Manu Narayan, who is absolutely killing it in the role of Theo, in the 2022 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant musical comedy — COMPANY ( https://bit.ly/3nxJIjz ) — is officially my new best friend.
And in case you’ve been living your best life, underneath a very big rock, you are aware that COMPANY is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by the late Stephen Sondheim with the book by George Furth.
This new Broadway show is a revival, with the original musical premiering in 1970. The production was nominated for a record-setting 14 Tony Awards, winning six. There are many things about this dynamic musical that makes it special, but the fact that COMPANY lacks a linear plot places the play leap years ahead of its time.
COMPANY focuses on a story occurring in the mind of the central character, Bobbie (Katrina Lenk, https://bit.ly/3qCzn84) in which, in a series of musically composed, short vignettes, which are presented in no particular chronological order are all linked to her 35th birthday.
COMPANY was among the first book musicals to deal with contemporary dating, marriage, and divorce. As the late Sondheim explained, “Broadway theater has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people want to escape that world when they go to the theatre and then here we are with Company talking about how we’re going to bring it right back in their faces” and playing one of Bobbie’s love interests, Theo is Manu Narayan ( https://bit.ly/3GBWTYn )
Now, the fact that, as a Brown man is working on Broadway (sadly) is rare, and I am talking unicorn rare. This is where I get downright excited about Manu Narayan because each time he steps into the role of Theo — a romantic lead — he’s helping to break a very thick glass ceiling.
I can not stress how challenging it is for a Brown man to successfully work in a space traditionally held for white people. The New Jersey resident, brand new father, and husband ( married to Laura Kai Chen
https://bit.ly/3fzW2eC) is actually a Broadway veteran A. Broadway. Veteran. His credits include GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER, MY FAIR LADY, and BOMBAY DREAMS (Drama League nomination, https://bit.ly/3qAy3m3 ). His other credits include MISS SAIGON, (National Tour) and Off-Broadway he’s appeared in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (roundabout), YEAST NATION (NYFF), FALETTOLAND (NAATCO0, subURBIA (Second Stage), FUCKING A (The Public), THE LISBON TRAVIATA & THE WHO’S TOMMY (Kenndy Center). His film credits include “99 Homes, “ The Love Guru,” and “The Last Airbender.” His television credits are numerous and most recently seen in HBO’s “And Just Like That.”
Here is what the veteran thespian Manu Narayan had to share about stepping into a romantic lead in COMPANY.
Q: Hello Manu N., on the day that I saw you on Broadway, I had seen you in HBO’s “And Just Like That” so imagine how excited I was to see a gifted Brown man working in this industry.
MANU NARAYAN: (laughing) Thank you.
Q: Hey, I hear the soft, melodic cries of a baby?
MN: Yes, that’s my daughter, and my mother here today to help.
Q: My screenwriting partner (Art Shrian – https://bit.ly/3tATGVk ) is also a Brown man. He stayed home for the first five years of his daughters’ life, working as an actor and writer. His connection to his daughter is amazing, that time spent is invaluable.
MN: Yes, I see the fruits of it already. The connection she has [my daughter] with me, his mother, and the grandparents. Yes, it’s a good thing.
Q: I hate to beat the drum on this fact, but it’s so rare to see a Brown man performing on Broadway. Dude, you are a Brown unicorn.
MN: Yes. Well, specifically I am South Indian and my parents moved here in the 60s, first living in Detroit, Michigan and finally relocating to
Q: South India, to Detroit, to Pittsburgh. The weather and the culture must have been a shock.
MN: (laughing) Growing up in Pittsburgh was a unique experience because there happened to be at the time when a lot of [Indian] professionals relocated to Pittsburgh. This was in the early 70s and they built one of the first Hindu temples in North America and it’s one of the first, of two, Hindu temples in North America. And it became a real cultural place to go on the weekends as well as a religious place of worship.
Q: That’s impressive. There is a 162-acre Temple in New Jersey, it’s the
BAPS hri Swaminarayan Mandir — https://bit.ly/3fxFpAh ) staying close to your cultural roots is important.
MN: I agree it was important, and I stayed connected to the Indian culture, and my own culture, which is South Indian, and to experience how South Asian music and the arts are woven together with religion, culture, and language.
Q: Awww. That’s so nice. Supportive family?
MN: Yes, my parents were always very supportive of me having some musical ability and then fostering it. The other good thing about [living in] Pittsburgh is that because Andrew Carnegie and US Steel, which had been there, [they] endowed the city with the fine arts ( https://cmoa.org/ ) so I was able to absorb, enjoy and learn about both Western arts and music along with Indian, South Asian, and South Indian culture and music.
Q: Woaz. You suddenly made Pittsburgh seem awesome.
MN: Yeah, it is awesome.
Q: Manu, brother, you killed it as Theo in COMPANY and you sing, and
although on the surface, those songs might feel easy to sing, I know that they are not!
