Door Chimes, In Comes Company: Bachelor Bobby Hears New Sound on Broadway

News   Door Chimes, In Comes Company: Bachelor Bobby Hears New Sound on Broadway
 
Company, the musical exploration of marriage, monogamy and modern relationships, as refracted through a yearning New York bachelor named Robert, comes to life on Broadway for the third time Oct. 30.
Angel Desai and Ra
Angel Desai and Ra Photo by Sandy Underwood

Previews for the new production at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre lead to an opening of Nov. 29. This time around, the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical comedy from 1970 will look and sound like no Company before it. Tony Award-winning director John Doyle has conceived the show to be performed by actor-musicians, the same way his hit Sweeney Todd was, but with the players dressed in very New York designer clothing — all in black.

"Everybody is dressed in kind of what I would call very sophisticated 'New York black' — the cocktail party image," Doyle explained. "In a sense, it's so simply done and there's so little stuff on stage that it does give it a kind of timeless quality."

The show is set in present day, not in the swingin' 1970s.

Here's how producers characterize the groundbreaking musical: "Long before 'Sex and the City,' Company took an unconventional look at love and commitment in a complex modern New York. The show is an honest, funny and sophisticated portrayal of five married couples as seen through the eyes of their mutual friend Robert, a bachelor evaluating the pros and cons of wedded life."

Doyle won the 2006 Tony for Best Direction of a Musical for the Sweeney Todd revival. This Company premiered at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park in March-April 2006 and again stars Raúl Esparza (who is above the title) as 35-year-old bachelor Robert, reuniting with members of the Ohio production. That troupe was populated by Broadway veterans (such as Barbara Walsh as sour Joanne) and fresh faces (such as Heather Laws as nervous Amy).

Company features musical supervision and orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, set design by Tony Award winner David Gallo, costume design by Tony Award winner Ann Hould-Ward, and lighting design by Thomas C. Hase.

The cast also includes Keith Buterbaugh as Harry; Matt Castle as Peter; Robert Cunningham as Paul; Angel Desai as Marta; Kelly Jeanne Grant as Kathy; Kristin Huffman as Sarah; Amy Justman as Susan; Leenya Rideout as Jenny; Fred Rose as David; Bruce Sabath as Larry; Elizabeth Stanley as April.

The original production of Company opened on Broadway at the Alvin (now the Neil Simon) Theatre on April 26, 1970. Harold Prince directed. The musical garnered 14 Tony Award nominations (the record until The Producers in 2001), winning six, including Best Musical.

The show was last seen on Broadway for a limited Roundabout Theatre Company engagement in 1995. It is considered one of the American musical theatre's major concept musicals, expanding the musical theatre form with its fractured storytelling and nervous rhythms.

Robert processes his loneliness as he interacts with his married pals and women he (unsuccessfully) dates.

Because the show is already so theatrical and fragmented — it can be argued that the show is going on in Robert's mind — the idea of actors playing their own instruments was a more natural fit to this show than to Sweeney Todd, Doyle previously told Playbill.com.

"I suppose conceptually it's a little easier," he said. "The great bonus you get with Company is that the actors are on stage all the time because they have to be. You get a very strong sense of 'company.' You get a strong sense of these people who are in Bobby's head or in his mind or in his presence. That was easier. And it's a book musical in the way Sweeney isn't — it has scenes to play as opposed to Sweeney, which is pretty nearly through-sung. And because you've got 14 characters that are so defined and no ensemble as such, it was kind of easier to put a musical voicing along with each character. 'Easier' is a difficult word. Sweeney is such a complex piece of storytelling and it took a long time to evolve and find. This hasn't taken so long."

Rave reviews in Cincy prompted producers (the same money people who produced the recent Sweeney) to pluck up the entire production, cast and all.

Doyle agrees that the show operates in the mind of Robert.

"We're trying to make sure it even looks like it's in Bobby's mind — it is a play about the mind, and about a man who finds it so difficult to commit or connect," Doyle said. "Equally, it's a very funny script, you want it to be as accessible and as much fun as it can be as well."

The new Broadway production is produced by The Routh/ Frankel/Viertel/Baruch Group and the Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner, Darren Bagert (co-producers of the current Broadway production of Sweeney Todd) and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

The Barrymore Theatre is at 243 W. 47th Street. For tickets, visit Telecharge.com, or call (212) 239-6200.

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The score includes some of Sondheim's best-known music and lyrics: "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Barcelona," "Being Alive," "Sorry-Grateful," "Another Hundred People," "Side by Side by Side," "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and more. "Marry Me a Little," cut from the original, has been re-inserted, which is part of the licensed script.

Doyle's orchestrator and music supervisor for Company is Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the popular and respected New York City music director who was a favorite of composer Cy Coleman, and has worked with everyone from Michael John LaChiusa to budding theatrical songwriters.

"She's amazing!" Doyle said. "She's done a wonderful job. What Mary-Mitchell has done, which I think is great, is she's held on to the quality of the sound of the songs, but taken some the 1970s rhythmic sort of feel out of it, so it makes it a little more lyrical at times, which I think is lovely."

The cast and orchestra of John Doyle's production of <i>Company</i>.
The cast and orchestra of John Doyle's production of Company. Photo by Sandy Underwood
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