Gielgud Theatre, London – until 30 March 2019
Exemplifying the meaning of the term “revival”, Marianne Elliott delivers a brand new take on classic concept musical Company that is fresh, funny and altogether fabulous. Bobby is now Bobbie, and the museum piece on 1970s domesticity and despondency is now a slick millennial take on coupling and coping.
Set in present-day New York, Bobbie negotiates a fever dream of self-reflection as she blows out the candles on her 35th birthday. A literal Alice in wedded Wonderland, Bobbie combats the good intentions of her circle of friends and explores her options with a trio of distinct male partners.
Beginning with the ingenious idea for the gender reversal of the lead character, director Elliott has worked her way through the show tweaking other genders and situations to infuse the cherished work with new life and abundant heart.
Following consultation with, and approval from, composer Stephen Sondheim, Robert’s girlfriends April, Marta and Kathy become Andy, PJ and Theo, and, in a particularly inspired twist, Amy becomes Jamie, a similarly frantic bundle of nerves on the day his wedding to Paul. Bobbie reflects on the qualities of five male friends in ‘Marry Me A Little’. The four women, along with Jamie, besiege Bobbie with ‘Have I Got A Guy For You’.
Over and above the changes to characters, the masterstroke of Elliott and her team lies in revisioning Company as a musical comedy, chock full of “company” numbers. The vignettes of George Furth’s original book fairly fly by between lively, reinvigorated numbers.
Choreographer Liam Steel gives the three boys nifty vaudevillian steps in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” which also features neat new harmonies. A host of New Yorkers crowd the subway cars in “Another Hundred People.” “What Would We Do Without You” is a breathless montage of basically every party game every invented.
Bobbie’s nightmarish imagination reaches its zenith as she lies in bed being attended beneath the covers by Andy. Four sets of Bobbie and Andy couples cycle through key future moments, which take on an ominously oppressive vibe.
Bunny Christie’s design places the band high overhead, thus keeping the apartment settings to realistic heights. Backgrounds are uniformly grey and costumes are pale (green for the couples and blue for the three guys), making Bobbie’s red hair and blood orange dress really pop. The number 35 is scattered throughout the design, which consists of a varying set of apartment rooms, a pair of subway cars and a streetscape of stoops.
Having worked all her life to be an overnight success, Rosalie Craig is a thrilling delight as Bobbie, keeping the audience firmly on her side as Bobbie negotiates the minefield of marriage. Craig sings the role with aching sweetness, and the production is wise to strip all staging for Bobbie’s big three solo numbers.
Each of the cast members is an excellent singer, and the combined effect of their voices is superb. Apart from interest in the changes to the show, the cast recording will be a beauty just on the basis of the quality of the singing.
Patti LuPone is in blistering form as Joanne, nailing every laugh and knocking “The Ladies who Lunch” right out of the theatre.
Mel Giedroyc brings a perky cuteness to frazzled Sarah. Richard Fleeshman, chiseled beyond belief, conveys flight attendant Andy’s superficial simplicity with a slightly high-pitched, breathy voice. As jittery groom Jamie, Jonathan Bailey underpins the hysterical patter of “Not Getting Married Today” with an affecting performance of real heart.
Company is the West End’’s current must-see musical with very good reason.
Company was reviewed 7.30pm 1 January 2019 at Gielgud Theatre, London where it plays until 30 March 2019.
Footnote: Unfortunately, Australian theatre star Ben Lewis was absent for this performance. Hopefully Lewis will be back on stage when Man in Chair returns to Company in late January.