Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York • 2 December 2006 • 2pm

Book by George Furth. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Directed by John Doyle. With Raúl Esparza (Robert), Barbara Walsh (Joanne),…

Company may be one my favourite scores ever and, in my book, to deprive it of its original Jonathan Tunick charts amounts to high treason. And indeed I sorely missed the original sound during the title song or during “What Would We Do Without You?”

John Doyle continues to explore his concept of a musical without musicians, in which the music is played by the actors themselves. A concept he developed in order to be able to produce musicals in the small English theatre for which he is (or was?) the artistic director. A concept that, in my mind, has no justification whatsoever in a larger, more traditional space.

It worked to some degree with Sweeney Todd, which I enjoyed in London at the intimate Trafalgar Studios… but hated when it transfered to Broadway, in spite of the talent involved. Doyle’s concept then did a lot of harm to Mack & Mabel, in a UK touring production that played the West End.

And now, Company. And it didn’t work for me, in spite of Raúl Esparza and Barbara Walsh, who both give brilliant performances. I’ve been a fan of Esparza ever since I saw him in tick, tick… BOOM! at the tiny Jane Street Theatre. He doesn’t have a very strong voice, but he manages to cheat pretty nicely with it. And what an actor! He did wonders with the character of Bobby. As for Barbara Walsh, well, it was a pity there was no space for applause after “The Ladies Who Lunch” because she would have got quite an ovation — and deservedly.

The staging didn’t do much for me. Too many people walking around all the time. London’s Donmar Warehouse did it better and in a much more convincing way ten years ago. And at least the actors didn’t have to carry musical instruments around.

John Doyle redeems himself by ending the show on a great idea, the sort of stuff that to me symbolises the magic of theatre… a simple and poetic idea that reduced me to tears instantly. And for that, at least, I am grateful.

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