Even now, Company still feels like a new sort of musical, a smart and sassy series of mordant marital sketches in the style of Jules Feiffer conceptually glued to a sexually confused bachelor’s thirty-fifth birthday party, and his sexual identity crisis.
This was the first of six Broadway collaborations between Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince, and I haven’t enjoyed the piece so much since I saw it three times during the first London run at Her Majesty’s.
In fact, with A Little Night Music revived at the Garrick, we have the only Sondheim/Prince London commercial successes available to prove clearly why this was so. They are both masterpieces, complete in their different ways, musically brilliant and superbly crafted. I love most of Follies, some of Sweeney Todd and all of Into the Woods (not sure about Pacific Overtures), but Company is, and always has been, very special.
Prince hammered out the structure with George Furth writing the sketches, and Michael Strassen’s Union staging isolates Lincoln Stone’s good-looking Robert (Bobby) - think George Hamilton, or Michael Praed - on a pedestal, the five couples forming company in lines, tableaux, trios, duets and processional chorales around him.
You can see the musical more clearly now as a gay man’s bid for social dependency without strings. “Being Alive” is a plaintive cri de coeur, not a compromised cop-out, as once thought. And the songs - what songs! - point numbers, anthems and those rhythmically motored items, create sounds of the city as well as relationship conflict and inner heartbreak.
And how does Lucy Williamson do “The Ladies Who Lunch”? Very well indeed. She’s a lot younger than Elaine Stritch, or seems so, more glamorous and she belts it magnificently. The girls are all good, but I especially loved Lucy Evans’ April the sexy air hostess, hugging herself in the opening number (less “Bobby baby” than “Bobby booby”) and bedding Bobby in red lingerie before traipsing off sadly to “Barcelona”.
The five-strong band under Michael England at the piano streams the melody lines expertly on muted trumpet and clarinet, while Bobby’s pals are nicely differentiated by Tom Hyatt, Nigel Pilkington and Paul Callen. Without stars, this is an ideal chamber version in a dankly atmospheric venue where pocket musicals are a speciality.