MN: Thank you, and you are right, and for those that are
[Stephen] Sondheim aficionados, the thing that makes Steve, a great artist, in my opinion, my humble opinion, is that his lyrics are wonderful, to act. Sometimes, you get songs from other composers and there is no way, as an actor to be able to dive into [the role] without a lot of work behind the scenes to make things make sense and make a more logical leap into an emotion or, into what the character is yearning for or talking about.
Q: But not with Sondheim …. ?
MN: But with Steve, it’s not like that. He loved puzzles and that’s common knowledge. And I find that his lyrics are like puzzles and then you combine that with the high level of musicianship that is required to sing his songs, in the sense of rhythm, in the sense of melodic line, those things create a wonderful challenge for the actor-singer. And, it is true when audiences come to see it, it’s so seamless if it’s done, right that you might not know how highly functioning person on stage has to be in, in multiple areas to make the song come across properly.
Q: Yes, what you said (lol). Funny fact, on the same evening, I saw you in COMPANY, I watched you on HBO’s “And Just Like That” and I was so proud.
MN: (laughing) Oh, yeah. I am very fortunate that I have had a career that challenges me in the best possible ways and that I’ve had diversity in movies and TV and on stage, both in plays and musicals.
Q: Yes, Manu, you are a Brown unicorn, and I love it. Why do you think you’ve had so many opportunities? You are being seen, I think?
MN: I feel fortunate. I’ve had people see me when they’re casting me or thinking of directing me or putting me in a show as the things that I truly am.
Q: Which are what?
MN: I am South Asian, from that stock, but also, I am American. I grew up in Pittsburgh where I was born and raised. I consider myself an East Coast, Midwestern American, who happens to be of Indian descent. I think it’s very important, especially in this political climate, of making sure that people continue to see the Americans reflected in all of their variety, not simply in certain types that we want to see.
Q: Amen. I’m very encouraged that you said that because I agree wholeheartedly. And I think it’s really interesting, and I am curious about what happens behind closed doors of people like yourself, and probably your wife as well, because you have those very rich cultural ties that are very much alive and well, behind that closed door.
Yeah. Or sometimes even when the doors open, I don’t know, the wonderful thing is, I don’t have to hide my Indian heritage. It’s funny now, as I’m older —
Q: Age does make you reflect.
MN: I have spent a lot of time in India where I learned Indian classical music, and I lived in India for a year and a half. And I go back and forth. Growing up, and I think this is a common theme, and I’m so thankful, and I think that it’s changing, but growing up, we didn’t see people like us in the media, or on television.
We didn’t see people, in all of the wonderful variety — of us. That’s not simply that we’re South Asians, so we are one monolithic who have the same experiences.
Q: Well, unfortunately, a great swath of Americans believe that to be true.
MN: India is so diverse. You know India and how diverse it is even in one city. They speak different languages and eat different foods, dress differently and they have different religious functions and along with that, different music.
Q: Why do you think there is a disconnect from the truth?
MN: I think that the first couple of generations, I think got lost coming over to this country. And I’m sure it’s the same for other cultures as well. So it has taken my going back to India alone without my parents, studying there, and also coming to New York City, where there are much more people like me, coming to going to LA where there are even more people like me ….
Q: Artesia, California aka Little India.
MN: (laughing) Artesia, right, and now living in New Jersey.
Q: New Jersey aka Little India. Seriously, did a memo go suggesting that the community re-locate to NJ?
MN: (laughing) I didn’t know until we moved to Maplewood, in 2019 previously, I have driven through New Jersey and I performed, in NJ, but it’s wonderful to live here. It is the Garden State and we could not be happier living here.
Q: Thank you for sharing, and thank you for being — you Manu Narayan.
COMPANY is written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth and the production is directed by Marianne Elliott, and stars Manu Narayan,
Katrina Lenk, Patti LuPone, Matt Doyle, Christopher Fitzgerald, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Terence Archie, Etai Benson, Bobby Conte, Nikki Renée Daniels, Claybourne Elder, Greg Hildreth, Manu Narayan, and Rashidra Scott. The cast is completed by Kathryn Allison, Britney Coleman, Jacob Dickey, Javier Ignacio, Anisha Nagarajan, Nicholas Rodriguez, Heath Saunders, Tally Sessions, and Matt Wall.
The creative team for Company ( (https://bit.ly/3nxJIjz ) includes Liam Steel (choreography), Bunny Christie (scenic and costume design), Neil Austin (lighting design), Ian Dickinson for Autograph (sound design), Chris Fisher (illusions), Campbell Young Associates (hair, wig, and makeup design), David Cullen (orchestrations), Joel Fram (additional vocal arrangements, music supervision and direction), Sam Davis (dance arrangements), and Cindy Tolan and Nicholas Petrovich (casting).