The curious case of ‘Company’ at the Tony Awards: Never any love for the star

Bobby, bubi, we need to talk about the Tony Awards! This season’s revival of the late Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical “Company” earned nine nominations, the highest for any musical revival of the year and the fourth largest tally of any show. It earned citations for Best Revival, three for performers Matt Doyle, Patti LuPone, and Jennifer Simard, Best Director for Marianne Elliott, and four others.

Glaringly absent from this well-deserved list, though, is star Katrina Lenk, who plays the musical’s central character Bobbie; Elliott has reimagined the piece with a woman at the fore. If this snub seems egregious, it’s one that productions of “Company” past have had to contend with before.

SEE the complete list of 2022 Tony Awards nominees

Just as Bobby and Bobbie are notoriously unlucky in love, the character has never been particularly lucky with Tony nominators, dating way back to 1971. The very first staging in 1970 had an unusual journey with its Bobby to begin with: Dean Jones originated the part, playing Bobby from previews to opening night and for only about a month longer before being replaced by Larry Kert. Jones’ run was so brief that the Tony administration allowed producer Hal Prince to submit Kert for Tony consideration, which is against the common procedure that the originating performer be eligible. Kert got nominated, but lost to Hal Linden (“The Rothschilds”). “Company” otherwise did extraordinarily well, earning 12 nominations and winning Best Musical, Director, Book, Lyrics and Score – two separate awards at the time – and Scenic Design.

The first revival of “Company” bowed 25 years after the original and starred Boyd Gaines as Bobby. The ensemble starred a who’s-who of current Broadway superstars, including Danny Burstein, Jane Krakowski, LaChanze – nominated this year for Best Actress in a Play for “Trouble in Mind” – and Debra Monk. This remounting underperformed across the board, earning only two Tony bids for Best Revival and Veanne Cox, who played Amy, the character who sings the showstopper “Getting Married Today.” In the current production, Amy has been changed to Jamie, the role for which Matt Doyle just received his nomination.

SEE 2022 Tony Awards nominations snubs: Daniel Craig, ‘Flying Over Sunset,’ Katrina Lenk …

The most recent revival featured direction by John Doyle, who stripped the production down and accentuated the raw emotions of the characters and had his actors accompany themselves by playing instruments. This “Company” was received better than the first revival at the Tonys, picking up three noms for Best Revival, Best Actor for Raúl Esparza, who played Bobby, and Doyle’s direction. The show ultimately won the top prize and pundits were sure that Esparza would walk away with the award, especially for his powerful rendition of “Being Alive.” But alas, Bobby came up short again, with Esparza losing to David Hyde Pierce for the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical comedy “Curtains.”

Clearly, Bobby has not been a Tony favorite role, as a performer has never won for the part and has been snubbed for a nomination in the past, too. Perhaps Tony nominators throughout the years have found the purposely opaque character too distant to “crowd” with love, to paraphrase “Being Alive.” In the case of Katrina Lenk, that certainly could have been a factor.

She has also been continuously growing into the famously-challenging role. Back when critics saw the revival in December 2021, even some who adored the production quibbled with Lenk’s performance. Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) wrote that she is “not quite up to the vocal demands of the show’s emotional breakthrough finale,” and Jesse Green (New York Times) described her as flat-out “miscast.” But what a difference five months makes, says those who have revisited the show time and time again and have found Lenk increasingly strong and impressive as Bobbie. If those 29 Tony nominators checked out the show at the end of last year instead of more recently, they could have shared those reservations. Perhaps next time, Bobbie baby.

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