms (Jenny and David switching roles while retaining their names and genders; Joanne's "indecent proposal" at the nightclub), I think Bobbie's surprising suggestion has the welcome effect of making both her and the situation more complex and interesting.  That she would come out and say such a thing, at such a moment, might be hard to swallow (though who's to say she actually does say it, IRL, when the production is at such pains to keep us cognizant of the entire evening as a dreamlike fantasy running through Bobbie's mind as she cowers in her apartment awaiting the "surprise" birthday party?); that marrying a gay male friend might occur to her as a fantasy-solution to her relationship woes -- a rueful joke until, for a fleeting, desperate second, it's not -- strikes me as not only plausible but fairly widely-relatable, perhaps more so than the original male Bobby's equally startling and tone-deaf pivot at this moment.  Regardless of the characters' sexual identities, the point is that our cagey hero/ine is proposing a marriage of pure convenience, out of some clumsy admixture of fear and cynicism; which means that, at the halfway-point of the story, s/he has a lot left to work out.  In one sense, the more shockingly misguided that proposal is, the clearer that arc becomes.  And it makes "Marry Me A Little," a.k.a. Why I Made That Seemingly Deranged Suggestion Just Now, all the more pointed -- and poignant -- in its stubborn rejection of the messy, imperfect realities of all human pair-bonded relationships (marital or otherwise).

(Then, too, who's to say Bobbie's proposal -- while undeniably ill-timed -- is actually so crazy?  Sexual/romantic compatibility as both the necessary condition of marriage and its raison d'ĂȘtre is a historically recent idea, and still not a universally accepted one, while qualms about same-sex marriage from the left are often qualms about marriage more generally: as a legal institution conferring certain privileges on those who choose to avail themselves of it, and thereby discriminating against those who don't, many would argue that it should be abolished, not expanded.  In the meantime, as long as this "prehistoric ritual" remains in effect, people will marry for a whole host of reasons, none necessarily any inherently "better" than others).

To pick another example that has elicited strong criticism: Joanne's even more startling nightclub proposition, not to "make it" with Bobbie herself, but to gin up some kind of affair or one-off fling with (the apparently unwitting) Larry.  On the night I was there, LuPone's eyes welled-up perceptibly while coolly appraising Bobbie as "the kind of girl most men want and never seem to get".  This acting choice alone suggests so many fascinating questions about her bizarre offer, about her marriage to Larry, and simply about Joanne herself, that even if those questions aren't answered conclusively, they remain vastly more intriguing to me than the original vanishingly-thin sketch of a jaded "cougar" chasing an attractive younger man out of sheer boredom (or, even less interestingly, out of some need -- much more plausibly Furth's than Joanne's -- to engineer the epiphany that will lead him to "Being Alive".  As a direct segue, that engineering remains about as bumpy and uncertain here as ever, but I guess you can't win them all).

Company may be the original "concept musical," but in the past its concept has sometimes faltered for me when it gestures, sporadically but unquestioningly, toward this or that culturally-presumed chasm between Men and Women.  Specificity is everything, and even if I don't buy every single moment in Elliott's interpretation, overall the cross-casting has the highly salutary effect of allowing me to see these characters as complicated and unpredictable individuals.  None of the switches mentioned above strikes me as flat-out implausible; all provide windows into characters and relationships that had, as originally cast, sometimes seemed either frustratingly opaque or wearyingly two-dimensional. More often than not, it's precisely when a line sounds ineffably "off" coming from the "wrong" gender that the characters in this production spring most vividly to life.  (April, for all her charm, was a fairly standard-issue quirky sexpot, 1970 edition -- a "Laugh-In"-era Goldie Hawn on downers, more or less -- whereas tender-hearted himbo Andy, burbling about the injured butterfly, earns Bobbie's description of him as "cute, original... odd," and then some: Claybourne Elder is, to put it mildly, a hoot).

