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Broadway review of Company
Theatre Review
by Harvey Perr
opened November 29, 2006
at the Barrymore Theatre
open run
Poor Robert. Poor Bobby Baby. Everyone wants a little piece of him. But even a little piece is too much, so much more than the available Bob is willing to give. Or is able to give?  Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it?  Able to give. Is Bobby able to give any part of himself to anyone? What does he want from everybody? What does he want for himself? Hey. Wait a minute. Why are we so interested in Bobby? We’ve seen “Company” before and we weren’t so interested in Bobby before. Funny. Bobby was always at the center of “Company,” but we were never really interested in him, were we? But in the incisive, punishing, glittering, highly entertaining, and ultimately profound revival of “Company” that has come to us from Cincinnati, of all places, we are suddenly very interested in Bobby.
Because John Doyle, the director, and who has now become one of Stephen Sondheim’s indispensable interpreters, has located the precise position of Bobby’s relationship to his married friends, who protect him from his inner life by projecting their lives upon him; and to his one-night stands, who represent, such at is, his outer life. With his married friends, he is almost always in the middle, drink in hand, bobbing up and down and around, occasionally putting himself up on a pedestal or on a piano, to get a little attention when they begin to crowd him in, or, worse, when they threaten to push him away. With his one-night stands, he keeps at a safe remove, his body language suggesting emotional, as well as physical, distance, until that thrillingly surprising moment when, in his seduction of April, the stewardess, he turns up the sexual heat and, in his Armani suit, slyly moves in for the kill.  That legendary bullfighter, Manolete, with his cape, facing a confused bull and ready to make a fancy pass, couldn’t have done it better. It is a side of Bobby we have always needed to see.
Because the revised book - an amalgam of the Roundabout and Donmar Warehouse revivals - by George Furth (whose seven original playlets were neatly streamlined into a series of hard-edged sketches of married life among New York’s sophisticates, some of which have admittedly lost their sharpness over the years) delves into the question of sexual ambiguity, which was notably absent from the original production, and gives Bobby a depth which past Bobbys had to search for in some subtext of their own making. It particularly gives his scene with Peter – who proposes that, perhaps, a homosexual relationship is within the realm of human possibility for heterosexuals – an interesting mixture of curiosity, confusion, tension, and even a hint of desire.
Because Raul Esparza, the Bobby of this production, is so very good at absorbing these adjustments, of taking these changes, these minor chords, so to speak, and transmuting them into one magnificently triumphant major chord, becoming, in the process, one fully-fleshed, perfectly defined mess of a human being.
We must pause now to reflect upon Doyle’s use of actors who double as musicians which worked so brilliantly in his production of “Sweeney Todd,” but which, here, at first, suggests that, perhaps, it might just be a peculiar fetish, one that one hopes would not be used indiscriminately or without discretion in the future. For one thing, how many actors are out there who can act and sing and also play musical instruments and be absolutely stunning at each and all? Any Sondheim musical demands at least the first two and, in the case of “Company,” everyone may talk about Elaine Stritch owning “The Ladies Who Lunch” (and she does, she definitely does), but those of us with long memories, will not easily forget Beth Howland’s Amy or Pamela Myers singing “Another Hundred People” or the sweetness of Susan Browning’s April. This time around, the individual performances – with the stunning exceptions of Barbara Walsh’s Joanne and Elizabeth Stanley’s April – do not stand out, although, to be fair, a true ensemble has been created which does full service to Doyle’s concept. What we get is a crazy bunch of people carrying instruments around, instruments which get in the way of their relationships, which put, in particular, barriers between themselves and Bobby, and which are sometimes used to comment on their feelings towards Bobby, while poor Bobby, alone, has no instrument of his own, except that drink in his hand, in constant need of a refill.
When it is finally time for Bobby to put up or shut up, he walks with a certain sour forlornness to the piano, places himself before it, starts to play, and, suddenly, as if he gets his energy from the piano itself, finally finding his own instrument, he is forced to face his feelings, and is revived. What happens next is one for the books. You will have to experience it for yourself in order to know what I am talking about. But with “Being Alive,” Raul Esparza ascends to that privileged place that only a handful of performers ever reach. “Company” has always been a little cold to the touch, which in no way diminishes its greatness, and it certainly belongs in the pantheon of great American musicals, but Raul Esparza has lit a fire under it and set it ablaze. Some of us are still shaking.
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