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According to actor Neil Patrick Harris, the cast of "Company" had
slightly more than a week of rehearsal time prior to its short run of
performances at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. One of those shows
was filmed for release in movie theaters. The small but appreciative
audience in one of those screenings in Minnesota was treated to a
high-energy interpretation of the Stephen Sondheim musical: ensemble
performing at its finest.
The book for "Company" has undergone a thorough rewrite from the original 1970 version, resulting in dialogue more attuned to the new millennium. As the couples interact with the bachelor protagonist Robert, the themes of marriage, divorce, loneliness, and life in the big city emerge in a montage of scenes built around some of most memorable music and lyrics ever written by Sondheim. This production was not "fluff," but a meaningful exploration of love, marriage, and the search for happiness in the stressful modern age.
This production isolated the performers on the forestage of the large Avery Fisher Hall. Supported (but not overwhelmed) by the magnificent New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the cast of "Company" brought the characters to life with a dazzling set of creative choices and physical routines. Many of the bits of business were undoubtedly the ideas of the skillful director Lonny Price. The potentially static horizontal plane was occasionally broken when performers interacted with the orchestra and the conductor, adding to the ensemble effect. For the filmed version, the camera work was superb, especially with close-ups. It was like being on the stage with the actors.
The cast obviously worked tirelessly on subtleties of performance and honesty in the emotional life of their characters. Along with his fine vocal technique, Harris evoked a sensitive character interpretation, and the other performers followed his lead. Every viewer will have a "favorite" performer in this production. It was clear that the live New York audience adored the crusty character of Joanne, as played by Patti LuPone. My favorite was Martha Plimpton's character of Sarah, due to the performer's adroit physical choices in the karate scene and her beautiful singing voice. There was also a "surprise" ending in a special touch that transformed the overall meaning of the musical from the original 1970 version. But there are no spoilers in this review. You will have to seize the moment and experience this unique production for yourself for that ending.
The range of abilities in this talented cast cannot be overstated. Technically, the Sondheim songs are not easy. The effortless vocal interpretations, the challenging choreography, and the depth of feeling in the characters made the $18 cinema ticket price a bargain for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is the kind of company I like to keep.
Just saw it in Herndon, VA; a small but enthusiastic audience. Masterful stage film enhanced by the use of the original orchestrations from the seventies plus an appropriate inclusion of "Marry me a little". "Getting married today" brings down the house while "Another hundred people" received only a warm ovation even though Anika Noni Rose performed it brilliantly. Stephen Colbert shines in his section, and Martha Plimpton does wonders as Barbara Barrie did almost 40 years ago: a great performer like her father Keith Carradine. The real surprise is Neal Patrick Harris, who even though is too Generation X to play Robert, does provide insight and credibility to what originally should be a shallow character. And Patti LuPone delivers the best "The ladies who lunch" since Elaine Stritch did in 1970!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With those lyrics by Stephen Sondheim in 1970 sung to his music, a new
style of Broadway musical was born. Controversial even then because of
subtle undertones of homosexuality and the swingin' life of the New
York well-to-do, "Company" went onto become another stepping stone
towards the modern musical, and 40 years later, still produces great
debates and conversations over musical aficionados of every age,
gender, race, and sexual persuasion.
This brief concert production was jam-packed with talent, and some of them fare better than others. Any production of "Company" will be compared (as his next show, "Follies") to the original, and anybody who takes on the basically supporting role of Joanna will be compared to the incomparable Elaine Stritch. Bobby, the leading character, will always be subject to great scrutiny of his sexuality. A single male, living in Manhattan in the late 60's/early 70's, dating many women, yet not settling down, may find himself compared to "The Boys in the Band", yet Bobby isn't some self-hating bitchy queen "barely alive": he is searching for "Being Alive!", his 11:00 anthem of survival in a society that is dealing with changing relationships and his many friends who desperately are trying to get him attached.
