‘Company’ review: This is the Broadway show to see right now

Minutes into the musical “Company,” which opened Thursday night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, you’re overcome by a sensation that’s eluded the rest of this tricky theater season — that Broadway really is back.

Finally, a smart, funny, human revival about the highs and lows of being alive that actually feels alive. It helps that the show by Stephen Sondheim, who died last month, is the best musical about New York City ever written.

Theater review

2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission. At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.

No other show understands the callused skin that hardened, cynical New Yorkers develop to make it through another miserable day quite like “Company” does.

Sondheim’s musical, splendidly directed by Marianne Elliott, is a paean to NYC about the pains of living in NYC. Eight million people and somehow you’re still single and in your 30s. Constantly surrounded by wackos and dullards. Friends hightail it at random, unable to deal with the stress. Apartments are small. The subway is unavoidable. Why pay for therapy when you could go to “Company”?

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The major shakeup in Elliott’s interpretation is that the main character Bobbie (Katrina Lenk), who’s turning 35, has been changed from a man to a woman. The gender switcheroo is seamless enough that if you don’t know the show, you won’t notice it.

A female Bobbie adds some clever urgency, though. In 2021, single, 35-year-old men in NYC are less concerned with marriage than whether or not their dad can Venmo them $200. Women, however, stand on a precipice with significant choices to make. To kid or not to kid. To career or not to career.

It’s Bobbie’s (Katrina Lenk) 35th birthday in “Company.”
Matthew Murphy

The perfect book by George Furth is a series of vignettes in which Bobbie is the token single friend of several zany but familiar couples. She can’t decide if she wants what they have or to go it alone.

We learn in scenes both hilarious and searing that wedded bliss means misery, compromise and bourbon. Sarah (Jennifer Simard) and Harry (Christopher Sieber) practice jiu jitsu, go on diets and bicker. Peter (Greg Hildreth) and Susan (Rashidra Scott) get divorced to bring themselves closer together. Jenny (Nikki Renée Daniels) and David (Christopher Fitzgerald) think they’re rebels when they get a little high. Joanne (Patti LuPone) calls Larry (Terence Archie) “my third husband.”

Jamie (Matt Doyle) and Paul (Etai Benson), on the flip-side, are getting married, but Jamie’s having second thoughts. One stunning lyric: “I telephoned my therapist about it, and he said to see him Monday, but by Monday I’ll be floating in the Hudson with the other garbage.”

Bobbie (Katrina Lenk), David (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Jenny (Nikki Renée Daniels) go wild when they smoke pot.
Bobbie (Katrina Lenk), David (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Jenny (Nikki Renée Daniels) go wild when they smoke pot.

And then there are Bobbie’s boyfriends she’s casually dating: Theo (Manu Narayan), P.J. (Bobby Conte) and Andy (Claybourne Elder). Bobbie is Goldilocks and they’re the three bears, but even the fella that appears “just right” is wrong.

The whole cast is a smash — an ensemble as tight as my hamstrings — but especially on fire are Simard, consistently the funniest actress working on Broadway, and Doyle, whose radiating goodness balances out Jamie’s manic neuroses.

The great LuPone plays Joanne, a wealthy socialite whose blood alcohol level is 99%. Dry and vicious, LuPone sells the Bobbie-as-woman concept better than anybody else. Her rousing song “The Ladies Who Lunch,” about the many ways women in New York fill their days until they croak, becomes a pointed warning to Bobbie: “This could be you.”

The one weak link, I’m sorry to say, is Lenk. The Tony Award winner was wonderful as a wistful restaurant owner in “The Band’s Visit,” but she does not fit in musically or dramatically here. The should-be gut-punch songs “Marry Me A Little” and “Being Alive” are tentative and unmoving. That’s a shame because in John Doyle’s 2006 revival — the gold standard — Raul Esparza’s Bobby went far beyond a passive observer.

Still, the strengths of Elliott’s revival are so undeniable that there are few better nights out on Broadway right now.

How bittersweet. It’s a testament to Sondheim’s legacy and talent that his musical written in 1970 is fresh, poignant and entertaining as ever.

Artmotion U.S.A

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