Christopher Sieber, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Josh Radnor in Company(Photo © Michael Lamont)
Christopher Sieber, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Josh Radnor in Company
(Photo © Michael Lamont)
The most debated question in film may be, "What does the Rosebud sled represent to Charles Foster Kane?" and the most debated question in popular music may be, "What the heck does 'I Am The Walrus' mean?" Then there's the most debated question in musical theater: "Is Company's protagonist, Robert, a latent homosexual?" Armed with the 1995 revival text and a leading actor who has been playing a gay dad on television's It's All Relative, the Reprise! Production of Company seems to drag Bobby one step further out of the closet.

Though the Playbill remarks that the setting of the show is "the present," there's no mistaking that the action of Company unfolds at the dawn of the '70s. The Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical revolves around an outsider who observes the games that married people play. Robert (Christopher Sieber) is the only single person within his circle of friends. Sarah (Sharon Lawrence) and Harry (Scott Waara) spice up their marriage with karate and game-playing; Jenny (Anastasia Barzee) and David (Kevin Chamberlin) smoke marijuana in an effort to recapture their youth; Susan (Kathryn Blake) and Peter (John Scherer) can only be a happy couple when divorced; Joanne (Judith Light) and Larry (Richard Kline) realize that denial, animosity, and alcohol keep them together; Amy (Jean Louisa Kelly), about to marry Paul (Josh Radnor) after living with him in unwedded bliss for some time, gets last-minute jitters.

With these role models, it's certainly understandable why Robert can't commit to his lovely ex Kathy (Cady Huffman), the vacant but loveable April (Amy Pietz), or the individualistic Marta (Deborah Gibson) -- even if he is straight. But from the time that Company opened on Broadway, there's always been a pink question mark next to the name of this 35-year-old, unmarried man, who mentions that he interior designed his own apartment. Furth's script contains some additional clues to Robert's sexuality. For example, when Robert tells Peter, "If you ever leave [Susan], I want to be the first to know," who exactly is he interested in? More questions are raised by the 1995 revival script scene, included here, wherein both Peter and Robert cop to homosexual experiences and Peter professes his desire for Robert. True, Robert backs away in jovial panic -- but that behavior fits the persona of a latent homosexual. (At one point, Jenny asks Robert in reference to marriage, "Do you think, subconsciously, you're...resisting it?" It's almost as if she was about to say "gay" but decided to change gears.)

Robert's indeterminate sexuality is heightened by Sieber's sensitive performance. This can be a thankless, gutless role but Sieber infuses it with such intelligence and empathy that, for the first time, I cared about Robert's fate. Another role that sometimes falls flat is that of the darling, dim stewardess April, but the witty and endearing Amy Pietz adds delightful nuances to the character; her priceless performances climaxes with a delivery of the well-known "butterfly" speech that's both hilarious and heartbreaking. As the stoic and sloshed Joanne, Judith Light zips through the Dorothy Parker-esque "The Ladies Who Lunch" with ferocity.

It takes a comic genius to master the schizophrenic speed-singing of the number "Getting Married Today" -- someone the caliber of Madeline Kahn or Beth Howland. I did not expect a star of Yes, Dear to even get to bat with this tongue-twisting song, but Jean Louisa Kelly conquers it. At one point, she stumbled on a word; if she were an amateur, this would result in the song speeding away from her like a runaway train, but Kelly pounced right back onto the lyrics and immediately caught up with the music. Her performance during the book scenes was just as stellar.

The only weak link in the cast is Deborah Gibson. "Another Hundred People" may be the best song ever written about isolation and alienation in modern society, but Gibson sings it with a detached air; because she steps away from the meaning of the lyrics, her ensuing scene with Bobby loses many of its layers. As for the rest of the Company company, it's obvious from the opening number on that they adore being in this show together. Playing characters absorbed in a slew of compulsions -- alcohol, pot, cigarettes, sex, food, and so on -- they invite the audience into their world instead of pushing us away.

The show is dated in some respects; the episodic nature of the script was revolutionary 33 years ago but now that structure seems jagged. Both the score and book of Company scream "1971!" so director David Lee's inconsistent attempts at modernization -- such as having some of the characters use cell phones -- are as apropos as setting a Great Depression drama in 1980s Tibet. Bradley Kaye's set design sets the tone of the pre-disco era with cool blues, grays, and browns, plus Japanese-style walls. Disappointingly, the choreography of Broadway veteran Kay Cole (A Chorus Line) is weak. Company is not a major dance show, so Kathy's solo number "Tick-Tock" -- here performed by Tony-winner Cady Huffman (The Producers) -- has to be a show-stopper. Unfortunately, it never really takes off in this production because Cole has given Huffman little to do.

Dated or not, Company still packs a punch in illustrating how compartmentalized and disconnected our lives have become, to the point where even marriage doesn't guarantee intimacy. It's been decades since the show first opened on Broadway but it speaks to audiences as strongly today as it did in the disassociated, dislocated Vietnam/Nixon era. With the considerable talent assembled for the Reprise! production, this musical has no choice but to sing...vibrantly.