Great Performances: Season 36, Episode 7

Company: A Musical Comedy (20 Feb. 2008)

TV Episode  |   |  Biography, Drama, Music
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Centering on Bobby, a confirmed bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday with his 10 closest friends (who also happen to be five couples), "Company" culminates in Bobby's transformation from ... See full summary »

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Title: Company: A Musical Comedy (20 Feb 2008)

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Cast

Episode cast overview:
Kelly Jeanne Grant ...
Kathy
...
Marta
...
April
Matt Castle ...
Peter
Amy Justman ...
Susan
Fred Rose ...
...
...
Kristin Huffman ...
Sarah
Robert Cunningham ...
Paul
Heather Laws ...
Amy
...
Larry
...
Joanne
...
Bobby
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Storyline

Centering on Bobby, a confirmed bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday with his 10 closest friends (who also happen to be five couples), "Company" culminates in Bobby's transformation from unattached swinger to tentative monogamist. Written by PBS/Great Performances

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20 February 2008 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

All of the male characters in this production wear Dolce & Gabbana belts, with Raul Esparza III wearing a black suit by Giorgio Armani. See more »

Quotes

Marta: You know what this city is? Where a person can feel it? It's in a person's ass.
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Connections

Version of Company (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

You Could Drive a Person Crazy
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Performed by Elizabeth Stanley, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Angel Desai,
Raúl Esparza and Fred Rose
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User Reviews

 
Wonderful DVD Extras Complement a Sparkling Update of Sondheim's Most Accessible Musical
22 May 2008 | by (San Francisco, CA, USA) – See all my reviews

Marry me a little...Love me just enough...Cry but not too often...Play but not too rough...Keep a tender distance...So we'll both be free...That's the way it ought to be....

Only Stephen Sondheim could come up with such sophisticated couplets to a love song as disquieting as the beautiful "Marry Me a Little". I was very fortunate to have seen the enthralling 2006 production at the Ethel Barrymore Theater last season, and I'm thrilled it has been captured for posterity on DVD as part of PBS's "Great Performances" series. There is something supremely ironic about how a 37-year old show, already revived twice, can feel fresher than most Broadway musicals written today. However, when the music reflects Sondheim at his most accomplished with performers so adept, it becomes a moot point, even though several of the songs here have been inescapable at karaoke bars for years from the lips of overly zealous musical theater aficionados.

Staged like a minimalist cabaret act, John Doyle's joyous revival uses the same technique he used in his 2005 production of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd", specifically he has the actors play their own musical instruments, a daring move which actually helps underline the characters' feelings. The story is blessedly simple as it revolves around perennial bachelor Bobby, as he turns 35 and observes his circle of upscale Manhattanite friends, five married couples at different stages in various vignettes that make him reconsider what he wants out of life. Juggling three girlfriends, Bobby is a likable but elliptical figure with commitment issues, and the story really follows his journey toward self-acceptance. There is an element of contrivance to the structure, but what I thought would be a severely dated libretto by George Furth continues to resonate with wit and insight.

For a canon as legendary and often erratic as his, Sondheim's sophisticated music and lyrics never seemed as accessible and hummable as they do here. So much of the show rides on the crucial casting of Bobby, and Raúl Esparza is terrifically bold and poignant in managing the precarious balance between yearning romantic and cynical hedonist. With a beautifully expressive singing voice coupled with a common-guy demeanor, he captures the character's arc with an escalating emotional intensity from the measured romanticism of "Someone Is Waiting" to the tender tentativeness of "Marry Me a Little" (with the beautiful, Sondheim-trademarked rolling piano) to the bursting climactic catharsis of "Being Alive".

The rest of the cast accomplish wonderful moments that already come with high expectations - Heather Laws' dexterously motors her way through "Getting Married Today" with her character's nerve-wracking intensity intact; Elizabeth Stanley brings a likable warmth to the dim-bulb flight attendant April as she duets sweetly with Esparza on the comically post-coital "Barcelona"; Angel Desai's saucy turn as hip Marta on "Another Hundred People"; the poignant "Sorry-Grateful" performed by the comparatively less spotlighted male ensemble; and of course, there are the lacerating observations in "The Ladies Who Lunch", handled with fierce worldliness by Barbara Walsh as Joanne. In the intimidating shadow of Elaine Stritch, Walsh lets out repeated primal screams at the end that pierce with wounding acuity.

TV director Lonny Price does a fluent job transferring the production to the small screen with minimum fuss. The 2008 DVD contains three terrific extras. First, there is a fifteen-minute interview with an articulate and thoughtful Esparza who discusses his connection with Bobby, the challenge of learning piano, and the alternating joy and pressure of working with Sondheim (for the third time). There is also a nine-minute interview with the erudite Doyle who explains how his unique use of actors as musicians went over with Sondheim. The centerpiece has to be a fascinating, 38-minute interview that Australian TV personality Jonathan Biggins conducted with Sondheim last year in Sydney's Theatre Royal. Sondheim is particularly forthcoming with humorous anecdotes about working with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, and his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II during his long, illustrious career. This is a wonderful DVD for any Broadway aficionado and particularly for fans of Sondheim, Esparza and Doyle. I happen to be all three.


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