Why Putting a Woman at the Center of Company Is Even More Radical Than You Think

Interview   Why Putting a Woman at the Center of Company Is Even More Radical Than You Think
 
Director Marianne Elliott and star Katrina Lenk share insights about the gender-flipped revival of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical.
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Katrina Lenk and Marianne Elliott Jenny Anderson

Tony winners Marianne Elliott (War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and Katrina Lenk (The Band’s Visit), respectively the director and star of Company, have never seen a production of the George Furth-Stephen Sondheim musical.

“In a way that’s liberating, because you’ve got no seminal production to compare yourself to,” Elliott says cheerfully. “Because that’s quite intimidating, isn’t it? So it always felt like starting a new thing.”

Not that previous productions share much with Elliott’s new incarnation, first seen in the West End in 2018. The quintessential New York musical of the ’70s gets a contemporary re-imagining, complete with a new hero at its center: Lenk’s Bobbie, a woman of her time (unlike the original Bobby, a man definitely of his time).

“It really feels like we’re all just sort of collaborating and creating something new together,” Lenk adds during a break in rehearsal. “We know that there’s something really amazing about it already. So we get that safety, and then also all of the fun exploration and new things that we can create.”

Currently at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (where it opens on Sondheim’s 90th birthday, March 22), the contemporary production boasts updated lyrics from Sondheim to complement the fresh take on the perennially ambiguous Bobbie.

“One of the most interesting things about doing it is, ‘Who is Bobbie?’ Because nobody’s ever really known who Bobby is,” Elliott says. “Doing it as a female in 2020 who’s 35 and is very conscious of her body clock, it feels relevant. They wrote it without a chronological narrative, on purpose, so we’re trying to find a sort of psychological narrative for Bobbie, and how does she have one thought and then go to another thought and then another thought? Which is what the songs are.”

“Everyone knows these songs in a certain way, and we get to explore them as if we haven’t heard them before,” Lenk adds. “This new music, even though we know it, it feels new.”

As for Bobbie’s big solo, the bruising anthem “Being Alive” (once described by Sondheim as moving from “complaint to prayer”), Lenk is tight-lipped.

“It’s in process of being tackled,” she says, smiling. “In process.”

Elliott leans forward confidentially. “Total rubbish,” she says, dismissing Lenk’s self-deprecation. “It’s amazing!”

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