The cast of the new Broadway revival of “Company” was in the middle of a two-show Friday on Thanksgiving weekend when they heard the news that the musical’s legendary composer, Stephen Sondheim, had died at the age of 91.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
Because the “Company” ensemble had worked with and gotten to know Sondheim — he had been at the production’s first preview just a few days before — the show’s Tony-winning director, Marianne Elliott (“War Horse,” “Angels in America”), wanted to make sure she was the one to tell them the news. “I had got the information that morning … and I said, ‘Is it okay if I tell the cast, so that they don’t hear it on social media?'” Elliott recalled on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast.
It was arranged, Elliott said, that she would tell the “Company” cast while director John Doyle would tell the cast of another current Sondheim revival, “Assassins,” before the news went wide. “Company” cast member Matt Doyle appeared alongside Elliott on Stagecraft to speak about his own memories of the day.
“Our curtain went down and they said, ‘We need you all to stay on stage,'” he explained. “And Marianne and Chris [Harper, Elliott’s producing partner] came out and very kindly told us before we went up to our dressing rooms and saw the news break. And several cast members, like myself, just collapsed to their knees. It was crushing.”
Sondheim’s death came after an already long and difficult road for “Company,” which had played nine previews in March 2020 before the pandemic darkened all of Broadway. “We’d been through so much with this show and this journey, and [Sondheim’s death] was a blow that I don’t think a lot of us expected,” Doyle said. “Steve seemed invincible.”
Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Elliott unpacked the thinking behind her gender-flipped revival. After the idea was first suggested to her by Harper, she began to understand that making the show’s commitment-averse protagonist Bobby into a woman would give the story contemporary relevance. “I know so many women who are in their mid-30s who are starting to hear the ticking of the clock,” Elliott said. “A lot of women in their mid-30s are hitting crisis points thinking, ‘I need to settle down. Who is it with? Should l settle down? Should I have children?'”
Doyle, meanwhile, plays a gay man named Jamie (called Amy in the original) who sings the well-known tune “Getting Married Today” before his impending, same-sex nuptials. “Something that’s happened since marriage has been legalized in the States for gay couples is the really big question of: Well, just because we can, should we?” he said. “How does this work for us? How does this define us? How do we fall into this heteronormalcy that has now been given to us — this wonderful right that we fought for? Does this actually apply to us? Those anxieties getting tied into ‘Getting Married Today’ is a whole new layer that I was really excited to explore.”
Doyle also discussed the technical challenge of nailing the famously difficult, rapid-fire patter of the song, recounting a story about the time his father asked him if he’d thought much about his big showstopper during lockdown. “I was like, ‘I have had an anxiety nightmare for the past two years of this pandemic!'” Doyle said with a laugh. “He was like, ‘Whoa, okay, I’m sorry I asked.'”
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.