Company, book by George Furth, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; directed by Lonny Price. Produced by the New York Philharmonic and broadcast via cinema. First produced 1970. (Seen June 15, 2011.)
Let’s get this out of the way.
I mean, Patti LuPone, Jon Cryer, Stephen f’in’ Colbert, Christina Hendricks, and — of course — Neil Patrick Harris in what is most likely my favorite Stephen Sondheim musical. Yeah, technically it was a concert version, but like that other Sondheim concert that also had Harris and LuPone in it, Sweeny Todd in Concert from 2001, it was pretty much a full-on show with all the dialogue, blocking that actually added to the show, and mini-costume changes. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
For those of you unfamiliar with what there is of a plot, it’s about the character of Bobby, a bachelor living in New York, who “reassesses his life on his thirty-fifth birthday by reviewing his relationships with his married acquaintances and his girlfriends.” (From the program notes on the New York Philharmonic’s website for the production.)
I’ve only seen the show live once, at the Kansas City Rep (back when it was still the Missouri Rep in 2001), and had seats so close I felt sorry for the actress playing April during the “Tick Tock” number as I could see the mic pack sewn into the back of her bra. I was only vaguely familiar with the show, going mainly because of my love of Sondheim and less because of what show it was, and fell in love with it. I instantly connected to so many of the songs (especially “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Sorry — Grateful”), and loved that we not only saw a bachelor trying to figure out what marriage meant, but also five married couples (each in a different place in their own marriage journey) trying to figure it out as well.
There’s not a single song I don’t like in the show, and (aside from the ‘not being able to breathe’ problem that pretty much defines a Sondheim song) all the women’s songs are ones I can (or could, with practice) sing.
I’ve been aching for another live production. The Raúl Esparza version that was videotaped from the 2006 revival for PBS was okay, but I despised the whole ‘they play their own instruments’ gimmick (as, to me, that’s all it was – a gimmick), and I’ve been debating lately as to buying it as a ‘cheap substitute’ until I could convince a group in KC to do it (although the 1995 Broadway cast recording I have has tended to be better). And the Company: Original Cast Album from 1970 is less about the show and more about the album.
And then I had heard about this production (from all places on a Joss Whedon blog, due to both Harris and Hendricks having been involved in a Whedon production, Harris’s being of course the online musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). I tried to figure out what banks I could rob in order to get to New York to see it, and had to eventually just hope that YouTube would bring me some pirated clips.
And then the announcement came that they would be broadcasting it in movie theatres. As soon as a website was announced, I had tickets bought.
The first thing I noticed was the slower pace the whole show had, with many of the songs slower than I was used to, most notably “The Little Things You Do Together” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. In fact, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, which is intended to be an homage/humorous take on the Andrews Sisters, came across as though the Andrews Sisters had taken a valium beforehand and were just a little too calm as a result. Thankfully, “Getting Married Today” was – for the most part – at the breakneck speed that made me go ‘Damn!’ the first time I had heard it, although Katie Finneran (as Amy) did lose her place and had to breathe at one point.
The other thing I noticed was the editing/camera switches. There were quite a few times that this felt a little overload, like the director was saying, “See? See? We’ve got all these angles we can give you since you weren’t there in person!!!!”
“Another Hundred People”, which is my favorite song of the show for some reason I can’t fathom, started out similarly slow and I was a little sad at Anika Noni Rose’s Marta as a result, but the third (and final) segment of the song finally got to the powerhouse singing I knew and loved from this song.
I had been a little nervous when I heard that Stephen Colbert was going to be in the show, but was happily impressed with his take on the character of Harry. His singing was not what I expected, especially in “Sorry — Grateful”, coming across clipped in an almost Rex Harrison-esque manner.
I wrote earlier that this was pretty much a full-on staging — that included a full on karate demonstration between Harry and Martha Plimpton’s Sarah and a make-out session between Harris and Christina Hendricks’ April. And my inner teenager, who started getting those odd feelings you don’t quite know what to do with in puberty right around when Doogie Houser, M.D. premiered and who had a huge crush on Harris back then, had a major wish fulfillment granted with Harris taking off his shirt during said make-out session.
LuPone’s “Ladies Who Lunch” was … not a disappointment per se, but having had just seen her sing that song in the 2010 Sondheim: The Birthday Concert via Netflix instant play just last week was a little disheartened when she sang the song pretty much the same way (although I did feel for the poor schmos in the front row who got a dash of ‘vodka stinger’ during the end).
Finally, obviously having seen Harris as Toby in the Sweeny Todd in Concert and as the title character in Dr. Horrible, I was familiar with his work as a singer. But while he was the lead in Dr. Horrible, it’s only about 40 minutes long. So, seeing him take the lead in a full show was worth every penny.
The best joke? When Craig Bierko — as Peter — asks Harris almost McCarthy-esque, “Have you ever had a homosexual experience?”, Harris paused, giving a look that said, “Really? REALLY?” which was that much more amusing if you know ANYTHING about Harris’s personal life.
This was really the first time I was able to see him carry a show, and it was great to see Harris go toe to toe with LuPone … and hold his own. I was very happy with his performance.
Per this production: my viewing was tainted a little, as the theatre had a group of young teens who were obviously there for Harris (their squeal of delight at Harris’s undressing was a clue), who obviously had no idea as to what exactly they were seeing (their ‘that’s it?’ at the end of the show), and who were whispering fairly audibly during the entire show despite being shushed by me and several other patrons more than once. And even though the version the Philharmonic recorded had a place for an intermission, the movie theatre just went right through it.
All in all, I was extremely satisfied with the production, and am hopeful that they release it on DVD for purchase. As of this review, there are still three more chances to see it – tonight, the 19th, and the 21st. Go here for more information as to buying tickets.