Here, Bobby is Neil Patrick Harris, one of the great wonders of the millennium, a former child star who has made it past those "Doogie Houser" days and is now called to host practically every award show there is. Not afraid to make fun of his own sexuality, yet also not afraid to play heterosexual as well, Harris is a charming performer who has continued to work in practically every medium, returning to the stage as his schedule permits. He is also ageless, about a decade too old for Bobby in years, yet still youthful that he can take the role on and appear to be in his early 30's. He is also masculine enough to portray straight, although subtle hints about his character's possible sexuality are hinted at by others around him. Sometimes, however, the orchestra and Harris seem to be out of tune with each other, mostly evident in the opening number. As this was a live show and only had a handful of performances, glitches are expected, and by the time Harris gets to "Marry Me a Little" and "Being Alive", those issues have been cleared up.
The other glitch in singing comes during "You Could Drive a Person Crazy", the three singers all so different that the trio isn't as polished as it could have been. Anika Noni Rose really rips "Another Hundred People" apart, and like the equally diminutive La Chanze (from the 1995 Roundabout Production which I saw), brings the rawness out of this 1970's New York Anthem about the "City of Strangers". Martha Plimpton is also very funny as the wife who warns her self-defense teaching husband that "it can't be blocked", and proves herself right.
Many major divas, from Jane Russell, Vivian Blaine, Julie Wilson, Carol Burnett, Debra Monk, Judith Light and Barbara Walsh, have taken on the role of the show's most famous "guest": the much divorced Joanne, the "I'll Drink to That!" socialite demanding "Another Vodka Stinger!". Here, it is Patti LuPone, and when she rips into "The Ladies Who Lunch", you swear you are living theater history. Joanne is basically a supporting role, but gets more musical numbers than the others (including "The Little Things You Do Together" and a scathing line regarding one of Bobby's dates in "Poor Baby") and with LuPone in the part, that factor remains.
I can't call this the quintessential "Company", although the staging at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall (sight of the 1985 "Follies" concert) is perfect for what it is. As the 2007 Broadway revival is also available commercially (with the actors playing instruments as well as singing), there is a "let's compare" temptation. But any filmed production of a Sondheim show (or any Broadway show for that matter!) is welcome, and makes you wish for more.
To me, Sweeney Todd will always be Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece. However, Company still shows a master at work, full of his challenging but truly inventive music(both in orchestral and vocal) and intelligently clever lyrics. While still demanding for the performers, in a way it is a little more accessible than Sweeney Todd. The story is also great in Company, it is always very entertaining, with truthful yet sometimes cynical observations on relationships, but it's also an emotional journey, with complex, deeply flawed and fully fleshed characters. This 2011 performance is a wonderful performance in every way. It looks good and stays true to Sondheim's idea of concept musical, and while some of the staging is somewhat minimalist it is very compelling as well and does a great job at making the characters and their relationships interesting and relateable. Sondheim's score is as you'd expect from him a powerhouse, it is very difficult to pick out a favourite song as they're all so good though The Ladies Who Lunch and Another Hundred People are definite contenders. The orchestra play magnificently throughout, and the conducting keeps things together without anything noticeable going awry. It was difficult to fault the performances either. Neil Patrick Harris' Bobby is sensitive and very charismatic, his rendition of Being Alive is emotionally heart-breaking. Patti LuPone comes very close to stealing the show with The Ladies Who Lunch bringing the house down, while her voice isn't the most beautiful it is still thrillingly volcanic and her acting is right on the money. Anika Noni Rose characterises beautifully and her Another Hundred People is exhilarating. The haunting simplicity of Christina Hendricks' Barcelona comes through too, Martha Plimpton has a beautiful voice and is an even better dancer, Kate Finneran is very funny in Getting Married Today and Chryssie Whitehead does Tick Tock so nimbly and so well that you are tempted to join her. All in all, a wonderful performance that succeeds hugely in every department. 10/10 Bethany Cox
Absolutely a great performance of what must be one of Stephen Sondheim's favorite creations. From Neil Patrick Harris's wonderfully natural depiction of Bobby, to Patti LuPone's perfect rendering of "The Ladies who Lunch", this has to be one of the best productions of "Company" extant. Mr. Sondheim's long-time musical director, Paul Gemignani conducts the New York Philharmonic orchestra with his usual brilliance. This superb musical from more than 43 years ago stands as one of the best in musical theater history. I only hope that future audiences will be privileged to see "Company" performed as well as it was performed here on this night at Avery Fisher Hall. To Lonny Price and this marvelous cast - Thank you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Stephen Sondheim's iconic Broadway musical Company was beautifully
revived in 2011 with a star-studded cast, some updating of material,
and accompanied by the New York Philharmonic with longtime Sondheim
musical director Paul Gemignani at the baton.
