Um.. about the same really! For all it's promised looking from a new angle at the show, it still left me loving the score and slightly enervated by the linking scenes. Playwright George Furth had written a collection of one-act plays for mercurial actress Kim Stanley which were to be directed by Anthony Perkins... who showed them to his friend Stephen Sondheim... who showed them to Hal Prince who agreed that the short plays could be the basis of a new kind of musical where they could be solo scenes linked by a single character observing the action. There is no word on how pissed Stanley or Perkins must have been to see their project side-lined.
So COMPANY was born: Robert is surprised on his 35th birthday by his close-knit group of friends, five sets of partnered couples. As he attempts - and fails - to blow out his candles, he remembers occasions when he has been alone with the five couples when their happy facade showed cracks. Ultimately Robert has to face that, for all his fear of commitment, "alone is not alive". COMPANY was one of the first non-linear musicals and after mixed reviews out-of-town - Variety infamously said "As it stands now it's for ladies' matinees, homos and misogynists", it struck a zeitgeist-y moment on Broadway and won six Tony Awards, and has seen popular revivals since.
Director Marianne Elliott approached Sondheim with the idea of reworking the show so Robert is now Bobbi, a 35 year-old woman who, after concentrating on the goals of education and a career, finds herself in an emotional limbo. Sondheim wasn't particularly excited by it but with his old adage "a revival can tinker but the original will always be there" he agreed for her to give it a go; it helped that he was a big fan of her work - indeed, when we first saw WAR HORSE at the National Theatre my attention was drawn to an elderly man a few row down from us on the aisle BLUBBING at the play's climax... it was Sondheim.
Elliott's vision certainly fits the musical's frame - with the implied idea that the biological clock is running too - and of course, in updating the material to include mobile phones and texting, there is also the opportunity to replace one of the couples for a gay couple and, to a less noticeable extent, swap another couple's roles: she is the provider, he is the house-husband. Elliott's redrawn COMPANY succeeds more because of the production and ensemble rather than the actual material. I have said how I think the linking scenes are the show's weakness and, again, I just found most of them - for all their modernizing - neither insightful or particularly humorous. Furth's friends are a collectively unsympathetic lot to be honest and the book's flaws are all the more evident when they co-exist next to Sondheim's effortless wit and insight.
However, as I said, Marianne Elliott has attacked the show with such passion and focus that it is a pleasure to watch. Helped by Neil Austin's bright neon framing for Bunny Christie's adjoining boxed sets, the show is an unexpected visual treat while at the same time, Sondheim's score sounds fantastic under musical director Joel Fram although having him and the orchestra perched above the set on a bridge is distracting and makes it look like they are sitting on Evita's balcony. Liam Steel's choreography doesn't really move beyond quirky.
That I liked the production is established and it is the most cohesive vision of the musical I have seen but, for the life of me, I do not understand Marianne Elliott's obsession with Rosalie Craig, who as Bobbi, is the production's dead centre.
Rosalie Craig is a go-to actress for directors such as Elliott, Josie Rourke and Rufus Norris - I presume she takes direction well and doesn't get in the way of their concept-heavy approaches but from THE LIGHT PRINCESS to CITY OF ANGELS, from AS YOU LIKE IT to here in COMPANY she has turned in anonymous after anonymous leading performances. She is certainly capable, with a pleasant singing voice - although it strains itself in the upper register - but she has zero charisma with no variance in tone - at no time did she surprise me onstage - which here is alarming as Robert / Bobbi is the glue that holds her the show together: at best Craig provides the Pritstick.
In scene after scene, my attention strayed to whoever else was on stage, no matter how good they were. People might be saying "Let's see COMPANY, Marianne Elliott is directing it" not "Let's see COMPANY, Rosalie Craig is in it". At one point I thought if only they had asked Cynthia Errivo... imagine what she could do with "Being Alive"?
As I said, it was easy to look through Craig to see some good performances: Mel Giedroyc was a delight as Sarah, forever in contest with husband Harry; it is a bit of stunt casting as her pulling power out-weighs her small role but she was great fun and well matched with Gavin Stokes as Harry who also sang the lovely "Sorry / Grateful" wonderfully. The classic Sondheim tongue-twisting number "Getting Married Today" is sung by Jonathan Bailey - as Jamie, not Amy - and although he pitched it a little too hysterical to catch all the lyrics it played well to the peanut gallery. Far better was the scene that follows when Jamie's paranoia leads him to break-up with his partner Paul, only to change his mind when Bobbi suggests they marry each other instead; Bailey and Alex Gaumond made a very good partnership.
There was also good work from Bobbi's three lingering boyfriends: Richard Fleeshman was a revelation as the air-head air pilot Andy who wrestles to leave Bobbi to fly to "Barcelona" while Matthew Seadon-Young was very good as Theo, the lover that somehow got away; sadly George Blagden couldn't do much with his big number "Another Hundred People" but that was probably due to the distracting choreography behind him, but the three combined well to deliver a great "You Could Drive A Person Crazy".
And the bitter cherry on the cake is Patti LuPone as Joanne, Bobbi's older and cynical friend, now on her third - possibly fourth - husband, who finally manages to break through Bobbi's defences after delivering her coruscating study of upper-class Manhattan wives, "The Ladies Who Lunch". This classic was wonderfully paced and sung, and of course, LuPone was a sensation. Luckily we were sitting halfway back in the stalls so there was no repeat of when we last saw her sing that song at the Leicester Square Theatre when she hurled her martini / water into the audience and I ended up soaked!
Elliott was lucky to get Patti: after suffering such pain from a needed hip operation that her last Broadway show had to close early, LuPone announced that she was finished with musicals - shortly before Marianne Elliott asked her to play Joanne! LuPone was also a fan of Elliott's previous work so agreed - "if I had turned her down she may never have asked me again" LuPone has said. Thank goodness she changed her mind. As great as she was at socking over "The Ladies Who Lunch", her playing of the whole scene was a masterclass in nailing a character and holding her moment.
So, despite Craig, everybody rise... COMPANY is back in town.