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Our review of Stephen Sondheim's Company, published November 9th, 2012, is also available.
Bobby, we're so glad to see you!
In 2011, director Lonny Price directed a limited engagement "concert performance" of Stephen Sondheim's landmark musical, Company. These concert performances are becoming a frequent occurrence, as the limited run makes it much easier to attract big names. In this case, Price cast Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) as Bobby, Broadway legends Patti Lupone and Jim Walton as Joanne and Larry, Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope) and Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report) as Sarah and Harry, and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as April, Bobby's stewardess girlfriend. Since Two and a Half Men was in the midst of its Charlie Sheen-induced hiatus, Jon Cryer signed on as well. The show ran for four nights, with a simulcast shown in select movie theaters months later. And now it comes to Blu-ray.
Concert performances often give a passing nod to staging, but this production pushes those limits, choreographing the action to the point where it's just a step or two removed from a full-scale production. This is no mean feat, as the NY Philharmonic lays claim to about two-thirds of the stage. Some clever props and stagecraft make it all work, the result being an engaging experience that, while not quite (as NPH might put it) "legen…dary," is still a rousing take on a surprisingly difficult work.
Considered the first "concept musical" in theatrical history, Company has no linear plot, but rather a series of loosely connected moments revolving around Bobby, the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. On Bobby's 35th birthday, the play unfolds as a series of vignettes exploring his inability to make a commitment—many people view this as a glimpse inside Bobby's head, as he reflects on his birthday. Not only is it daring in structure, Company is also daring in tone, one of the first musicals to eschew escapism in favor of examining adult themes and issues. Hell, there's not even a clear consensus on the end of the play.
The cast is what makes this tricky plot work. Harris shrugs off the seedier aspects of his Barney Stinson character, giving us a Bobby who is outgoing, charming, and emotionally distant, but at the same time you can sense that part of him wants more. Stephen Colbert acquits himself well with "Sorry/Grateful," a song that looks simple enough on the page, but is deceptively tricky to perform. Aided and abetted by Martha Plimpton as Harry's wife Sarah, the two not only share some great physical comedy, but Plimpton has a lovely singing voice, possibly the strongest of anyone in the cast not named Patti LuPone. By the way, Lupone knocks "The Ladies Who Lunch" so far out of the park the rest of the show almost suffers in comparison. If you saw her in Sondheim: The Birthday Concert, it's the same performance; the birthday concert was just a few weeks before Company opened.
Because of everyone's schedules, most of the cast learned their parts individually, making it to New York City sporadically for joint rehearsals, while Price had a virtual army of stand-ins filling their roles as needed. Jon Cryer learned his dance steps with his iPhone, and the bulk of rehearsals took place over Skype. There are times when the lack of traditional rehearsals shows through. With a couple of Tonys under her belt, Katie Finneran (Wonderfalls) almost conquers the tongue-twisting "Getting Married Today," but the stage business and blocking are a little ragged. While there are small flubs here and there, it's clear the ensemble is having a blast, and their energy is infectious. The only part of Company that doesn't quite work is the extended dance feature accompanying "Tick Tock." Sexy and slyly provocative, the number itself is everything it was supposed to be and Whitehead does a great job, but for some reason it feels like it belongs in a different production.
Company's last major revival was in 2006, a Broadway production starring Raul Esparza (Pushing Daisies) that enjoyed both a DVD and Blu-ray release. It's a solid production, but this new staging is just a bit better. For one thing, Esparza's Bobby comes across more detached than Harris, almost introverted. More importantly, there's a genuine sense of warmth and affection between the couples and Bobby, which places the issues of "Why Isn't Bobby Married?" squarely on our lead.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p widescreen, the visuals are solid with good detail and vibrant colors. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn't quite as good. While the orchestra sounds uniformly excellent and the individual voices clear and resonant, things go a little south as the voices begin piling up, never quite getting the mix right. English SDH subtitles are provided, but there are no extras; which is almost criminal given the circumstances of the production.
One final note of trivia: After appearing on The Colbert Report in 2010, Sondheim decided Colbert had the perfect voice for Harry, so he contacted Colbert's agent. The agent declined, saying Stephen's schedule wouldn't permit it. So Sondheim wrote directly to Colbert, ending the request with the comment "You have a perfect voice for musical theater." Colbert, naturally said yes, presumably after picking his jaw up off the floor and beating the crap out of his agent.
Not Guilty, but good lord, some rehearsal footage would have been
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