Stephen Sondheim Revises 'Company,' Now Bobby's Gay

By James Inverne on Oct 18, 2013 05:03 AM EDT

Musicals have been reworked since their inception. Usually, the biggest changes happen on the out-of-town tryouts (Oklahoma! started with the rather lame title Away We Go!). But Stephen Sondheim is having a go at a radical change to the plot of the show that first made his reputation as the writer of musicals that would push the form forward for new generations. That show was, and is, Company, about a character's love-hate relationship with the concept of marriage. And as the New York Times reports, Sondheim (with Once director John Tiffany) has reworked Company to make main character Bobby a gay man. Meanwhile, Joanne, the role defined by its creator Elaine Stritch, now becomes a man.

There are various reasons to think that this might not work. The original show is, in many ways, variations on a theme. It's structured to have that feel, both musically and dramatically. The theme is heterosexual marriage, and in Company, I see a series of vignettes--different marriages, but all really different aspects of the same state. Although gay marriage is a reality in some places these days, which it wasn't in 1970 when Company was premiered, are the emotional and gender dynamics of homo- and heterosexual partnerships so close that the show's fragmented-picture feel won't be disturbed? It's an interesting question and one that will be key to the piece's success. I suspect Sondheim, himself, doesn't yet know the answer, which is why this version will be workshopped this week at New York's Roundabout Theatre, rather than given a full production at this stage.

And there are reasons to think it will work. First, the Welsh actor Daniel Evans is playing Bobby, and he's one of the most skilled (if far less famous than he should be) interpreters of Sondheim's work around. Second, this is Stephen Sondheim, the man who, so often, has enjoyed upsetting our expectations and creating the new from a familiar form.

Still, it's a risk. But risks in the theater are always exciting. And if this new version doesn't work, hey, the old one won't have gone anywhere...

In the meantime, this is an excuse to revisit Stritch's unforgettable rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch." Excuse, did I say? Who needs one? But this clip from the making-of documentary around the original cast recording is a riveting reminder of just how hard she worked to get there.


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TagsStephen Sondheim, Company, Oklahoma, Once, John Tiffany, Elaine Stritch, Roundabout Theater, Daniel Evans, The Ladies Who Lunch

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