Judge Clark Douglas is just one of another hundred people getting off the subway train.
"Should I get married?"
I'll confess to being only a casual Steven Sondheim fan. I've never been much of a Broadway junkie, so my experience with Sondheim's work is more or less limited to the world of cinema. The likes of West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and particularly Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street have all impressed me a great deal, though. So, Company was the first opportunity I've had to view one of Sondheim's works as a stage production. I sincerely hope that diehard Sondheim fans will pardon my relative ignorance as I offer my thoughts on this production.
Facts of the Case
Company first hit the stage in 1970 and was originally going to be a star vehicle for Anthony Perkins (Psycho). However, Perkins dropped out, and the role went to Dean Jones. Jones kicked things off, but quickly had to drop out due to personal problems. The lead role was then filled by Larry Kert. Despite the constant production struggles, the play was a huge success with critics. It was one of the first musicals written specifically for adults, dealing with mature themes and complex emotional issues.
The play centers around a character named Bobby (played here by Raul Esparza), who is celebrating his 35th birthday. Bobby is a single man, and all of his friends are married. In a series of intimate vignettes, Bobby is invited to have dinner with his married friends. In these moments, he is given advice, gives advice, serves as a moderator, and listens. Through his eyes, we see complex portraits of numerous distressed marriages and hear a number of arguments about why Bobby should (or shouldn't) get married.
Company is presented in a non-linear manner, though we get the sense that all of these conversations are taking place more or less around the same time. Additionally, the musical is fueled by emotions and characters rather than plot. There are a lot of suggestions that things might take drastic turns, but ultimately very few things make significant changes. This is essentially a series of discussions, aided immensely by the additional elements of Sondheim's music and some unusual stage production ideas.
This particular revival of Company was directed by John Doyle, who also staged the revival of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd back in 2005. Both shows add an interesting element to the proceedings: the actors themselves provide the musical accompaniment. This may seem like nothing more than a gimmick. And honestly…well, that's what it is, a gimmick. Nonetheless, it is an interesting idea that adds a certain level of intrigue to the proceedings (and possibly provides some additional subtext, should you choose to let your mind follow that particular train of thought).
Sondheim's music is unsurprisingly exceptional. The orchestrations here are somewhat different than those employed for the 1970 production. While the original incarnation of Company was very much a product of its time, with a very 1970s vibe running through the music, this production aims for a more timeless feeling. The music here is very organic orchestral material and will undoubtedly hold up far better over time than the original arrangements. Of course the lyrics are still the same, and this is very much still a modern production about New York adults dealing with life.
There are a total of 11 characters in the play, and each of them is given a moment to step into the spotlight. All of the performances here are fairly successful, but a couple in particular really stand out. Barbara Walsh plays the cynical Joanne and performs this show's knockout number, "The Ladies Who Lunch." Well, I'm assuming it's the knockout number. If it isn't, Walsh makes it the knockout number. Running a close second is the performance of Heather Laws as the scatter-brained Amy. She is having a panic attack on her wedding day and offers the frantic and occasionally venemous "Getting Married Today" to great effect.
The production looks good in hi-def, and the crystal-clear visuals (along with a very solid sound mix) really do aid the "you are there" sensation. However, there are just a couple of minor problems with the stage production itself. Perhaps it's just the camera angle offered here, but the lighting seems just a little too dim at times. There are obviously moments where this is intentional, but certain scenes that have no reason to be poorly lit still seem a bit dark.
There are a few extras included on this disc, including a pair of engaging video interviews with Raul Esparza and John Doyle. However, the real highlight here is a 38-minute interview with Sondheim. He is such an intelligent, candid, and gracious gentleman, I could have listened to him talk about music and his work for ages, despite the fact that I'm not familiar with all of his work. This interview only touches briefly on Company and is generally a very solid discussion of Sondheim's entire career.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Company lives up to the packaging's description of "wise and witty," which is a good thing. However, it also remains true to its description as "a musical comedy," which I'm not so sure about. There are some painful issues brought up over the course of this play, and a more serious-minded production could have turned this into a remarkably unforgiving and memorable study of humanity. However, Company refrains from offering emotional knockout punches. It slaps and bites here and there, but it always pulls back a little when things start getting messy. As such, Company ultimately feels just a little bit less meaty than I would have preferred. Nonetheless, what's here is fairly impressive.
Sondheim fans will undoubtedly be delighted by the chance to own this impressive new production of Company in hi-def. It's a smart and intelligent work that has been successfully adapted for the modern era.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• "An Audience with Stephen Sondheim"
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