An Invitation to Bobbie’s Birthday Party

Tyler Hardwick as PJ and Britney Coleman as Bobbie in the North American Tour of COMPANY
CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Tony Award-winning revival of COMPANY opens Nov. 21 at the Belk Theater

“The fun roller coaster feeling of the show is just a really fun night out. It’s fast-moving and, of course, there are these amazing Sondheim songs and music and performances. It’s very snappy and contemporary and modern and witty, and it doesn’t take itself seriously, really, but it does handle some serious themes.” – Bunny Christie, Scenic and Costume Designer, COMPANY

Are you dreading turning 35? Or, do you wish you could be 35 again? Not quite sure you’re ready to “adult,” yet? 

Bobbie, the main character in the musical COMPANY, knows something about that as she prepares to turn 35. And, you’re invited to her birthday party.

COMPANY is a revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s groundbreaking musical comedy from 1970. The play won five Tony Awards in 2021, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical for Marianne Elliott. The touring production of this Broadway powerhouse arrives at the Belk Theater Nov. 21 and runs through Nov. 26. Tickets start at $30 and are on sale now.  

Variety says this revival of COMPANY “strikes like a lightning bolt. It’s brilliantly conceived and funny as hell.” COMPANY The musical explores how maddening modern life can be – whether you’re happily single, single and searching, married or divorced.

As Bobbie prepares to blow out the candles on her birthday cake, her friends want to know why she’s still single, why she’s having trouble finding a partner and what she’s doing with her life. 

As interlopers at Bobbie’s party, the audience becomes part of the play as we witness Bobbie’s angst, spend time in her minimalist apartment and feel all the feels along with her. Similarly, The Biscuit was invited to spend time (via Zoom) in the apartment of Bunny Christie, who earned a  Tony Award (her second) for Best Scenic Design for a Musical for this production.  

Here are her thoughts on the show and insights into how she approaches her work in scene and costume design.

Bunny Christie – CREDIT: Johan Persson

How did you get started in theater? What drew you to it? 

I’m from Scotland – the east coast of Scotland, St. Andrews. In Glasgow, there was a very famous theater called the Citizens Theatre, which was in the Gobles – a really rough bit of the city. 

I would go there sometimes as a child, and they’d be doing incredible intellectual classics and truly esoteric work on very small budgets. But, they had very beautiful actors and an amazing theater. It was like a kind of jewel. You’d come in from this horrible, rainy, dark Glasgow streets – quite depressing – into this kind of palace of gorgeousness. That was a really big influence [on me], but I didn’t think at that point, “Oh, that’s what I want to do.” It was just a lovely world. 

You went to art school. How did that gravitate toward theater and set design?

When you went into the theater department, everybody had to work together because that’s how theater works. They were dressing up, and they had music on and they were all chatting, and it was much more like, “These are my people.”

I did a theater design course, and because I had a sense of what really interesting theater could be, that stood me in good stead. When I graduated, I just started doing tiny, tiny little shows and gradually made more contacts [and moved up] to bigger shows.


Britney Coleman as Bobbie (center) and the North American Tour of COMPANY
CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Without giving anything away about the plot, what kind of theater experience is the audience in for with COMPANY? if it’s their first time, how might they react? 

For a lot of people, this story is very recognizable – you know, getting to an age where all your friends are settling down, pairing up or getting their lives in order somehow, and you’re feeling like you’re not. You’re kind of loving it, but anxious about it at the same time. You have no idea what you want your future to be or who you want to be with. 

COMPANY’s premise will ring a lot of bells for people. I think we know about that kind of dilemma in our lives where we feel under pressure to be a certain way. We don’t know if we want to conform, but it’s like: Well, maybe that would be good for me. Everybody seems to have an opinion about that, but what do I want? 

The fun roller coaster feeling of the show is just a really fun night out. It’s fast-moving and, of course, there are these amazing Sondheim songs and music and performances. It’s very snappy and contemporary and modern and witty, and it doesn’t take itself seriously, really, but it does handle some serious themes.

Looking at other sets you’ve designed, your strong use of color and lighting are notable. Would you speak to that aspect of your work?

Light. Definitely light. The lighting designer is my best friend, my closest ally, really. (NOTE: Neil Austin was nominated for Best Lighting Design of a Musical Tony Award for his work on COMPANY.] 

When I’m working on my model boxes (physical models of the set Christie before building it), I always light them. I’ll always have a light on. I’m not lighting the show, but I’m imagining it lit.

Color palettes are really important. I kind of love having Bobbie in the red jumpsuit, because it says and does a lot. It makes her the center. She’s the beating heart of the piece. 

The rooms are kind of done in grayscale. There’s a palette that I do on the costumes so that  Bobbie is always in focus. It’s almost like she’s in technicolor and everybody else is a little bit faded. 


Britney Coleman as Bobbie, Matthew Christian as David and Emma Stratton as Jenny in the North American Tour of COMPANY
CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Do you hand-draw your storyboards before, or is that something you do digitally?

I photograph the model I build and then I can kind of edit them on the computer. So it’s a sort of a digital 3-D model of each scene.  It’s quite detailed.

When approaching a new set design do you prefer a blank slate? Or do you need set parameters to fuel your creativity?

The only parameter I like is a really good script. And I need to understand the space where the play will be performed. Generally, directors don’t come with some big idea [for the set]. That’s not how it works, and that’s not how I like to work. So, the piece and the place are enough of a parameter. I like deadlines. They are helpful.


Britney Coleman as Bobbie (center) and the North American Tour of COMPANY
CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

What are some intentional aspects of either the costumes or the set you designed for COMPANY that audiences might miss?

They should look for all the “35’s” in the show. Bobbie is turning 35, and it’s a little bit of a trauma-obsessive thing for her. 

So, scattered through the costumes and the set are lots of “35’s” fives, like what the clock is set at. We have a scene where people are sitting outside on their brownstone steps in New York. The house numbers are all versions of 35. 

How do you find inspiration and refill your imagination? 

It’s important to try and keep doing and going and seeing stuff – not necessarily theater, but films or exhibitions or other kinds of work, dance, opera and reading. 

[Inspiration] can come from anywhere. You can be flipping through a magazine and you see something or you could be watching something on the television. For me, it’s very often it’s not even visual clues – it’s more like atmosphere or temperature or how it feels.

How does the scene feel? Does it feel like there’s a ticking clock and scratching of a pain? Or does it feel like there’s the whooshing noise of traveling really fast? It’s those sorts of things that I’m looking for rather than just visual clues.

How do you approach taking a set you’ve designed for a long run in a specific space and then reinterpreting it so it’s mobile and can be transported and rebuilt in a new space every week?

It’s really fun, actually. 

There’s something quite nice about having another go at a show you’ve already done and either transferring it, say, from London to New York or into a bigger theater or differently shaped theater. Lots of the hard work has already been done. Then it’s about adapting and stretching and molding and thinking: Well, that didn’t work as well as it could have. Reworking the set allows us to create a completely new idea or simply shift what we have. 

I’m proud of the version of COMPANY that’s on the road because it’s true to the Broadway show. It’s a quality, good, fun, classy-looking version of the show and as good as what was on Broadway.

Britney Coleman as Bobbie in the North American Tour of COMPANY
CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

DON’T MISS THIS PARTY

COMPANY will play the Belk Theater from Tuesday, Nov. 20 to Sunday, Nov. 26. Tickets start at $30 and are available now at BlumenthalArts.org

This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts and will help fund the work of a H.U.G. micro-grant for a Charlotte-based creative.⁣