Meet the stars of Mar­i­anne El­liott’s his­toric new gen­der swapped, LGBTQ-in­clu­sive pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s Com­pany.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS: - Pho­tog­ra­phy Dar­ren Bell Lo­ca­tion Blacks Club Words Si­mon But­ton

The stars of Mar­i­anne El­liott’s his­toric new gen­der-swapped, LGBTQ-in­clu­sive pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s Com­pany weigh in on up­dat­ing the clas­sic show, Dis­ney’s cast­ing of Jack White­hall in a queer role, and dis­cuss work­ing with icon Patti LuPone.

When it comes to queer roles for queer ac­tors, Jonathan Bai­ley has strong views that he’s not shy about ex­press­ing. It’d be fine, he rea­sons, if it was a level play­ing field where ev­ery­one got to play ev­ery­thing across all lev­els of the arts. “But do I think Dis­ney missed an op­por­tu­nity with cast­ing Jack White­hall in Jun­gle Cruise?” he pon­ders about the stu­dio’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to cast the straight co­me­dian as its first ma­jor gay char­ac­ter. “Yes, I do, be­cause the state­ment of in­clu­siv­ity of cast­ing a gay ac­tor in­stead, es­pe­cially with the fam­ily au­di­ence that Dis­ney has, would have been huge.”

Jonathan re­cently played a gay as­sis­tant di­rec­tor in the Don­mar Ware­house re­vival of Peter Gill’s The York Re­al­ist and is a gay hus­band-to-be in a new pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s Com­pany (which is now play­ing at Lon­don’s Giel­gud Theatre), but he’s also played straight roles and says: “Of course ac­tors should be able to play ab­so­lutely any­thing and straight peo­ple should be able to play gay but there’s def­i­nitely a cul­ture, at a cer­tain level in Hol­ly­wood for ex­am­ple, where gay ac­tors don’t get to play the straight roles.”

That’s why it feels un­just when gay roles in big Hol­ly­wood movies go to straight ac­tors. “It’s a state­ment that has to be made and seen,” Jonathan force­fully states, “that we see gay men not just play­ing gay roles on TV but also in Hol­ly­wood and in big, award-win­ning roles.”

Choos­ing his words care­fully, Jonathan’s Com­pany co-star Alex Gaumond (the Cana­dian ac­tor best known for West End shows like Legally Blonde and Matilda) adds: “I’m play­ing a gay role and I’m straight so I un­der­stand both points of view, but any group that has felt some­what ex­cluded over years and years should be able to get to a place in so­ci­ety where ev­ery role is fair game.”

“It’s about young peo­ple look­ing up to gay role mod­els and see­ing them not be­ing marginalised,” Jonathan chimes in, “and it’s about see­ing your lives be­ing por­trayed authentically by peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­enced what you have ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Jonathan didn’t hes­i­tate when he was asked if he’d like to play jit­tery bride-to-be Amy from the orig­i­nal Com­pany (which was first staged on Broad­way in 1970) rein­vented as a guy named Jamie who is ner­vous about get­ting hitched to his boyfriend Paul (played by Gaumond). Amy didn’t feel valid in her­self. “And that makes sense the more I think about gen­der pol­i­tics and the role of the fe­male in so­ci­ety in the late-60s/early-70s as one of sub­servience and be­ing lim­ited.” That’s some­thing that res­onates for 30-year-old Jonathan in 2018. “Thank God we’re mov­ing for­ward, al­though we haven’t got there yet, in terms of equal­ity for women but with gay men it’s like we’re still seen as ‘He’s my gay un­cle’ or ‘He’s my gay best friend’. We’re still sort of la­belled and given spe­cific roles.”

Hav­ing Amy now be Jamie is do­ing its bit to re­dress that. It also makes per­fect sense given the Com­pany up­date is set in the present day, not its orig­i­nal 1970s past. “So there should be ev­ery type of cou­pling,” Jonathan says while Alex adds of the show’s gen­der-switched hero­ine Bob­bie (Ros­alie Craig): “There’s no rea­son why Bob­bie would only have het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples as friends in 2018 New York. They could have made any of the cou­ples same-sex but this is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s about a gay wed­ding, which is very cur­rent, al­though the idea of get­ting stressed out on your wed­ding day is non-gen­der-spe­cific. It ap­plies to a woman or a man in a het­ero­sex­ual mar­riage or a man or a woman in a gay mar­riage. It’s a very hu­man, vis­ceral re­ac­tion so why not look at it through a dif­fer­ent lens? And if you’re go­ing to do a re­vival there’s not much point in do­ing a car­bon copy of what’s been done be­fore. If you’re go­ing to re-do a piece why not try a fresh ap­proach?”

