Stephen Sondheim Revising the Musical ‘Company’ and Making Its Lead Character Gay

The New York Times reports that Stephen Sondheim is working with director John Tiffany on a new production of his 70's musical Company that would be centered around a gay man:

CompanyThe biggest change in this new “Company” would be the central character of Bobby. Whereas he has always been a straight man struggling with commitment issues and multiple girlfriends, he has been reconceived by Mr. Tiffany as a gay man with commitment issues and multiple boyfriends. And some characters have had gender reversals; the character of Joanne, who sings “The Ladies Who Lunch” and was originally played by Elaine Stritch on Broadway, is being played by the Tony winner Alan Cumming (“Cabaret”) in Mr. Tiffany’s reading of the work at Roundabout this week.

For years Mr. Sondheim and the musical’s book writer, George Furth, who died in 2008, batted back suggestions that Bobby was furtively intended to be a closeted gay man. But when Mr. Tiffany proposed actually making Bobby gay, Mr. Sondheim said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, the idea intrigued him.

The Roundabout is holding a performance for a private audience on Friday starring Daniel Evans as Bobby. Bobby Steggert and Michael Urie are in the cast. A decision on whether to move forward with the production will be made soon thereafter.

Comments

  1. David in NYC says

    CLEAR DAY was a Beth Williams production – aka meant to fail (HANDS ON A HARD BODY, Sean Hayes PROMISES PROMISES, TESTAMENT OF MARY, GREY GARDENS)

    COMPANY with a gay man is everything. It actually makes 10x more sense and way more relevant than with a straight dude.

  2. AdamTh says

    I like the idea of a “Company” type musical with an openly gay lead, but please leave “Company” as it is. Please don’t try to re-write the musical by just changing a few pronouns and character genders. That would be a disaster.

  3. JeffNYC says

    So if Bobby is gay, are his girlfriends gay men as well? What about the girl who sings “Not Getting Married”?–does he still ask her to marry him? Does Joanne sing about “ladies” who lunch or gay men who lunch?

    This brings up more problems than can be solved, like putting a little Spanish into West Side Story.

  4. Dback says

    There’ve always been hints about Bobby–the trio who uses the word “fag” (or the less offensive “gay”) in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” the male friend who propositions him. However, one version tried to make it more explicit and have Bobby being cruised by a waiter in the club before “Ladies Who Lunch”; then at the end when Bobby doesn’t show up for his party, we see he’s with the waiter. I think that approach is more interesting than just flipping the switch on the whole production.

  5. Dastius Krazitauc says

    I don’t see as many problems as you do, JEFFNYC. “Not Getting Married” should of course be changed to a male couple getting married. I think it would be fun and timely. “Joe” could easily be contemptuous of “ladies” who lunch.

  6. Mark says

    I’ve always taken Bobby to be gay; closeted, but gay — whatever Steve said. And that seemed to fit the play’s setting circa 1970: A closeted man with lots of girlfriends, lots of straight friends, to fill the void of living a lie. And that’s the central tension in the play. As a period piece, it works. Updated to the 21st century, where’s the tension, the conflict?

  7. thomasina says

    I think this sounds like a great idea for a production. But MaryM–why do you say that “the lead actor must also be openly gay” to play the gay version of Bobby? The straight version of Bobby has been beautifully played by such gay or bisexual actors as Larry Kert, John Barrowman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Raúl Esparza; would you have told those men that they were professionally ineligible to play a straight role because of their personal sexualities?

  8. jomicur says

    This will take a lot more than just recasting with male actors. It would involve some major rewriting. I can’t imagine the result being anything but cutesy and/or patronizing. “Here’s to the homos who lunch”?! And what would they do with that lyric in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”? (“I could understand a person, if a person was a…”) No thanks.

  9. alex says

    I’m not sure this is a smart idea. But, this is just a private workshop, which is designed to get investors.

    Personally, I agree with Mark that an openly gay version would lack the tension necessary to drive the story. I’ve always seen Bobby as a closeted gay man. When Joanne tried to convince him to “make it” with her, it isn’t a real offer. She knows he’s gay. That scene leads into “Being Alive”.

    “Being Alive” is already gender-neutral. And, despite the entire show being about marriage, that word is conspicuously absent in that song. A small re-write of the scene with Joanne could make it clear to the audience that Bobby is actually coming out. Doing that would force the audience (who didn’t see it) to suddenly view everything they just saw in a different light. (An “I see dead people” kind of moment.)

  10. Mike says

    I’m judging myself for thinking this, but it might be fun to see. “The fellas who brunch”, etc. But this is 100% unnecessary.

    If they want to write a musical about a gay man with commitment issues surrounded by couples in various stages of their relationships, have at it. Just don’t call it Company.

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