Review: COMPANY at Connor Palace

Reimagined COMPANY lights up Connor Palace as part of Key Bank Series

By: May. 03, 2024
Review: COMPANY at Connor Palace
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Stephen Sondheim is generally considered the most important composer/lyricist of the 20th century American musical theater.  Many consider him to be the person who reinvented the genre.
 
His musicals introduced the “darker elements” of human experiences.  “His music and lyrics were tinged with complexity, sophistication, and ambivalence about various aspects of life.”
 
He opened the door to “serious” topics that emerged in such musicals as RENT, NEXT TO NORMAL, DEAR EVAN HANSEN and HAMILTON.
 
He won eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
“A theater is named after him both on Broadway and in the West End of London.” 
 
His works include GYPSY,  A LITTLE NIGHT MUSICSWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREETINTO THE WOODS and WEST SIDE STORY. 
 
Included in his lexicon is COMPANY, an adaptation of which is now on stage at the Connor Palace, as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  He wrote the music and lyrics, with a book by George Furth, which deals with “contemporary dating, marriage, and divorce.”  

As Sondheim wrote, COMPANY is about "the challenge of maintaining relationships in a society becoming increasingly depersonalized.  As the musical points out, it is the key to "being alive."
 
The original 1970 production was nominated for a record-setting 14 Tony Awards, winning six. 
 
In the early 1990s, Furth and Sondheim revised the libretto, cutting and altering dialogue that had become dated and rewriting the end of act one.   
 
COMPANY tells the story of Robbie, a confirmed bachelor who, on the night of his 35th birthday, contemplates his unmarried status with the “help” of his married, divorced, happy, frustrated, gay and straight friends.  
 
In 2020 there was a 3rd Broadway revival of the show, based on the 2018 West End production.  It opened December 9, 2021, to broad acclaim.  It featured a Bobbie who was a female, rather than the original male lead character.  In addition, the very delightful, “Getting married today,” sung by a prospective bride who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown caused by pre-marriage fears, is now sung by a gay male.

“Five days before he died, Sondheim discussed the revival's change of the lead character's gender. He expressed how theater is distinguished from film and video because "you can do it in different ways from generation to generation…What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It's not just a matter of changing pronouns, but attitudes." 

The newest version became the most nominated musical revival of the season, receiving nine Tony Award nominations and winning five including Best Revival of a Musical.  It is this version of the script that is in on tour in Cleveland.

The production well-develops the original, along with the adjusted story changes.  The female Bobbie has the additional angst of her ticking body clock, as well as taking a more assertive gender role.  

The technical approach is modern, using many electronic graphics rather than traditional set pieces.  The orchestrations have also been modernized, as have been the costumes and the language.

The score, filled with musical theater classics including the title song, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Another Hundred People,” “Marry Me A Little,” “Side by Side,” “Barcelona,” and “Being Alive,” are all well-presented.  

Matt Rodin (Jamie), gives a show-stopping, rapid patter delightful dynamism to “Getting Married Today,” while, Judy McLane (Joanne), hits all the emotional levels in “Ladies Who Lunch.”

Though well-versed theater-goers, who have grown-up with a male Bobbie, may have some trouble adjusting to a female Bobbie, Britney Coleman should be able to win most of them over.  She develops a clear character, sings well, and is generally convincing.

The show is well-conceived and staged by director Marianne Elliot. 

Capsule judgment:  The “new” gender-bender, reconceptualized COMPANY, nicely displays how a script can grow and become relevant, once again, in the hands of the right writing and production crew.  It makes for a feeling of “Being Alive” while you are “Side by Side by Side” with other joyous theater-goers.
 
COMPANY runs though May 19, 2024 at the Connor Palace.  For tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org



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