Review: COMPANY National Tour Comes to Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre

Company plays at the Forrest Theatre through December 10, 2023.

By: Nov. 30, 2023
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Review: COMPANY National Tour Comes to Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre

The national tour of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company has officially landed at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre. The musical is a commentary on marriage, divorce, dating, friendships, loneliness, and human connection set against the busy backdrop of New York City. Company was modern when it first hit the stage in 1970, and its themes have proven timeless in this sleek, eye-catching, gender-flipped iteration triumphantly directed by Marianne Elliott.

At Company’s center is Bobbie (Britney Coleman), who is turning the big 3-5, and feels the constant social pressure of her married friends to do the same—to do what’s expected—and settle down. While Company was originally written with a 35-year-old man as its protagonist, the musical works equally well, or even better, with its main character as a woman. Bobbie—like so many women, today and always—is constantly asked by her friends when she is going to find a man and settle down already. With the arrival of her birthday, she is also reminded that her biological clock is ticking. While the number 35 appears in various forms throughout the musical—as birthday balloons of all sizes or weaved into the painting on the wall at her friends’ house— the number’s most intimate appearance is featured on the clock that hangs above Bobbie’s bed, set to 3 and 5.

Company

One of the elements that makes Company interesting, though it’s not necessarily what makes the character of Bobbie interesting, is that the musical focuses not on what Bobbie thinks of her married friends, but what they think of her. She is the constant, unattached presence in their life, and they project onto her their opinions, feelings, and assumptions about her. But Bobbie as a character is mostly unknowable. Company is an exploration of marriage as an institution, the benefit of being in a relationship, and the pitfalls. What does make Bobbie interesting in this production, is that she seems to ask herself not ‘Why don’t I have it?’ but ‘Why don’t I want it?’ Her friends spend the length of the show demonstrating through their behavior why Bobbie should want marriage, and also why she shouldn’t.

Among Bobbie’s coupled-up friends are Sarah (Kathryn Allison) and Harry (James Earl Jones II), Peter (Javier Ignacio) and Susan (Marina Kondo), Jenny (Emma Straton) and David (Will Blum), Jaime (Matt Rodin) and Paul (Ali Louis Bourzgui), and Joanne (Judy McLane) and Larry (Derrick Davis). Bobbie floats in and out of their lives, getting glimpses of their happy and not so happy married lives. They continually question Bobbie on why she isn’t married herself, while simultaneously envying her in her single freedom. But while Bobbie may be single, she isn’t without romantic options, vaguely entertaining the idea of commitment with three very different men: spacey and sweet flight attendant Andy (Jacob Dickey), earnest ‘husband-material’ Theo (David Socolar), and zany, sexy PJ (Tyler Hardwick).

Company

This ensemble of actors is top rate. The material, already a shining beacon of the legendary Stephen Sondheim’s complex, clever, wordy, heartfelt genius, is given every chance to shine in the hands of this cast. The music is displayed at its very best, and the characters’ relationships are handled with humor and thoughtfulness. That some of the plot doesn’t quite land in this gender-swapped production can’t be blamed on its actors. Much of the material, most of it, even, works in this updated version. However, there are a handful of moments when you can’t help but think, ‘That had to have made more sense in the original production…’ An aspect of this production that does unquestionably work, is Bunny Christie’s inspired scenic design, which informs Bobbie’s internal life almost more than her external actions.

Company spends its time exploring the push and pull of people’s desire for partnership and desire for freedom, the need to compromise and the need to stand your ground, and the fine line between self-imposed solitude and loneliness. The satisfaction at the end of the musical comes from knowing that Bobbie, who has been a passive presence in the narrative, has decided to become an active participant in her own life. It might not be completely clear what life she is choosing for herself, but, finally, she has made a choice.

Company

Company plays at the Forrest Theatre through December 10, 2023.




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