Corey Brunish revels in producing Stephen Sondheim's 'Company'
Corey Brunish's latest honor at the Tony Awards came from his production of "Company," and he fittingly held a portrait of the musical's late, great composer, songwriter and lyricist in his hands during acceptance for best musical revival.
It goes without saying that Stephen Sondheim holds a special place in the heart of Brunish, the longtime Broadway producer and investor who still calls Portland — Lake Oswego specifically — home. So, for Brunish's production to win a Tony Award for the Sondheim and George Furth (book) musical — five actually — felt really special.
"There's no question that he's woven into the fabric of our lives," said Brunish, who has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and won four times now as producer. "What a legacy and artist. He will live on, no question about that. Right now (producers) are remounting Sondheim right and left."
By holding Sondheim's portrait, "I couldn't find a better way to honor him," Brunish added. "They did a memoriam of him (at the Tonys) and they used the same portrait."
Sondheim died in November 2021, shortly after the revival of "Company" hit the Broadway stage.
"This whole show has become this tribute to him and his legacy. We caught lightning in a bottle, opening Broadway up after the pandemic, and it caught the public's attention, and we were one of the lucky ones," Brunish said.
Brunish has been involved as an investor in many Broadway productions. Brunish has won Tony Awards for "Porgy and Bess" in 2012, "Pippin" in 2013 and "Once on This Island" in 2018.
Brunish also received acclaim for producing "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," one of the longest running shows on Broadway — the cast CD won a Grammy Award.
With its five Tonys, "Company" serves as his personal all-time high.
"Company," originally made in 1970, features a series of vignettes and a story that occurs in the mind of a central character, and it addresses contemporary dating, marriage and divorce. It has been updated throughout the year by producers, including Brunish when he produced it at the Winningstad Theatre early in his career.
"It was groundbreaking at the time, because it was vignettes, and didn't have a plot," Brunish said. "It was written by George Furth, and Sondheim said they should turn it into a musical. Structurally, songs come after songs, which never happens in musicals. It was a dream, an imaginary examination of relationships in New York at the time.
"When I did it at the Winningstad, I had it updated with computers and cell phones. When I moved to New York (about 11 years ago), I bumped into Sondheim and told him it was my favorite. I went to London, and they had switched the gender of the lead character. I took notes. I liked it. I brought it to Broadway."
In an era of social media and online dating, of course "Company" had to be updated even more.
To win several Tony Awards has been quite a thrill for Brunish, who attended the ceremony with wife Jessica and nearly 3-year-old daughter Olivia. It never gets old winning a Tony, and it's something Brunish doesn't take for granted.
"We're trying to do good work. Awards are nice, a nice pat on the back, but it's certainly not why we do it," he said. "We're not here to make money — making money on Broadway is hard. We want to make our money back, so we can hire another 200 people and do another production. Entertainment is a beast."
Indeed, Brunish said Broadway productions are trying to survive. Recently he heard of three or four shows closing on Broadway. He said families have not returned to watch Broadway shows, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest and with mask/vaccine regulations, high prices and inflation. If you can't get families to attend your show, it's tough to survive, he said.
Brunish said a Broadway season usually attracts about 14 million people. The past season drew about seven million.
He has other things in the works, while also enjoying tending to his family.
Brunish, who donated money to have Brunish Theatre in Portland named after his mother, moved to New York City in 2011 — while keeping residency in the Portland area.
He was a producer and assistant director on "Bonnie and Clyde" on Broadway. He met his wife in the lobby of a theater and asked her out. After two months, she said "Yes," and they went bowling. After two months of going out, "she let me hold her hand." Then they got married and had a baby.
"We do this all together," Brunish said.
Originally from Los Angeles, "I've been an Oregon resident for 41 years, but we spend a lot of time in New York right now," Brunish said. "We go to London a lot to scout shows, and travel all over to scout shows."
He's living the dream, really, producing and investing in Broadway shows and promoting beautiful theater works. He's been a singer, actor, director and writer in the past, but takes pride in producing and investing.
"It's thrilling to see your art form embraced by many countries and cultures," he said. "They did a study in London. They hooked audience members up to a heart monitor, and while watching the show, their hearts synchronized, a thousand hearts beating as one. Where else do you see that?"
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