Britney Coleman plays Bobbie in the musical ‘Company’ playing through May 19 at Playhouse Square

By LINDA FEAGLER
Although it’s been more than half a century since Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical “Company” debuted, the story – which depicts the pitfalls and positives of dating, marriage and divorce – steadfastly remains as relevant now as it was then.
Currently in the midst of multi-city engagements, the show will take center stage in Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace April 30 through May 19.
“ ‘Company’ is brilliantly designed, beautifully staged, sizzlingly performed, inventively scored, and it gets right down to the brass tacks and brass knuckles without a moment’s hesitation, staring contemporary society straight in the eye before spitting on it,” wrote The New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr on May 3, 1970, a week after the production opened on Broadway.
Through the decades, “Company” has played to packed houses around the world, and returned to New York for three revivals – most recently in 2021 before going on tour last year.
But unlike its predecessors, the latest edition has a pivotal plot twist: In past “Company” staging, the lead character was Bobby, a single man approaching his 35th birthday and the recipient of persistent pressure to wed from well-meaning friends. This time around, the protagonist is Bobbie, a woman whose biological clock is ticking loudly, much to her consternation.
In one of the last interviews Sondheim gave before his death in 2021, he told Michael Paulson, theater reporter for The New York Times that “what keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints.”
Actor Britney Coleman agrees.
“The beauty of this show is that a lot of the script hasn’t been changed outside of the original premise,” says Coleman, who’s taken the helm of Bobbie for the national tour after understudying the part on Broadway. “The writing has never been inherently masculine. It’s about a person who’s not married and being strongly encouraged by married friends to settle down.”
“Stephen Sondheim attended one of our rehearsals on Broadway, and it was an honor to have him there,” she adds. “Getting his permission to do one of his musicals that’s been revamped was an incredible experience. It’s a testament to playwright George Furth – who collaborated with him on ‘Company’ – that the original concept works both ways.”
The role of Bobbie is one Coleman relishes. The Ann Arbor native and University of Michigan grad celebrated her 35th birthday in January. As a result, she’s all too familiar with the decisions her character is facing.
“I’m not married, and I can use that fact to my advantage on stage,” the actor says with a laugh. “ ‘Company’ has definitely made me think about the relationships I have with my own friends. Like Bobbie, I’m an introvert in real life, and I think that trait is really well finessed in this show.
“I would say the musical is more relevant with a female Bobby,” she adds, “because women are still getting asked that question: You’re at this age, why haven’t you found your partner yet?”
It’s no surprise, Coleman explains, that the production sparks conversation among audience members – at intermission and after – no matter their marital status.
“Sondheim was such a brilliant writer,” she says. “In ‘Company,’ he explores both sides of the coin, and leaves the ending up to interpretation. For me, all I want for Bobbie is for her to be happy – whether it’s being open to settling down with someone or simply moving forward with a specific someone or just feeling grounded and solid in the fact she’s happy.
“It’s a very emotional show filled with the human experience,” Coleman reflects. “And I’m thrilled the audience is along for the ride with me.” For times and tickets, visit playhousesquare.org.