Company (First Night, Gielgud Theatre) JohnnyFox October 18, 2018 Musicals, Reviews, Theatre Neil Patrick Harris may have told the Tonys audience that Theatre “is not just for gays any more” but he clearly wasn’t at the opening night of Company. You could have died from the cloud of Tom Ford for Men in the Stalls bar. Nor were the celebrity arrivals any less dolled up – although Christopher Biggins wore an uncharacteristically sober suit. Craig Revel Horwood staged a one-man fashion revival of the mauve velour jacket, Elaine Paige had what looked like a blanket slung over her shoulder. Air conditioning can be a stealth killer for the elderly. Because the auditorium was also rammed with friends and family of the cast, and ‘the money’ – largely visiting from the US and Canada to see how the producers had spent their initial investment – it was a hugely enthusiastic house which greeted every scene and song with a roar of approval. Most of which was richly deserved, of course, but it may be interesting to pop back to a midweek matinee in February when Follies returns to the National Theatre and you could overdose with a magnum of vintage Sondheims on the same day. Marianne Elliott’s imaginative and expansive revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company switches the gender of its 35-year old singleton surrounded by married friends. It’s an electrifying modernization of what was already a pretty ground-breaking musical, but it‘s also now Sex and the City with songs. So – phone rings, door chimes, in comes what? A cast long on talent but short on household names. Rosalie Craig is a splendid musical theatre actress, but has no television or recording profile, so you’re coming to see the show not its star: in fact Jennifer Saayeng covered the role during previews without disappointing the audience. And Patti Lupone is a Broadway legend, also largely admired by ‘the greys and the gays’ who keep the West End afloat. Craig is smart and likeable as Bobbie, but the rest of the characters are nightmares, propelled on a grand-scale rolling stock set by Bunny Christie and studded with motifs from Alice in Wonderland which add a surreal layer to Bobbie’s fears and dreams about marriage. Craig’s performance has a relaxed intelligence and wonderful sardonic detachment with which it’s easy to identify, but that also makes you wonder how she put up with this crew for so long. There is more scenery than I’ve ever seen in a production of Company– usually it’s a fluid parade of songs and dialogue, befitting such a plotless show = nothing happens except Bobbie turns 35 and is pressured by various friends to take stock of her relationships – but there’s definitely a succession of ‘turns’. Jonathan Bailey’s hyper-neurotic gay groom camply and emphatically updates ‘Getting Married Today’ with the frantic energy of a man two grams down after dinner. It is undeniably a showstopper, but it’s at odds with the otherwise bland niceness of his Jamie (Amy) character. Maybe that’s the point. But the celebrant appearing from the fridge is a hoot. Bobbie’s three lovers make the very most of ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ with some splendid harmonies and a fresh orchestration, but it’s Richard Fleeshman’s gauche, dopy but muscular flight attendant Andy (June) you wish she’d choose – the reworking of ‘Barcelona’ as a dream sequence, is a real highlight – and Elliott makes sure he goes to the bathroom three times just in case you missed out seeing his spray tanned six-pack. ‘Another Hundred People’ is wittily staged rather like the subway chase scene in Ghost but the vocals are inexplicably delivered in a British accent by George Blagden which makes a nonsense of this quintessentially New York anthem. So, inexorably, we move on to the eleven o’clock number featuring Broadway’s resident snapping turtle Patti LuPone. The very talented (and utterly charming in person) Ms LuPone is not best-served by the production: in modernising the show, Elliott gave all the other characters an opening for contemporary phrasing in the dialogue and the songs, but has kept Joanne completely unreconstructed from the 1970 original. Firstly, it would have been cleverer to make Bobbie’s older confidante a gay man. But if it had to be female, LuPone should have been permitted her own perfectly lovely hair instead of the severe black wig like a Primark version of Chita Rivera in Kiss of the Spider Woman – and some more modern clothes. As it is, in all her scenes she’s trapped like Bette Davis in – I was going to say All About Eve but just about anything – dripping poisonous one-liners. When it comes to the crunch song, I admit a bias. I sat at Elaine Stritch’s feet almost the last time she sang ‘Here’s To The Ladies Who Lunch’ in the Café Carlyle in New York, and it was unforgettable to hear a song which had defined her, and her career, for forty years. I did think LuPone got the grasp of it early on, and was pacing herself carefully with some faltering emotional breaks in her voice, but then the inner diva took over and she got all brassy and Broadway and just hammered it into the plaster cherubs on the front of the balcony. It’s sometimes hard to remember she was the original, vulnerable Fantine. But there is subtlety, too: Gavin Spokes gets closest to the naturalistic and emotional heart of Sondheim’s initial concept, leading the husbands in ‘Sorry–Grateful’ a tender expression of loving endurance in long relationships, It is a very good production. With a top price of £99 it’s not overpriced either, but it isn’t as clever and enveloping as An American in Paris, it isn’t as gloriously escapist as The King and I and – perhaps most importantly for the investors in the middle of the Stalls last night – it may not attract the coaches which kept Kinky Boots or Jersey Boys in such good business for so very long. But it was a night to remember.