In 1970, when Stephen Sondheim and George Furth strung together a series of one-acts to create the innovative Company (garnering six Tony Awards), they delved into areas greatly unexplored by musical theater – then contemporary marriage vs. bachelorhood. The show’s 35 year-old protagonist, Bobby, was a bit of a heel, a commitment-phobic “kid in a candy store.” Providing balance, he was also confidante, buffer and babysitter to married friends i.e. giving and dependable.
In this updated, gender-flipping version under the hellzapoppin’ direction of Marianne Elliott, Bobbie (Katrina Lenk) ricochets from situation to situation (when she’s not wandering a blue void) like a disaffected pinball. (Company never had a plot, but was once cohesive.)
The heroine juggles three men: Preppy Theo (a credible Manu Narayan), long haired musician P.J. (Bobby Conte, whose rendition of “Another Hundred People” makes no sense in relation to his character), and arm candy flight attendant Andy (an excellent Claybourne Elder). Tandem scenes find Bobbie aloof with the first two (she’s extremely surprised Theo’s moved on) and unconvincingly predatory with the third.
Let’s talk about being convincing. I was an admirer of Katrina Lenk in both Indecent and The Band’s Visit, but here she seems both out of acting depth and vocally strained. Additionally at sea due to direction, Bobbie’s central role never engenders the requisite axis.
Etai Benson and Matt Doyle
As to gender switching, perhaps the best scene in this iteration is Jamie’s (Matt Doyle) panic on the day of his marriage to sweet, ever-grinning Paul (Etai Benson). The ensuring number, “Getting Married Today” is as hysterical as it is believable. Doyle’s expression, physically manifests distress, and timing is spot on; sight gag appearance of a church chorister deftly handled. Marriage proposal to Jamie, ostensibly solving both their problems, is as disrespectful as a rom-com in search of ratings.
The other couples: Sarah (Jennifer Simard who makes the most of comic moments, but is unnecessarily busting out of her exercise clothes) and Harry (appealing, low key Christopher Sieber) take sarcastic potshots at one another while respectively trying to wean themselves of sweets and alcohol. The unexpected part of this vignette is Sarah’s showing her skeptical husband she’s learned Karate, a tussle bungled by the person responsible for fight direction.
Katrina Lenk, Christopher Fitzgerald, Nikki Renée Daniels
Susan (Rashidra Scott) and Peter (Greg Hindreth) surprise Bobbie with a crack in their relationship. While Susan is in hip, well kempt streetwear, one wonders when Peter last took a bath. The actors are fine. Jenny (the reliable Nikki Renée Daniels) and David (Christopher Fitzgerald – a droll treat) affectionately tease and compromise. When the three (with Bobbie) get high on the steps of a brownstone, gentle farce permeates the stage.
Wealthy, oft married Joanne (Patti LuPone playing Patti LuPone) treats her long suffering current husband Larry (tonight a capable Tally Sessions) like a lapdog. LuPone is acknowledged by the audience at every turn, clearly outshining Lenk in their eyes. Unimpeded, her larger than life persona, coupled with direction that even places her on a toilet, goes over the line past service to the production. The actress is in fine voice; snappy rejoinders land.
Neon framed boxes make staging claustrophobic. (scenic/costume design Bunny Christie) Director Marianne Elliott loosely integrates Alice in Wonderland with two keys, climbing into one room and crawling through a door to another where Bobbie discovers a tiny table and chair. Navigating bachelorhood is evidently a Wonderland.
Patti LuPone and Katrina Lenk
A room filled with domestically oriented Bobbies makes sense and watching the couples morning ablutions overlap is well choreographed. Having the entire company object (in song) to Bobbie’s dates, however, doesn’t feel as authentic as employing just the (jealous) men. And explain to me why we almost never see the heroine without a glass of liquor in her hand or guzzling a bottle. (The church chorister also gets drunk.)
It’s astonishing that the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim sanctioned this version under the guise of “keeping theater alive by doing things differently.” (A paraphrase.) But then, Tim Burton’s wrongheaded film of Sweeney Todd also got a pass.
The score and smart, perceptive lyrics hold up. (orchestrator David Cullen; music supervision and direction, Joel Fram. sound by Ian Dickinson for Autograph is pristine.
Instead of watching Bobbie’s trying to muster capability of intimacy, we spend time with an egocentric, standoffish, possibly alcoholic woman more annoyed than overwrought. We barely care.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: The Company
Stephen Sondheim- music and lyrics
George Furth- book
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street