In the gender-fluid 20 teens and nearly 50 years on from its original staging, Stephen Sondheim’s iconic Company still shines and astounds.
THE front cloth on stage has an illuminated version of the word Company but the letters don’t quite fit together – somehow disconnected and damaged – it’s a stinking metaphor for the whole show and it’s cast of largely dysfunctional characters.
With Sondheim’s blessing, director Marianne Elliott has swapped the gender of the lead character so Bobby the perennial bachelor now becomes Bobbie the highly successful New York woman seeking sex in the city but avoiding a proper relationship.
It’s a switch that works and Rosalie Craig has a super soaring voice to carry her through the big numbers like Marry me a Little and Being Alive. But somehow it’s not just not quite enough. She’s a watcher of other people’s relationships and we don’t really warm to her.
Much easier to appreciate are two stand-out performances. Jonathan Bailey as Jamie, the reluctant gay bridegroom pulls the house down with his frenetic, athletic, manic rendition of I’m Not Getting Married Today.
And then there’s the queen of Broadway, the incomparable Patti Lupone as Joanne – witty, sharp as a boxful of knives, and heart-breakingly honest in her magnificent version of The Ladies Who Lunch. She hits its wide open top notes like a sledgehammer. She’s worth the ticket price alone.
It’s an endlessly inventive production with a kind of Alice in Wonderland feel to it, when Bobbie has to squeeze through a tiny door and when the partygoers are crammed on top of her in a sort of weirdly psychedelic cupboard.
The weakness in the show for me is George Furth’s book. Some dialogue scenes seem endless and repetitious and you crave for another song to come along. When it does, it’s always like a breath of fresh air and the show has never seemed as new and relevant.
The orchestra, way up on a last form in the flies above the stage sound terrific and the musicians obviously have a good head for heights, under the tight direction of MD Joel Fram.
I wonder if the show will ever revert to a male lead or whether this is our Company forever now. No bad thing that.
Company runs at the Gielgud Theatre, London till March 2019.
Review by Brian Butler.
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