I had wondered if the producers would see this. I could believe that this was their intention, that they were just going along with some young people trying to spin the sketch for a different audience. But there was something unsettling about this version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, an oft-revived show.
For a generation of people who fled the 1960s (myself included), the nostalgia was thick and terrible. But I have to admit, I felt a twinge of sadness as I sat down and listened to Andrew Rannells, who plays the role of Bobby, with all his trademark cheer. In front of me, the rustle of paperbacks in a bookstore and the clink of a cereal bowl were joined by the whirring of Bob Marshall Kellogg’s IBM laptop. Then it was also joined by Louisa May Alcott’s The Little Children’s Book, which came up when I said my name and, as in a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the tour guide tapped on the top shelf and pumped his fist, opening the passage for the show’s tour guide, who flipped the mirror and pointed to the pile of books behind us.
And the music? Too many of the lyrics, I thought, as I wandered through this jumbled production. If Mr. Rannells — no easy material with a voice this strong — really wants to give us a comfortable Sondheim show, this isn’t it. So many of the songs — and I mean this in a personal sense, not as a criticism of the cast — are so far from being Sondheimian.
“Concerto in C Major,” for instance, which was played by a dozen orchestra members while the rest of the house fell asleep in the theater, is too perfectly suited to the monologue in the play; something was lost. “The Women of Nebraska,” with all its sung-through qualities, also feels rushed. It’s one of the show’s joys, to hear a particular original number whose heartwarming lyrics “Are you smart? Are you wise? Do you like friendship, or were you always poor?” in Mr. Rannells’s capable voice. Here, they sounded like they were just being someone else’s thoughts.
At the end of the show, Mr. Rannells’s Bobby leans on a fellow performer in a now-signature embrace and says that the place is just for looking, and singing. The idea is his love for misery; but it comes at a cost.