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Stephen Sondheim Discusses a Gender-Swapped ‘Company’

You also wrestled with how to handle an exchange between Bobbie and her friend Joanne. In the original, Joanne propositions Bobby; in this version, Joanne makes a different suggestion.

SONDHEIM That was all Marianne’s idea. That was another thing I was skeptical of, but she really wanted to try it.

ELLIOTT I suppose I was interested in who Joanne was, and her self-destructive behavior. She’s much more fragile than she shows herself to be. What’s the worst thing she could possibly do?

How did the two of you collaborate?

SONDHEIM We just went over it scene by scene. And I would change, and Marianne would, taking some of George’s lines. And she’d say, “We’ll, that’s OK, but I wish it were more this,” and I’d say, “That’s OK, but I don’t quite understand what she’s feeling.” That kind of thing.

[One of the last decisions Elliott and Sondheim made was to change the gender of one of Bobbie’s friends, replacing an Amy with a Jamie, so there is now a same-sex couple in which one person is having wedding day jitters.]

ELLIOTT When I was auditioning in London, I couldn’t find the person [to play Amy]. I also felt like this woman wasn’t now, wasn’t a very modern woman. So then I did a crazy thing — I asked a friend of mine, Jonathan Bailey, who was in the workshop playing P.J., “Would you mind just coming in and trying something for me? It’s a bit crazy.”

SONDHEIM I didn’t know that.

ELLIOTT We worked for maybe an hour and a half, and it wasn’t perfect, but I felt (gasp), this is exciting, there’s a potential here. So I then immediately got on the email to Steve, and I said, “Steve, you have to be sitting down. You have to be having a glass of wine in your hand. And take a deep breath, but I’m going to say something to you: I think possibly we should change Amy into a man.” And Steve’s reply sums him up, really, as a collaborator. He basically said, “Marianne, you need to be sitting down, you need to have a glass of wine in your hand, you need to take a deep breath: I think it’s a great idea.”

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