Another instance: flipping David and Jenny -- and with them, the threadbare, long-disproven, but intransigent clichĂ© that marriage is for women -- is a tiny but long-overdue service to humanity.  She's now the one musing uneasily that "I got my husband, my kids, a home. I have everything, but freedom... which is everything," while he's hurt by her admission that "frankly, sometimes I'd like to be single again" and has to be coaxed into conceding that, as a fantasy, "even an hour" of singledom might be appealing.  "Could you make it two hours?", he giggles, as coyly but also as weirdly obligingly as any Jenny of yore: a sweetly besotted but also rather childlike househusband whose awareness of being hopelessly uncool only heightens his conviction that he'd be lost without his confident and assertive wife; indeed, this asymmetry may be a pillar of their marriage, though Jenny seems not-altogether-settled as to whether the rewards of being the alpha in this relationship are worth the chafe of David's dependence.  It's a dynamic we don't often see onstage or onscreen, and it's a lot more interesting than the traditional account whereby Jenny's a strait-laced doormat, David's a hipster jerk, and the gradual revelation of their partnership's relatively mild, but sharply off-putting, toxicity is notable mainly for how completely it sours the stoner comedy.  Flipping their roles doesn't redeem them, or make their marriage look particularly more appealing, nor should it; but it at least encourages us to consider them as idiosyncratic individuals rather than easily-sorted (and decidedly dated) "types".

On more than one occasion, Katrina Lenk's Bobbie exits a scene after having visited one or another of the couples and instantly exhales an expansive "WOW." of bottled-up dismay (and perhaps relief at having escaped), where the male Bobbys I've seen have tended to evince only mildly bemused incomprehension.  Hers is still brief and offhanded -- but also laugh-out-loud funny in its irrepressible bluntness.  Lenk finds a tone, midway between flatly-judgmental and stunned-speechless, that turns what had previously always registered as a weak throwaway moment (if it registered at all) into a crucial tension-relief valve both for Bobbie and for the audience.  Ironically, while her all-caps WOW still strikes me as the far more appropriate response to these scenes (even in their original configurations) -- it's genuinely funny because it arises from genuine alarm -- Elliott's pointedly surreal production nevertheless tips the scales enough to persuade me that she's reacting to real people and their weird behavior, rather than to a series of snappily-acerbic sitcom sketches.



This is neither the freshest nor the cheeriest news (though it could be worse on both counts), but in case anyone hadn't heard:

Patti LuPone tested positive for Covid-19 the weekend before last and has been home since then, but hopes to return to Company on March 8.

The formidable Jennifer Simard -- heretofore the best and funniest Sarah among the half-dozen I've seen -- is stepping in as Joanne until then, which might be well worth a look, if only I weren't feeling so cash-strapped at this particular moment.

Best of luck to her, and here's wishing Ms. LuPone a full and speedy recovery.



I don't recall having read Variety's review until just now, but as unequivocal raves go, theirs is among the most astute and well-written this production has received:


Recently nominated for what will hopefully be her second Tony, Bunny Christie has posted four model photos on Instagram (the 2 posts linked below each include 2 pics) of some of her early Company experiments:




Great Performances S49 Ep29 "Keeping Company With Sondheim" premiered on May 27 and is a must-watch (for anyone who hasn't already), either online or on the PBS app:

As promised, it includes lots of rehearsal and performance clips from the current B'way revival.  (Words can't express my envy of their full-scale rehearsal-room mockups of essentially Bunny Christie's entire set).  These are mostly brief snippets -- no full songs, or anywhere near -- but they're nicely shot and plentiful enough to offer an excellent sense of how the production works.  They do give away a few visual surprises ("Another Hundred People," "Getting Married Today," "Tick Tock"), but the moments in question are so brilliant that I'd rather they be "spoiled" than not captured at all.

There are also nine minutes of extra footage not included in the doc itself, focusing on LuPone's Joanne, her "Ladies Who Lunch", and how it resonates anew when addressed, pointedly, to a female Bobbie.  While Joanne may be the most-married person ("three or four times") in the show, and Bobbie the least-married (never yet); and while their defense mechanisms may seem radically different (one stays aloof by breathing fire, the other hides behind people-pleasing); there's nevertheless a kinship between the two women -- and a cautionary edge to the song overall: here, but for the grace of God, go you -- which isn't as explicit with a male Bobby.  Usually (as LuPone observes) a kind of stand-alone eleven-o'clock number, "The Ladies Who Lunch" has never spoken to Robert's journey with such blunt clarity: notwithstanding the crucial nod to the gender-unspecified "ones who just watch", he was never in danger of becoming any of the women Joanne spends the rest of the song skewering.  By contrast, Bobbie might well lose sleep after hearing this song, wondering whether it has laid out the entire narrow range of best-case options available to her, even in 2022.

Streaming until June 24, according to the PBS website.


