Matt Rodin (L) as Jamie and Ali Louis Bourzgui as Paul in “Company.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.
Few names are as synonymous with 20th-century musical theater as Stephen Sondheim‘s.
The late composer, lyricist and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient was credited by former President Barack Obama in 2015 as having “reinvented the American Musical.” It’s easy to see why.
The openly gay Broadway staple received eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama among other accolades throughout his career, which began in 1957 with “West Side Story.”
Sondheim’s catalogue also includes enduring work like “Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods” and “Company,” his celebrated 1970 concept musical. It was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning six, and was one of the earliest works of its type to examine dating, marriage and divorce in the modern world.
A West End revival took the groundbreaking hit even further in 2018, swapping the genders of several principals and reimagining it to include a same-sex couple for the first time. It transferred to Broadway in 2021 and won five Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical.
Sondheim welcomed its reinvention before his death at 91 that year. He told the New York Times that his “feeling about the theater is the thing that makes it different from movies and television is that you can do it in different ways from generation to generation.”
Audiences have agreed, supporting the show on Broadway and its subsequent tour, which launched in October 2023. It comes to Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts Jan. 9-14.
“It’s Bobbie’s 35th birthday party, and all her friends keep asking — Why isn’t she married? Why can’t she find the right man and isn’t it time to settle down and start a family?” it’s officially billed. “As Bobbie searches for answers, she discovers why being single, being married and being alive in the 21st century could drive a person crazy.”
The revival’s updates to make a male Bobby a female Bobbie — and her female friend Amy a male Jamie, one half of the show’s same-sex couple — were personally approved by Sondheim. He said “what keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints,” a sentiment shared by Matt Rodin who plays Jamie on tour.
“When I saw the production in 2021 I was so moved,” Rodin says. “At that point I had been in a relationship with my now-husband for five years, and while ‘Company’ was written by a man in the ‘70s who had never really been in a significant relationship, it speaks so eloquently about what it means to be in partnership with someone.”
Swapping Jamie’s gender also had an impact on Rodin, who says same-sex couples in pop culture have traditionally been portrayed as caricatures or through a lens of trauma. It was clear to him that the revival was a part of the ongoing work to change that.
“Especially on stage, this was the first time that I had seen a queer relationship in this nuanced way,” he explains. “That I had seen a couple that clearly love each other very deeply, where one is struggling with insecurity and fear and the other is there to hold him and catch him until things kind of fall out. I was very, very moved by the production and told my agent right away that when it went on tour, I wanted the part.”
Rodin’s audition process went on for months. It culminated with a final callback scheduled for July 3, 2023, the day of his wedding.
“My agent called and said, ‘they want to see you one more time’ and I was like, ‘ I’m getting married in the morning but I can do the afternoon,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘okay, this keeps it easy. I can wear what I’m wearing because I’m going to play a groom anyway,’ so that’s what I did.”
Rodin and his husband were married in a small ceremony in Central Park at 11 a.m. He left their reception by 2 p.m. View photos of the couple’s wedding day below, courtesy of Rodin:
“Everyone said ‘break a leg’ and I hopped on the train for my final callback because I really, really wanted it,” he says. “I found out I got it two days later and it’s all felt like the timing is very much meant to be. I feel very lucky that I get to wear my wedding ring on stage every night.
“I also get to relive a part of my wedding day eight times a week,” he continues. “I get to do the song and the scene that I did on my wedding day every night, which is just really special, and obviously it takes a special kind of person to support their partner in saying, ‘we can get married and you can go on tour for a year.’ I feel very blessed and lucky to have such a supportive husband.”
Rodin channels that energy into his character and the show, which he says can resonate with LGBTQ+ audiences for a number of reasons. That includes the fact that Sondheim was gay.
“That in and of itself is the foundation for why so much of his material connects with people in our community and in our family,” Rodin says. “But I think in a piece like ‘Company,’ because it includes a queer relationship, it opens up access to all of the partnerships in the show. It feels like they all become relatable to us because we’re one piece of this puzzle.”
Rodin also notes that he and his character’s partner Paul are heavily featured. Bobbie exits the stage only once in the show, during Jamie’s celebrated song “Not Getting Married,” which makes him the only other character to be on stage alone.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to get to sink my teeth into,” Rodin says. “I feel very lucky because the song is hilarious with some really funny moments in the scene, but also because we get to have our own little play with a beginning, middle and end. It does have weight and it does have consequences.”
The actor also calls the entire cast generous and skilled performers, allowing him to truly dive into the role. He says the tour has created something any audience can enjoy.
“Come see us,” Rodin says. “When we have energized audiences it is such a romp. The show is so much fun and having energized and frankly queer audiences in the house makes such a huge difference. We need that energy and we’re really excited to see it in Tampa.”
“Company” plays Jan. 9-14 at Tampa’s Straz Center. Learn more at StrazCenter.org.