Donna Levin: Here Comes COMPANY

If you’re lucky, once every five years, you have a transformative theatrical experience. The last time for me was 2017, when I was with my daughter Sonia, and we saw Ben Platt and the rest of the original cast in Dear Evan Hansen.

I got to see Company in New York the last week of April, this time with my two younger daughters, Elena and Anna. When the lights went down in the theater I waited for the announcement, “tonight the role usually played by Katrina Lenk…” or worse, “the role usually played by Patti LuPone…” Whew. We scored. Everyone was there.

Company isn’t one of my favorite Stephen Sondheim musicals. That would be Sweeney Todd, which I’ve seen on stage four times. (Don’t get me started on the Tim Burton film.) But the worst Sondheim production is better than the best day fishing, to paraphrase the bumper sticker.

Company originally opened on Broadway in 1970, and it is very much a creature of its time. The cynical (nothing against cynical – I minored in cynical) tale of burned-out marriages and is somewhat dated: The story, episodic though it is, centers around Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor surrounded by married friends who want to see him similarly tied down. Bobby is reluctant. A wife would be, “someone to hold me too close/someone to love me too well.”

We follow Bobby as he observes his “good crazy people, my married friends,” all of whom are pretty miserable with each other. Why would he want to join their ranks?

In the end, though, the couples try to convince our hero that “it’s much better living it than looking at it.” I’ve never felt that line very persuasive, given what we’ve seen of them. But. I. Love. The. Music.

Marianne Elliot, who directed 2018 West End revival, had the seems-obvious-once-you-get-it-idea that the main character become “Bobbie,” an AFAB. (Assigned female at birth, as my Berkeley-educated daughter would call her.) Sondheim, who has a reputation for being “collaborative to a fault” as Jesse Green described him in The New York Times, was briefly skeptical. (Green wrote in the same review of the Broadway revival, which opened two weeks after the composer’s death, “Sondheim allowed a masterpiece like “Sweeney Todd” to be cut to ribbons for Tim Burton’s film.” I really need to let this go.)

Bringing it into the 2020s means that Bobbie and her friends are constantly taking selfies, but even better, the nervous “bride” Amy is now Jamie, marrying his boyfriend, Paul. He’s just as nervous, though.

A 35-year-old man is a commitment-phobe. We don’t like that man anymore.

Sondheim was a genius, but so many extremely talented people have to come together to make a show soar. Actors, set designers, lighting designers. Costume designers. Musicians! The conductor, for eff’s sake!

And then, all of those people have to work together with the kind of a split-second timing usually reserved for fighter pilots and atomic clocks.

It’s almost enough to restore one’s faith in humanity. But don’t get me started.

^^^Donna Levin is the author of four novels, many of which feature characters on the autism spectrum, and all of which are available from Chickadee Prince Books. Her most recent novel, He Could Be Another Bill Gates, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at the bookstore right across the street from your home. Please take a look.