Deadline has published a selection of SJS & Marianne Elliott's emails to one another, from 2016-2018, over the course of preparing the new Company for London:


Tony-Winning 'Company' Revival Will End Broadway Run July 31

Well damn, that sucks.
Not that we thought things were back to pre-pandemic normalcy, but still.  This, to my mind, is a sobering measure of just how woefully incomplete Broadway's Return really is (so far).  If the time when Fun Home and The Band's Visit could run over a year apiece is gone for the foreseeable future (is there such a thing as a foreseeable future anymore? has there ever really been?), it will be a bitter pill indeed.

Hopefully my finances will improve in time to catch this at least once more before closing.  (My day job is supposed to resume any day now, after being on hiatus since mid-March, but I've heard no definite word since their "late June" estimate, three months ago).

In better news, a North American tour is planned to start in fall 2023.


I am so sad about this. Chris and I are planning a trip to New York in December and this was on the list. Oh well. At least we will see the tour. I am really curious about the casting. I wonder if any of the Broadway cast will be in it. I presume we won't have Katrina Lenk or Patti Lupone.


This just popped up in my email:

Company North American Tour Announces Initial Stops

Namely:  Detroit (October 2023), Denver (May-June 2024), Seattle (July 2024).  Twenty-odd additional stops TBD, no casting announced yet.


I knew it was coming here. I am trying to work up my enthusiasm. So far I've been thinking that it's going to be in a very large theatre, and on top of that, ticket prices will be inflated. From what I've seen of it, the most recent Broadway revival looked like an intimate (even crowded at times) show, and I wonder how well that would translate to the large venue. It might all depend on who's in the cast, and I've got over a year to figure out if I really can't miss the opportunity.


The Buell does have a seating capacity [2,839] well over twice that of the Jacobs [1,078], where Company ran here.  (The latter is a midsize house by Broadway standards, roughly halfway between B'way's smallest [Hayes; 597] and largest [Gershwin; 1,933] houses by capacity).

The Buell's stage is likely bigger, too, but probably not to a degree that would cause this Company to look lost on it.  (I can't find stage specs for the Buell, but guessing from photos, I doubt its proscenium -- which is the important thing here -- is more than maybe 20 or 30% larger overall than the Jacobs's?).  The Gielgud, where this production originally ran in London, seats 985, not too much smaller than the Jacobs -- but, like most West End theaters, its proscenium is significantly narrower than most Broadway houses, with a taller, squarer aspect ratio: 30' wide where the Jacobs's is 40' (and the Buell's, I'm guessing, might be around 50').  Judging by Bunny Christie's website, the set may have been a wee bit more cramped in London, but it was subtly expanded for Broadway, where it filled the Jacobs stage very effectively indeed, so I'm guessing it won't look any more dwarfed by the Buell than most other  sizable  B'way  touring  productions.

Here in New York, I saw Company from tenth-row orchestra seats and again from first-row mezzanine ones, and while it had its intimate moments which undoubtedly benefited from sitting relatively close, I wouldn't say the staging overall depended on intimacy or claustrophobia such as could only be provided by a modest-size stage and/or auditorium.  Indeed, the production's bold, broad visual composition and movement were among its chief delights: it plays with scale so that some scenes sprawl and others are literally miniature, with Ms. Christie's Tony- and Olivier-winning set morphing to create its own crowdedness, or spaciousness, as needed -- but on the whole, I'd say this staging is less likely to get lost in a large venue than any other Company I've seen.  (Possibly even including the iconic Prince/Aronson original, which I didn't see (not having been born yet), but which was designed for the midsized Alvin -- 1,363 seats, 40'W prosc. -- and whose architecturally imposing unit set, with its two glass elevators, nevertheless lacked the Elliott/Christie revival's dynamic large-scale scenic movement).

Granted, it is still Company, not Moulin Rouge! or even Hamilton; a certain intimacy is built into the writing, especially Furth's book scenes.  Then again, neither is it Fun Home -- a show which would seem to require an intimate house as surely as it requires excellent singing actors -- and FH's touring version was nevertheless somehow still captivating from row M of a venue just about the same size (at 2,799 seats) as the Buell, and architecturally charmless to boot.

Overall, I would recommend seeing this without reservation; I still agree with Adam Feldman's description of this production as "the most satisfying Broadway revival of a Sondheim show in history," hence worth seeing under almost any circumstances even if, like Feldman and myself, you don't count Company as your very-favoritest of Sondheim's shows.  But just in case I'm wrong, and the Buell does turn out to be a slightly bigger-than-ideal home for it, I'd also recommend splurging a bit, if possible, for the best seats (i.e. center-ish, close-ish) you can reasonably afford.