by Alice Cheung, CAS Class of 2021 (Journalism & Sociology)
Bedford Square News, Spring 2019, Issue 1
Gielgud Theatre, London — Everything works sensationally when the 35-year-old he becomes the similarly unengaged she in the rearranged version of the 50-year-old musical. Director Marianne Elliott combines top topics of gender transition, feminism, same-sex and transracial marriage with the original plot so well, that the 50-year-old musical turns into a modern classic.
The 1970 show with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (adapted from George Furth’s book) brought Bobby, a bachelor from Manhattan, to the stage with duologues by multiple couples around him, talking about relationships and marriage. Almost half a century later, Elliott replaces Bobby with a bachelorette named Bobbie, who encounters similar questions about relationship and marriage.
Elliott bravely brings contemporary themes on stage and helps the transformative musical make sense in a twenty-first century context. Some of the original supporting characters have had their roles swapped as well: David has become a stay-at-home husband, and Jenny has turned out to be controlling. Moreover, the engaged bride, Amy, has switched into Jamie, a lovely but panicky gay man nervous about his wedding day. As played by Jonathan Bailey, this panic is evident in the pace of his performance. The breath-taking fastest verse in Jamie’s “Getting Married Today” includes 68 words in 11 seconds, which means that on average, Jamie needs to sing out 6.2 words/sec. This is no small feat when you consider that the fastest verse in “Guns and Ships” from “Hamilton” reaches 6.3 words/sec.
This rearranged version of “Company” tends to hang more weight on female characters. Bobby seems like a playboy and a cold fish, but Bobbie is curious about marriage and is seeking her future husband. Rosalie Craig endows a sense of warmth to Bobbie: she is a good listener and is concerned about her friends’ lives. Patti LuPone, the two-time Grammy and Tony winner, displays a unique and in-depth understanding of Joanne, a much-married lady, singing “The Ladies Who Lunch” with an unmistakable note of asperity, to help Bobbie follow her heart. While Joanne is singing, she pushes Bobbie to consider whether she would become one of the ladies who lunch, or become another Joanne when she’s at her age. Her performance obviously has an impact: it’s also worth noticing that when Patti finishes singing “Rise!”, some audience members at the back even stood up to cheer for her.
Bobbie, as smartly created by Elliott on stage, shares similar features with Alice from Alice in Wonderland. She is holding a cup of wine while visiting her friends’ homes, which are presented as sliding rooms like the rabbit hole down which Alice fell. Such dream-like stage design with neon lights makes me wonder if the events we witness are real, or it’s all happening in Bobbie’s mind.
Above all, Marianne Elliott has re-invented Stephen Sondheim’s musical in a manner that is brand new. She successfully managed to make it both speak to its origins, and resonate with the audience of the twenty-first century.