Jonathan in­sists that the switch­ing of gen­ders, with Bobby be­com­ing Bob­bie and Amy be­com­ing Jamie, isn’t a gim­mick and in fact the script hasn’t been amended be­yond the chang­ing of a few pro­nouns. “And with all art forms,” he says when Gay Times meets him and Alex dur­ing a break from bring­ing the show to life, “if some­thing is ro­bust in its bril­liance and clar­ity it re­mains pru­dent and puts a mir­ror to so­ci­ety.”

The boy-boy cou­ple are also pre­sent­ing a pos­i­tive spin on the story. “It’s not about the im­pos­si­bil­i­ties of be­ing gay or the stru–les of be­ing gay,” Jonathan points out. “There’s no part of this play where that’s a con­ver­sa­tion and there are no out­side opin­ions on their sex­u­al­ity. That’s so bril­liant and pos­i­tive.”

The road to mar­riage is a rocky one for Jamie and Paul. “But just be­cause we gay men can get mar­ried now that doesn’t mean it’s go­ing to be easy for ev­ery­one. It’s the het­eronor­ma­tive idea ver­sus queer cul­ture and gen­er­a­tionally over, like, five-year stints peo­ple have com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up gay. Paul is six years older than Jamie so there’s the en­ti­tle­ment of the younger gen­er­a­tion ver­sus older gay men, some of whom who want to ring-fence queer cul­ture as some­thing that’s vi­tal in terms of gay iden­tity. With­out it be­ing an anal­y­sis or an aca­demic ar­gu­ment, emo­tion­ally it’s all there in the play.”

Dur­ing their lunch break the boys are wolf­ing down curry and clearly have a great rap­port, al­though they play very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in the show. Paul is very to­gether, very grounded, very happy in his own skin and in his re­la­tion­ship with Jamie, but Jamie is less sure of him­self. “He’s prob­a­bly never felt that he’s been af­firmed ever in his life,” Jonathan reck­ons, “and what I’m work­ing out as we re­hearse is that he prob­a­bly doesn’t ever feel he’s worth be­ing loved for var­i­ous rea­sons. There are lines in the play that su–est he’s come from a bro­ken home and, as best friends with Bob­bie, I feel he’s quite co-de­pen­dent and can’t es­tab­lish bound­aries and that’s why when it comes down to it he keeps try­ing to please ev­ery­one un­til he has a mas­sive cri­sis.”

That cri­sis comes dur­ing the Get­ting Mar­ried To­day num­ber, which must be one of the most lyri­cally and rhyth­mi­cally com­plex things Sond­heim has ever writ­ten. Jonathan laughs when we won­der how the hell he man­ages to get his tongue around it. “It’s like learn­ing the rap in Gangsta’s Par­adise in the 90s. You learn it and once it’s in it’s in.”

As for what they have in com­mon with their char­ac­ters Alex, 40, has just got­ten mar­ried him­self and notes: “I tend to have been a bit of a rock for peo­ple so that is quite sim­i­lar to how Paul is.” As for Jonathan, he smiles: “I don’t even need to re­hearse; it’s all there. No, but I do feel Jamie’s bring­ing out a part of me that’s al­ways been in there some­where be­cause I’m es­sen­tially some­one who needs a rock – that and the idea of al­ways try­ing to please peo­ple.” Bob­bie is a 35-year-old se­rial dater who has yet to set­tle down. Mak­ing the lead into a woman was a light­bulb idea that came to di­rec­tor Mar­i­anne El­liott (who did a fan­tas­tic job with the re­cent re­vival of An­gels In Amer­ica), whom Alex quotes as say­ing:

“The show was writ­ten in the 70s but if a man is 35 now, has three girl­friends and hasn’t set­tled down yet peo­ple kind of go ‘So what? That’s not very in­ter­est­ing’ whereas if a woman is 35, has three boyfriends and hasn’t set­tled down you have the body-clock-tick­ing thing of ‘If you’re go­ing to have chil­dren you have to make that de­ci­sion soon’.”

At the time of our chat Bai­ley and Gaumond hadn’t seen a full run-through of the show so they’re not sure if male Bobby’s hint­ing at dal­liances with other guys in the orig­i­nal text is re­framed as fe­male Bob­bie hav­ing done like­wise with other girls. “But the idea of peo­ple ex­per­i­ment­ing with sex­u­al­i­ties wouldn’t be as much of a story point now as it was in the 70s,” says Jonathan, “al­though the way Bob­bie’s pre­sented in the show, as a very open char­ac­ter, of course she would have done that.”

Broad­way leg­end Patti LuPone has hinted that there’s a girl-girl kiss in the show and both boys agrees that get­ting her to play caus­tic lush Joanne is a ma­jor coup. To Jonathan she’s “amaz­ing” and to Alex she’s “com­edy gold”. “And she’s a great com­pany mem­ber,” he says. “With her leg­endary sta­tus she could choose to be some­thing of a diva but she mucks in with ev­ery­body else and she’s quite playful, which I didn’t ex­pect.”

Jonathan grins: “And she’s got a dirty twin­kle in her eye. She’s fan­tas­tic.”

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