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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

“Company’s” Judy McLane Talks Physicality, Performance, and Sondheim

Deputy Arts Editor Miki Mukawa sits down with Judy McLane to discuss the national tour of “Company.”
Matthew Murphy
From left to right: Derrick Davis as Larry, Judy McLane as Joanne, and Britney Coleman as Bobbie in the North American Tour of “Company.”

Judy McLane stars in the musical Company’s national tour, playing Joanne—one of the protagonist’s married friends, characterized for her hard-shelled exterior. McLane is a Drama Desk Award nominee and Outer Critics Circle Award winner whose previous credits include Mamma Mia! (Broadway), Chess (Broadway), Into the Woods (National Tour), and Gypsy (Regional, Goodspeed). Maroon Deputy Arts Editor Miki Mukawa sat down with McLane to talk about Company, which ran at the Cadillac Palace Theater from October 31 through November 12.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Miki Mukawa: This production of Company made a lot of big waves—especially with it being gender-swapped. It also started touring right after [lyricist and composer Stephen] Sondheim passed. How has it been, being in a production that is so well loved, but also has this innovative take on a very beloved show?

Judy McLane: I worked with Stephen Sondheim on the Into the Woods national tour. I also had the chance to sing for him two weeks before he died. I sang “Last Midnight” for him at a concert for Jonathan Tunick. It was a full symphony orchestra. So I got to sing for him that song, probably one of the last people to ever sing it for him. So I feel so connected to him. I [have] spent a year doing Sondheim. It’s interesting, I did Putting It Together [at] the beginning of the year, I just did Gypsy before this, and now I’m doing [Company] and [with] this iconic character that has a lot of expectations with it. The women that have played it are characters themselves—Elaine Stritch, Patti LuPone. And so I had to find out for [myself]: How do I get into this?

MM: How did you try to bring your own approach to Joanne as a character?

JM: The adjectives I like to use for [Joanne are] fun and dangerous.

She is the first person to throw the verbal dagger before you can [hurt] her. The fact that she’s drunk gives me a lot of leeway to play. I’m a playful person. So that part I relate to. The drunk side, not so much. The observant side, I’m not so observant like that.

I had to find that for myself; I had to just dive into the material and see what other people say about Joanne, what she says, analyze that and not come from what I think the role should be.

I think I bring more vulnerability to her, especially in the second act, because I think she’s damaged, as most people who drink too much are, and that’s a disease. So I had to dive into what is it about her becoming a certain age. Here I am, [Joanne], as someone who’s losing [youth and beauty]. For sure, [there’s a] fun side—you have to have the fun in order to have the danger, otherwise, you don’t appreciate it. So it’s very important for me to look at what the relationship was, why does [the younger] Bobbie hang out with Joanne? Because she is fun. She knows how to have a good time.

So that’s how I approach it. From a physical sense, I always go from where a character holds themselves. I find her [to be] very much chest forward, physically.

MM: How do you see that relationship between Joanne and Bobbie differently with Bobby gender-swapped in this version?

JM: I think that Joanne often sees Bobbie [as though] they’re alike in a lot of ways and yet so different. So I think what [this production has] added is this little moment of Larry and Bobbie talking on the side. Now, there’s nothing going on there. But in Joanne’s mind, there’s this aspect of jealousy: She’s a career woman, she didn’t get married, she didn’t settle. She’s talking to a woman who’s three times married. The fact that [Bobbie] has a career…you know, I think Joanne is threatened by that.

MM: What is your favorite scene from Company? Or number that you’re in or maybe even not in?

JM: “Being Alive” is one of the best songs ever written. And I have to [settle] myself because I don’t think Joanne would be the kind [to] get choked. I don’t know if she would show vulnerability during that song. But it’s hard to hear those words and not have some kind of feeling. That song is just, I think, one of [Sondheim’s] most brilliant pieces of writing—lyrically and musically, it’s just amazing.

And then performing “Ladies Who Lunch” is a never-ending discovery. Every single night, I’m finding things, changing things, and that’s gold to an actress who’s on the road for a long time. I get a lot of energy from the audience, so that is really my favorite moment to do. Because I can get so lost in it, you know?

MM: I think what’s particularly interesting about this production of Company is the staging.​​There were times when I would be looking at the stage and it didn’t feel like I was looking at a stage because of the light boxes and the altered perspective.

JM: Audiences probably don’t see this stage [and say], “oh my goodness the set!” Bunny, the set designer, did brilliantly [by] putting us in a box. Bobbie’s world has become smaller, and towards the end, it even gets smaller [with] that fake box?

But I think it looks very similar to the New York [production] and you don’t often get that with touring shows because you have to fit into so many different theaters. I think the elegance of this set and the movement of this set serves the piece so beautifully. It’s like another character, that box. It’s got this feeling of, you know, tightening, tightening, tightening on all of us [and especially] Bobbie. So it’s, it’s really fun to play in and I think it allows for you to really hear the words and the lyrics.

MM: How was the rehearsal process with dancing in that box? It looks so complicated and difficult!

JM: The box took a long time—-each move and then you’re [also] singing Sondheim, and that’s a very complicated piece of music. So you’re trying to remember the cues and the music, what you’re singing and the counts, and sometimes you’re counting and… it was intense.

That [is characteristic of] Sondheim’s work, right? Saying a quote from him, “God is in the details”. I always think of that with my work. The more specific and detailed you are, the better you are as a performer.

MM: One last question. Why would you say that people should see this production specifically, with such a beloved piece that so many people already know about? What do you think makes this production of Company special?

JM: I think it’s the reinvention. You know, the swapping. You may know Company and you [may] love Company because the music is amazing. I mean, it’s some of the greatest songs [Sondheim has] ever written. So that alone is great. But if you think you know Company, you don’t really know [until] you see this production.

It used to be back in the day that men were supposed to have a family and get a job, but I don’t think the pressure is as much on men anymore. I think it’s still on women in some ways to balance their careers. And yet, the way Company looks at marriage…I think if you’re in a relationship, I think it’s great to look at [Company] and be able to laugh at it. It’s funny, right? So I think it’s a good way for couples to come and kind of explore the fun side of their marriage and the kooky side that actually probably sometimes makes them crazy, but actually can be really the beautiful thing that keeps them together. I think it’s an important piece, especially for young women.

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Miki Mukawa
Miki Mukawa, Deputy Arts Editor, Grey City Reporter
Miki Mukawa is a third-year in the College studying English Language & Literature from Yokohama, Japan. When she's not finding an excuse to catch the latest show or grab some bites for the Arts section, you can find her poring over the hidden meanings behind Taylor Swift lyrics or saving cooking videos on Instagram (that she will, inevitably, never actually use).
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