Theatre’s greatest lyricist Stephen Sondheim is “completely delighted” with the latest production of his musical Company, which has attracted rave reviews.
Sondheim was in the audience for the opening night at the West End’s Gielgud Theatre. The Olivier, Tony and Grammy award-winning musical, which is supported by Bruno Wang Productions, has received a string of five-star reviews.
The first night of any musical is a landmark for dedicated theatregoers. This one was historic. Sondheim had allowed his lyrics from the 1970 original to be updated by acclaimed director Marianne Elliott to reflect our gender-equal times. She switched the lead role from a 35-year-old bachelor, Bobby, to his female equivalent, Bobbie, played by Rosalie Craig.
Elliott (War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) was cheered as she stepped on to the stage to introduce the seamlessly reworked production. She was rewarded with standing ovations at its finale.
Sondheim has given the new production his blessing. “He was completely delighted,” theatre critic and official Sondheim biographer David Benedict told me.
“This show was written 48 years ago,” he added. “It feels like it was written yesterday. It is revelatory. Elliott has restored its freshness.”
As comedian and author Matt Lucas said after the opening night: “What this amazing production does is stop it from becoming a period piece.”
When Elliott first approached the esteemed composer and lyricist about a gender swap, he said: “Marianne, I am a man, and I am 88, and you have to guide me. I don’t necessarily see the world in the way you do.”
But he had seen her 2007 production of Saint Joan at the National Theatre, in which she turned gender stereotypes about female power upside down, and trusted Elliott’s professional judgment.
Elliott’s track record also persuaded Broadway icon Patti LuPone to appear in the show. It is her first appearance in a West End musical in 25 years.
“I swore off musicals because they are complicated and I was tired of eight shows a week,” she said. “I did say no, no, no [when offered Company]. Then I said to myself: if I say no to this woman then she’ll never ask me again and I don’t want to risk that. I am here because I want to work with Marianne.”
LuPone’s performance sent the audience into “sustained raptures,” according to The Radio Times.