OGDEN — When the recent Tony award winning revival of Company opened in 2019 its music and lyricist Stephen Sondheim said “you can do it in different ways from generation to generation… What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It’s not just a matter of changing pronouns, but attitudes.” He made this comment because the production was taking the bold step of gender swapping several of the characters including the lead originally named Robert which was changed to Bobbie and cast as a woman.

Show closes June 2, 2024.

I know some people can roll their eyes the minute they hear the words ‘gender swap’ but in the case of Company I agreed with Sondheim that the choice provided a fresh viewpoint. In some ways it added depth to the musical because in this day and age it feels more realistic that a woman would feel more pressure to be married and have a family at 35 than a man. There used to be more societal pressures on men but most of those have gone away, but they still often remain for women. This production also gender swapped the roles of Amy, April, Marta and Kathy to great effectiveness. I enjoyed this revival so much I saw it twice and Company quickly became my favorite Sondheim musical because of the connection I felt with this version of Bobbie/Robert.

I mention all of this backstory just to put in context my very mixed response to the new production of Company at the Ziegfeld. There were many strengths with what they have mounted but also the director Caleb Parry made choices that were very distracting from the overall message and effectiveness of the show.

As I said, I have absolutely no problem with gender swapping the show. I actually prefer it, but that’s not what they did here. They kept the script the same as the 1970 version but changed the gender of the actors playing the roles. So Robert was played by Aurora Nelson. She is referred to as a man, bachelor with he/his pronouns throughout. The same is true for Amy played by Mitch Fowers, Peter by Melissa Trenery and Marta by Jezuz Gomez-Villalobos. It might seem like a small detail but since the piece is all about relationships, the characterization is actually really important. For example, characters refer to Robert’s masculinity and his gender multiple times. Amy talks about her wedding dress she’s wearing etc. She/he isn’t wearing a wedding dress so it’s a distracting moment. As much as I didn’t want it to be, it was a problem throughout the scenes, and I just wish they had done the full swap or not at all so there would at least be consistency. They also didn’t change the key signatures of the songs giving Nelson some low notes as Robert to work around. She did well with the iconic “Being Alive,” but struggled with “Marry Me a Little”

Anyway, if the audience can get around the casting decisions, there are aspects to enjoy about Ziegfeld’s Company. Everyone knows any production of Company lives or dies on the back of its Joanne and the “Ladies Who Lunch” number and Anne Considine-Olsen delivers the song with boozy gusto. And even though I wish it had been fully swapped, I think Fowers performs “Getting Married Today” well, enunciating the very fast vocals clearly and giving the manic energy appropriate for the moment. I admired Villalobos’ rendition of “Another Hundred People.” Even though it didn’t make sense for  him as Marta, as an actor he knows how to use the entire stage with his performance and bringing his whole body into the song. Abby Harding has another of the highlights with the butterfly speech she gives to Robert in Act II. It’s very funny yet tells you a lot about both her and Robert as she tells the story.

The set by artistic director Morgan Parry is simple but effective. We have our classic Company purple skyline background with platforms for the actors to stand on. The only props are a bench that folds out into a bed for “Barcelona,” but the whole point of Company is to focus on the characters, so simple is best. We are all supposed to be thinking about our own hopes and dreams at 35 and how we relate to the various couples put on display. The rest of the technical elements at the Ziegfeld all went off without a hitch and it was a successful opening night production.

If you have never seen Company perhaps you won’t come into it with the baggage I do and might find the casting decision to be intriguing? It’s certainly a bold choice, and I’m sure some will appreciate it. Regardless, any chance to see Company should be taken advantage of, and hopefully all involved will feel alive and excited with their efforts.

Copmany plays Fridays through Sundays at 7:30 PM May 24 through June 2, 2024 at The Ziegfeld Theatre (3934 Washington Blvd, Ogden). Tickets are $24.95-26.95 . For more information, visit www.zigarts.com.