COMPANY and PASSION
Steven Sondheim returns twice–once with his polished musical, Company at the Albery, twice with Passion at the Queen’s. Most of the youngsters in Company weren’t even born when I first saw it an unbelievable 25 years ago, yet it still stings as it portrays marital pairing and despairing in Manhattan. Company crowds protectively round mutual friend Robert (Adrian Lester) on his 35th birthday as he attempts to come to terms with his solitary state.
Unlike some musicals, this one is crowded with songs, some of them amusingly skewed. The assorted characters are wellportrayed by the lively cast. But it’s the cynical slash of New York humour that bites, and youngish Sam Mendes, staging withbrash-flash, touches surface rather than heart. Even updated with great dance and movement, (Jonathan Butterell), it doesn’tquite manage that Manhattan feel. Yet the metallic glow of the witty city glowed intermittently, causing a nostalgic New Yorkerto say: ‘Wonderful. Like a breath of fresh air.’
Passion is a love triangle. Sondheim often has love in all its forms as a theme, and he also likes fairy fables. This musical is romantic, and if it had arias and a dash of dance it could be an opera. For Passion is for those who like strong meat, and if anyone can do an intellectual musical, Sondheim can. His adaptation of a 19th century novel has a gallant Italian officer involved with two women, a lovely Milanese mistress and Fosca, a poor creature racked with woes superbly realized by Maria Friedman.
Around the dilemma of Giorgio (played tenderly by Michael Ball) a compelling tale emerges. The music is typical, so are somelyrics (short, punchy ones remind one of the wonderful Into the Woods.) It does need one big song, yet it’s well worth seeing,for while he may mix, mingle, and recycle items, Sondheim always entertains, dazzles, and sometimes dives uncomfortably low.But hurry: as in New York his musicals have a defined shelf-life. (Company is scheduled to the end of June.)