Musical theater master Stephen Sondheim surely went to his grave knowing that he was deeply appreciated. In March of 2020, the New York Times devoted a nine-page supplement to him on the eve of his 90th birthday, when a revival of his 1970 musical, “Company,” was set to open on Broadway. While COVID abruptly wiped live theater away, dozens of the biggest names in Broadway and Hollywood created an online-only tribute to him, featuring songs from a half-century of his musicals.
That production of “Company” finally opened in November of 2021, and Sondheim attended a preview 11 days before his death. What he experienced was more than just a revival: It was a reimagining, transforming the central character from male to female, his romantic liaisons from female to male, and changing one of the five couples in their orbit to two gay men.
Britney Coleman as Bobbie and the North American Tour of “Company.” (Matthew Murphy)
It took home five Tonys last year, including “Best Revival of a Musical,” and now the touring version has landed at Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre. It’s quite an entertaining almost-three-hours of musical theater, full of strong voices, vivid characterizations and imaginative staging ideas, the 14-person cast selling every song with passion.
When “Company” debuted in 1970, it was the rare Broadway musical that could be about any of the “Another Hundred People” that theatergoers had passed on a New York City street that day. It’s also less a story than a series of vignettes about a woman turning 35 and visiting with five couples who present the pros and cons of committed relationships.
Perhaps Sondheim (who wrote both the music and lyrics) and book writer George Furth set out to defy the conventional manner of making musical theater, which is to take a story and set it to music. For it often seems that Sondheim could have written the songs first, based on the agreed-upon theme, Furth then figuring out how to assemble them into a musical.
Yet this is an almost unimpeachable production. It was director Marianne Elliott’s idea to make the gender switches (originally for a 2018 London revival; Sondheim loved the idea) and she’s fashioned each scene and song into an engaging miniature, bursting with colorful characters. And Liam Steel’s clever choreography is meticulously executed on Bunny Christie’s set full of adjoining frames, brownstones and balconies, and benches made from the letters that spell “Company.”
Britney Coleman carries the show engagingly as protagonist Bobbie. It’s a tricky role, in that she’s something of a straightwoman for her flamboyant friends, but Coleman seizes scenes when given the chance, particularly on showstopping ballads like “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive.” The latter (the last of his songs that Sondheim ever experienced in a theater) brings energy back to a second act that gradually peters out before it.
Then again, it’s hard to top the hilarious first-act production number that is “Getting Married Today.” Matt Rodin’s rapidly pattered evocation of a groom getting cold feet is a hoot, aided by a choir that explodes out of every portal in his apartment. It’s a brilliant piece of musical comedy that will surely stand as one of the most memorable moments on a Twin Cities stage this year.
Rob Hubbard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Tickets: $139-$30, available at hennepintheatretrust.org
Capsule: While relatively plotless, it’s a passionately performed showcase for Stephen Sondheim’s songcraft.
Review: Children’s Theatre’s ‘Grinch’ is funny, flamboyant, ultimately touching slice of Seuss
Chasing the music: Widely praised as Frankie Valli in CDT’s ‘Jersey Boys,’ St. Paul native Will Dusek is an actor to watch