Sunday, December 17, 2006


A week and a half ago, before leaving for the NSTP seminar in Atlantic City, I saw the current revival of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical COMPANY at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

I was truly looking forward to the evening. COMPANY is one of my all-time favorite musicals. I had seen the original back in 1971, and, while still a college student, I produced a semi-amateur production of the show at the Park Theatre in Union City in May of 1973. I can sing the entire score, and recite much of the dialogue. In some way I kind of identify with the show – about a confirmed bachelor named Bobby surrounded by an inner circle of crazy married friends.

My production of COMPANY was extremely ambitious for Hudson County NJ at the time. We constructed a two-level set of “apartments” similar to Boris Aronson’s Tony-award winning design, and I employed a full orchestra consisting of music professors and graduate students from Jersey City State College, several of whom have since gone on to play in actual Broadway pits.

We held open auditions and built a cast from the cream of Hudson County’s amateur talent. I have always wondered if then Jersey City resident and aspiring actor Joseph Lane, who later changed his first name professionally to Nathan, had auditioned for us. If I ever find out that he did I will proceed to kick myself repeatedly.

I sent a pair of tickets for “opening night” to both Stephen Sondheim, who had a year before told a lecture series on Musical Theatre I attended at NYC that he enjoyed seeing local productions of his shows, and Hal Prince. Mr. Sondheim sent me a letter of regret, which I have framed and displayed in my apartment, stating that he could not attend because he would be in London working on the Angela Lansbury-starring production of GYPSY. I never heard from Hal Prince, and his tickets were not used.

While an artistic success, the production, in which I was the only investor, lost money. At about the same time we started work on COMPANY I had received an offering in the mail from Alexander Cohen to invest in his upcoming production of GOOD EVENING, a review with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Had I invested the money I spent on COMPANY in GOOD EVENING I would have made a nice profit!

Over the years I have seen two regional productions of COMPANY, but did not see the Roundabout Theatres 1995 revival.

I originally planned to see the show at full price with friends, but I got a special offer in the mail from and went online to purchase a ticket for $75.25. Days after purchasing the ticket my monthly Theatre Development Fund mailing arrived offering COMPANY for about $35.00! To be fair, the TDF ticket would probably be in the Nose Bleed Section of the theatre, while my ticket was in the front orchestra.

The current John Doyle version of COMPANY differs quite a bit from the original I had seen in 1971. This production has a bare-bones set and minimalist staging, and features Doyle’s trademark gimmick of having the actors double as the orchestra. It is indeed just a gimmick – which he has used in some 15-20 productions over the past 15 years. It really does not add anything to the show, although it was done here seamlessly and did not interfere with the flow of the action. There were two instances where it actually provided a nice touch.

It all began out of necessity in 1991 when Doyle was staging a regional theatre version of CANDIDE in Liverpool on a tiny budget. He could not afford to pay both actors and musicians, so he hired actors who could play musical instruments.

The current cast compares well to the original of 35 years ago, which included future familiar television faces Barbara Barrie (Barney Miller’s wife), Beth Howland (the nervous waitress Vera on ALICE) and Charles Kimbrough (the anchor of FYI on MURPHY BROWN), Donna McKechnie, who went on to fame in A CHORUS LINE, popular Disney movie actor Dean Jones (who apparently was not happy with the role and was replaced by Larry Kert) as Bobby, and Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. Raul Esparza makes a good Bobby.

This COMPANY added a solo number for Bobby to close Act One - “Marry Me A Little”, which had been cut from the original production but had reappeared in the same-titled off-Broadway musical review of the early 1980s made up of songs cut from Stephen Sondheim musicals. The “Tick Tock” number, danced by Donna McKechnie in the original, was missing in this production. The scene ending with the song “Barcelona”, which had included “Tick Tock”, was less effective here than in the original version because of the minimal staging and the loss of the dance number.

The bottom line is that, while over 35 years old, COMPANY still holds up, and this production, for the most part, does it well. The music is still great and the lyrics and dialogue still witty. The haunting strains of “Bobby” still call to me. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!


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