Review: Not Much Warmth in This Chilly Touring Production of Company

The American musical theater has been graced with another revival of Company, Stephen Sondheim’s and George Furth’s 1970 musical about our basic human need for togetherness. In this 2021 Broadway rendering by Marianne Elliott, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival, we are faced with a conundrum. Is this the Company for a new generation? It gets a mixed reception from me.

First and foremost, however, do make time to see this show. The tour is now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through November 12. This revival recreates one of the most lyrical and complex music scores in Broadway history, and that fact alone makes it a pleasure to watch. The musical also captures the kind of loneliness one can feel while sitting in a room full of people, whether they are strangers, family or close friends. It strives to answer the question: Where is MY someone

Britney Coleman as Bobbie surrounded by her married friends. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

That’s the question facing Bobby – or Bobbie, in this gender-swapping revival. The main character is celebrating her 35th birthday, with no “happy ending” on the horizon (i.e., marriage). Bobbie (Britney Coleman) gets lots of dating advice from her married friends, all of whom may live in the same New York City building. This makes things convenient, as there is relatively no “down time” between scenes between Bobbie and her various friends. The musical flows beautifully from one vignette to the next.

The cast, under the direction of Marianne Elliott, does a spectacular job of singing this difficult score, with its myriad Sondheim favorites. In this case, some songs “land” more solidly than others. The poignant “Sorry-Grateful,” sung by three men, is still haunting. But it ignores an obvious stage direction: when a husband sings, “she walks in,” his wife is supposed to enter the room and do some silent stage business until the part where he sings, “she walks out.” Then she exits. But there’s no sight of her in this revival, which feels odd.

Of all the modifications seen in this Company, the most successful is the swapping out of one of the wives, Amy, for a guy, Jamie. On the eve of Jamie’s wedding to Paul (Ali Louis Bourzgui), his longtime partner, he comes down with a frightful (and frightfully funny) case of pre-wedding jitters. Bobbie, as the couple’s best man, or best woman, or whatever, shows up at their apartment to assist them with last-minute details. Soon, there’s a surreal appearance of a female priest, singing a hymn about marriage. This freaks out Jamie (Matt Rodin) even more. He goes completely over the edge while singing, “Getting Married Today.” This showstopper (deservedly) brings down the house.

Matt Rodin as Jamie and Ali Louis Bourzgui as Paul. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

There are obvious updates to the script, such as the fact that all of the characters carry a cell phone (even at home), which certainly would not have been the case in 1970. Even the fabulous opening song, “Company,” doesn’t begin with a telephone busy signal any more (younger audiences would not recognize such a sound).

Instead of three wannabe girlfriends confronting the elusive Bobby in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” now it's three guys singing to Bobbie. This number is gorgeously sung by the harmonizing boyfriends (Jacob Dickey, David Socolar and Tyler Hardwick). Socolar, in the role of a ditzy male flight attendant, probably gets as many laughs as the former version did with a female in the part.

In this version, Act I ends with Bobbie singing, “Marry Me a Little,” a tune that was scrapped from the original. Coleman does an excellent job of delivering this number, which hints that her character’s notions of relationship may be changing—but not too much. Sondheim fans will especially enjoy this song, which is an excellent set-up for Bobbie’s final, heart-rending solo, “Being Alive.”

However, the extra song does extend the first act to a full 90 minutes.

Derrick Davis as Larry, Judy McLane as Joanne and Britney Coleman as Bobbie. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Highlights of Act II include “Barcelona,” an ode to the complexities of one-night stands, and the irresistible “The Ladies Who Lunch.” As Joanne, who sings this sarcastic tribute to a certain type of urban woman, Judy McLane delivers a powerful and full-throated punch. I did not see the arch qualities of Patti LuPone’s voice (she played Joanne on Broadway) or the original Joanne, Elaine Stritch. As good as these other actors are, nothing could match the weary, snarky, gravel-voiced Stritch. She sung her heart out on the original long-playing album, and it was definitely her signature number. But it’s also a treat to see this number revived, with a much younger-looking McLane raising her vodka stinger in a toast to the “girls.”

One of the less successful scenes involves the gang re-enacting children’s party games for Bobbie’s benefit. It reminds one of a line from a different musical, “actors are children, playing hide and ego-seek.” For all the sophistication one hears in the score, some of the choreography (by Liam Steel) appears too cartoonish and puppet-like to make sense. And since the script was altered only minimally, there is no acknowledgement of Bobbie’s genetic clock ticking into overtime. This would have made the male/female transition feel more genuine.

One can imagine that any successful rendition of Company would appear to be brash, brittle and uber-stylish. However, this version does not fully convey the underlying human emotions expressed in the songs. As an audience member, one doesn’t have feelings for the future of any of these characters (except maybe Jamie and Paul). Even when Bobbie sings her explosive final number, “Being Alive,” it doesn’t seem like her character fully appreciates the transformation she is supposed to make. In 1970, we got it. In 2023, I’m not so sure.

Company continues at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through November 12. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one intermission. For more information on this and other Broadway touring productions, call 800-775-2000 or click on www.broadwayinchicago.com.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Anne Siegel

Anne Siegel is a Milwaukee-based writer and theater critic; she's a former member of the American Theatre Critics Association, where she served for more than 30 years. Anne covers a wide range of Milwaukee theater for the city’s alternative newspaper. Her work also appears on several theater-related websites, including Third Coast Review.