The gender-swapped, Tony-winning revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company is on the road with a new star leading the company: Britney Coleman. She comes to the role of perpetually single Bobbie after understudying the role during the production's Broadway run, but that's actually perhaps not what most makes her casting so ideal. She's also just about to celebrate her 35th birthday, just like Bobbie.
"I'm going to turn 35 when we're in Greenville, South Carolina," she shared with us before the tour launched earlier this month. "That's something that's definitely on my mind, being a woman who is not married and turning 35. Maybe this is too much information, but I saw my gynecologist the other day and she left me with pamphlets for freezing my eggs. Like, this is the realest, most meta role I think I've ever had."
This production of Company reimagines the 1970 musical to newly center around a female protagonist: Bobbie. Unmarried and 35, Bobbie visits her large group of married friends, most of whom are very concerned with why Bobbie hasn't yet settled down. The show unfolds as a kind of surreal fever dream triggered by her 35th birthday, a milestone that looms larger and larger as she considers everything her friends say she's missing, from boyfriends and husbands to babies. For Bobbie, blowing out the birthday candles is a loaded task. What does she want to wish for?
Watch Coleman sing Bobbie's climactic "Being Alive" in the Playbill Studio below:
To Coleman, the show is ultimately about more than the trappings of love and marriage. On a deeper level, it's a musical about someone learning they want to feel connected. She says that also makes it uniquely suited to live theatre, and to 2023.
"The idea of connecting with people is timeless," Coleman told us. "The beautiful thing about live theatre, and touring in particular, is that we get to bring the show to parts of the country that will never have seen something like this before, and get folks to think and feel. We're all hungry for that, especially post pandemic. We haven't had the ability to connect in person, and that's what the show is all about."
This production of the Sondheim musical itself has some history. Directed by Marianne Elliott, the revival premiered in London in 2018 with West End star Rosalie Craig leading the company. After a pandemic pause, a Broadway transfer opened in December 2021 with The Band's Visit Tony winner Katrina Lenk as Bobbie. The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Coleman was with the show for the entire Broadway run in the ensemble and understudying the role of Bobbie. Now taking on the role full time, Coleman brings yet another shift to an already reimagined role. Unlike the women that came before her, Coleman is Black—and she says that dramatically affects how she tackles the story.
"We have this overarching theme of babies in the show," she explains. "You hear a baby cry multiple times. If you look at statistics in America, the rate for deaths and complications during pregnancy is so much higher for Black women. For me thinking about giving birth, there's a whole other layer of fear. And I think for women of color who see the show and see me in it, seeing me react to a baby cry might hit differently."
And it's not just Coleman. The entire company is noticeably less white than it was for the Broadway run, which Coleman says has led to a tour that will play differently than the production did on the Main Stem. "We're going into the tour with change in mind and catering it to who we have on the road with us. Anyone who steps into these roles is going to bring a totally different flavor, totally different choices."
For some scenes, Coleman says those different flavors create a completely new energy. "We have both a Harry and Sarah who are people of color, and we talk about the police. That means something different to us than a couple who is not Black. We're allowed to kind of just let that sit. We couldn't explore that the last time around because it wasn't a personal kind of thing."
As Coleman tours the country celebrating her birthday both on stage and off, you might wonder just what it is her Bobbie will be wishing for as she finally blows out her birthday candles at the end of the show. Don't worry—no spoiler alert required, because Coleman says there isn't really an answer.
"Marianne has never specifically asked for us to let her know what that decision is, when she looks at that cake finally and she's able to blow out the candle," Coleman said. "You'll see in the show it's very difficult for her to blow out the birthday candle. She really has to take the whole journey to get there. Honestly, it might vary night to night. Some people might see Bobbie want to stay single and live her best life. Some audiences will see a decision to really pursue settling down."
Luckily for Coleman, she's got 25 cities (so far) to figure it out. You can find the full itinerary at CompanyMusical.com.
Britney Coleman singing "Being Alive" was shot at Alchemical Studios.