Before the Broadway premiere of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company in April 1970, American musicals mostly had a single purpose: to bring a man and a woman together in romantic (and melodic) harmony. But Company upended this tradition, offering instead a collection of vignettes featuring marriages in different states of (un)happiness, seen from the perspective of a flaky 35-year-old bachelor named Bobby. Bobby’s ambivalence toward marriage frustrated his friends and shocked early audiences, as did the fact that he ended the show still single. So much so that Company, Rob Kendt wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2004, “represented a full-scale assault on two venerable institutions, marriage and the musical theater.”
Bobby’s apathy about marriage in 1970 also represented a shift in the national psyche that had been brewing since the end of the Second World War. As women gained power in society and the free-love movement distinguished sexuality from marriage, questioning the institution itself became more commonplace. And as the decades went on, Company, which had once scandalized theatergoers, became less provocative. But the announcement that a new production of the show will reimagine Bobby as a female character makes the almost 50-year-old musical suddenly timely again. Bobbie, a single woman in her mid-thirties who’s reluctant to commit, has the potential to illuminate the benefits and restrictions of modern relationships, just as her male counterpart did half a century ago. Her changing gender also shifts the dynamic of every other relationship in the show, challenging assumptions about power, sexuality, and the nature of marriage in the 21st century.