Antonio Banderas' Company: Review

Antonio Banderas’ Spanish-language production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company is as intelligent and as nuanced as it is bright, bold and brassy. A cast of Spain’s finest musical-theatre talents (on and off stage), an orchestra to rival (surpass, even) anything you’ll hear on Broadway, a seemingly bottomless budget and of course a Hollywood-calibre leading man is as close to a sure-thing guarantee that you’ll ever get in musical theatre, and, ¡vaya!, does it deliver!

As a committed Sondheimite – and Chair of The Stephen Sondheim Society – I’ve seen this show many times. And when asked, I’ve always said that, for me, nothing has surpassed Sam Mendes’ production at the Donmar with Adrian Lester. Yes, I adored Marianne Elliott’s more recent gender-flipped production (and am desperate to get over to NYC to see it again) but Mendes and his team captured something magical in that 1995 version (it also boasted the unparalleled Sheila Gish, whose caustic “Everybody riiiiise!!” is always worthy of a chef’s kiss!)

Elliott’s production managed to instil in me the fear that Company might be something of a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur… a relic…” to quote Judi Dench’s M in her attack on the “boyish charms” of James Bond in GoldenEye. That, somehow, it just didn’t work anymore and needed an overhaul in the disturbing light of the MeToo movement. And who pesters men into being married these days?!

But I’m pleased to say that Banderas – star, director and producer – has dispelled this notion, with a production that acknowledges the ridiculousness of a 1970s bachelor lifestyle yet still allows you to sympathise with his situation. An Old Spice odour of toxic masculinity now infuses “Have I Got a Girl for You”, as Bobby is reluctantly hoisted into the air by his male friends, the same ones who – much to his embarrassment – wheel his bed centrestage for his scene with April the air hostess.

Banderas neatly reframes the action of his Company into a series of flashbacks or dreams/nightmares across his life, which also helps account for him not being 35 any more. The show, revolution that it was in the 1970s, never did have a traditional narrative arc, even though the main character does go on a journey that sees him end the show as a new man. But here, Banderas is explicitly summoning these memories – proactively, with a snap of the fingers – to formulate a way ahead, or to find a “coherent existence”, as the lawyer Egerman demands in A Little Night Music.

This recollection of old and perhaps false and unreliable memories allows Banderas to create a fantasy. The cast remain on stage for much of the show, trapped in a synaptic limbo, watching and reacting to the memories as they unfold. It has a touch of Assassins about it, mixing together characters across history and messing with chronology.

As for the performances, the revelation for me is that Banderas can sing. He’s got a powerful voice, too, almost operatic, and crucially the ability to keep it in check. (He would make for a terrifying Sweeney Todd, I bet!) I sat there aghast as he powered through whichever word in Ignacio Garcia May’s translation replaces “about” at the end of Bobby's first solo (“that’s what it’s really about, really about”) in the glorious opening number, “Company”. This contrasts with his delicate, wispy high (and optional) A# on “waiiiiit” at the end of “Someone is Waiting”.

And the audience were applauding even before he could finish “Being Alive”. It’s performed here by a Bobby who’s inebriated after his night out with Joanne and Harry, so played as a moment of tipsy self-discovery, the uptight bachelor finally cutting loose thanks to two cognacs too many. Banderas plays drunk very well, and the result is a wonderful, uplifting close to the show. From the whoops of “wapo malagueño” from the appreciative home audience (Banderas is a local boy), I wouldn’t’ve been surprised to see a pair or two of Spanish knickers flying in his direction!

We’re not treated to “Marry Me a Little” at the close of act one, which was a surprise and a pity. But “Tick-Tock” – a last-minute addition to the show in its original Boston try-out – does make its way into the second act. It’s an explosion of perms and knee-high boots that has Bobby tossing and turning all night after his liaison with April, and it allows choreographer Borja Rueda to show off his skills.

The only movement issue I had was in the call-and-response sequence of “Side by Side by Side”. It’s a cringeworthy moment in the show when the couples take it in turns to dance (often tap) in sequence, first husband then wife or vice versa, such that when it’s Bobby’s turn, he has no one to respond to this call. It has the potential to be a heart-wrenching moment but here I felt it didn’t quite hit the mark, despite Bobby’s best efforts to style it out.

Banderas has surrounded himself with what is surely the cream of Spanish musical theatre. There’s no faulting any performance, and each of the cast gives everything they’ve got to their roles:

The show is divided into short vignettes featuring Bobby’s interaction with his married friends. First up is Harry (Carlos Seguí) and Sarah (the hilarious Dulcinea Juárez), who deliver a masterclass in comedy with their karate (or is it Lucha Libre!?) tussle while the caustic Joanne (the perfectly cast Marta Ribera) explains wryly how a successful marriage hinges on “The Little Things You Do Together”. For added comic effect, Banderas stages the fight in slow motion – very cinematic and very funny.