This musical originally premiered on Broadway in 1970 and won the Tony for Best Musical, as did Sondheim for Best Score. Company is the story of Robert, a 35 year old bachelor whose best friends are five married couples who constantly worry about him and are in constant pursuit of the perfect woman for him.
Harry and Sarah are approaching middle age and bring Robert in the middle of their battles with sobriety and dieting. Robert thinks Susan and Peter are the perfect couple until they announce their plan to divorce. Jenny and David smoke pot with Robert and Jenny pretends to enjoy it more than she really did. Paul and Amy have been living together for years and have finally decided to marry, which has Amy freaking out. Larry and Joanne are an older couple so comfortable in their lives they really don't see how unhappy they are with each other.
Dean Jones originated the role of Robert in 1970 and Elaine Stritch became an instant Broadway legend with her performance as Joanne. The musical was revived in 2007 with Raul Esparza playing Robert and had the "novelty" of having all the actors playing musical instruments throughout the show, which I personally found very distracting.
That's why I prefer this version...back to the source material, keeping the 70's sensibility alive but making the show still New Millennium- friendly. A song that was cut from the original production called "Marry Me a Little" has been restored, as well as a VERY funny scene where Peter (Craig Bierko) comes on to Robert after he informs him of the divorce. Needless to say, with Nail Patrick Harris playing Robert, this scene produces huge laughs.
The role of Robert and Neil Patrick Harris seems to be the perfect marriage of character and actor. Harris proved to be more than up to the vocally demanding role, with "Marry Me a Little" being a standout performance. After watching Harris playing womanizer Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother all those years, it was great to see him play a flawed, but genuinely nice guy.
Broadway legend Patti LuPone, as always, puts her personal stamp on the role of Joanne and literally stops the show with her rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch". It's clearly a matter of personal taste, but I have always felt that Elaine Stritch owns that song and LuPone's performance did nothing to change my mind, but the audience on this DVD loved it.
Mention should also be made of Stephen Colbert, who was surprisingly effective as Harry, perfectly complimented by Martha Plimpton as Sarah. Colbert and Plimpton were a well-oiled machine and I have never enjoyed Harry and Sarah's scene so much. Loved Julie Finerman as Amy as well. She also stopped the show with "Getting Marred Today" and Christina Hendricks brings a depth to the role of April, a dim-witted stewardess Robert is dating, that I have never seen in previous Aprils.
Sondheim's flawless score includes "Little Things", "Sorry-Grateful", "You Could Drive a Person Crazy", "Another Hundred People', and the classic "Being Alive." As I've mentioned before here Sondheim is probably Broadway's best composer and is definitely Broadway's best lyricist because Sondheim doesn't write music the way people sing, he writes it the way they talk.
For Sondheim and musical theater purists, this is a must-see.
Unfortunately this musical stills suffers from the fact that the 'book' by George Furth (and little has been changed) is still quite weak. Considering both Sondheim and Furth are gay, the men's parts are incredibly weak, and the situations are clichéd. The performances likewise are the best by the women with the men pretty much taking up space in the background. As to Harris, well, his acting is decent enough, but his voice is rather thin for the material...and he hits a few 'clinkers'. Where is Dean Jones when you need him? Sondheim writes difficult stuff for the average Broadway singer, and 99% of the classical singers can't act, so at best the result is unsatisfactory...like the film version of 'Sweeney Todd'. By the way I did play David myself a long time ago, and I disliked the show then (the book mainly). I've done many musicals, and this is the one I remember with the least affection. I've often thought it might be interesting to do a modern interpretation with all gay couples...and not so incredibly 'white'. The leading character is obviously a model for a '70's gay man.
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