Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Stephen Sondheim's Company

Director: Lonny Price & Josh Rhodes
Country: USA
Running Time: 164mins
Aus Rating: N/A

**CORRECTION: I incorrectly noted that this was a National Theatre Live effort, but it is actually just a one-off effort by Broadway. Apologies for the gaff**

As I sat in the cinema watching this exclusive filmed-on-Broadway performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, I couldn’t help but wonder (aside: hi Carrie Bradshaw!) why it has never been adapted into a feature film? The material certainly seems ripe for a big screen adaptation as musical comedy always seems to play quite well. I mean, you could even keep the cast of this exclusive Broadway revival, even if some of the voices aren’t quite as strong as the others. I envision it mounted in a way that it looks like a modern take on the visual style of Down With Love and it would be quite easy to expand upon the material and take it out and about throughout the streets of New York City so as to not simply appear to be a filmed performance. It'd be easy to avoid the mistakes of, say, The Producers with this one if given the right director.

A filmed performance, however, is all we get. Good thing then that it’s so much fun! With Sondheim’s birthday just gone, what better time to acquaint yourself with some of his work whilst being able to ogle gorgeous, talented stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton, Anika Noni Rose, Aaron Lazar, Christina Hendricks and more? The production, aided by the New York Philharmonic, was staged last April for four exclusive performances at Avery Fisher Hall and thanks to Broadway's think tank and local distributor Sharmill Films we get the chance to see it for ourselves, which is just deliciously excellent, don’t you think? With theatre being so expensive these days – I recently caught the Melbourne production of A Chorus Line so there’s my one show per year, I suppose – it’s nice that these sort of things can be seen even if it’s not quite the same as being there in a theatre and hearing those booming voices stretch across the crowd as the orchestra’s delicate music tiptoes around. Still, I really can’t recommend Company enough.

Company, originally staged in 1970 with Dean Jones and Elaine Stritch, follows a man named Bobby (played here by Harris, a man who needs a cinematic musical pronto!) who is surrounded my married and engaged friends, causing him to re-evaluate his love life, which is currently occupied by three women (Christina Hendricks, Anika Noni Rose and Chryssie Whitehead). Insert fabulous tunes, lively choreography, and the giddy kick of seeing these people projected on the big screen – it’s worth it for the near blinding beauty of Aaron Lazar, who I saw on stage on Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza some six years ago on my first trip to New York (conveniently taking over the role from Matthew Morrison of Glee!) – alone, not to mention Martha Plimpton who’s frequent stage appearances mean the rest of us rarely get to see her anymore (childhood favourite Josh & S.A.M., hello!) And, of course, the immortal Patti LuPone who gets to wrap her marvellous pipes around the famed “The Ladies Who Lunch” and absolutely devours it to the rapture of the applauding audience below. I felt like clapping, too! Big props must also go to the divine Anika Noni Rose and Katie Kinneran who ran away with her big pre-wedding number like her life depended on it.

So why no film version? I mean, as fabulous as it is to watch this version, it’d be nice to have an actual cinematic version that could be released on home entertainment and watched any time I choose. The songs are so entertaining and so ripe for visual representation that sometimes a cast recording just isn’t enough. As I sat there watching this two and a half hour vision – there is an intermission, so don't worry – I could picture the film in my head and I can’t fathom why nobody’s done it yet. Company will be playing for one weekend only – this Saturday the 31st and Sunday the 1st (edit: It's also screening on April 3rd in some locations) – and really shouldn’t be missed if it’s playing near you. Hopefully we will get a DVD release some point down the line, but until then I’ll just be sitting here with my soundtrack album humming “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Baby, Bobby bubi, Robby, Robert Darling, Bobby…”


Anonymous said...

Please: Scream Scene by Scene! Thank you!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Do you know if this will be released on DVD? I'm so eager to see this, Company is my 2nd favourite Sondheim score and like you I think it's a very cinematic play (between this and Follies, two of Sondheim's plays that just beg for movie representations, I don't know why they haven't been made into films.

Zev Valancy said...

I saw the first half of this over the summer when it was broadcast in the States. (A power outage struck in the middle of "Not Getting Married Today" and I couldn't make the makeup screening.) I have to disagree with you on this--COMPANY is one of my favorite musicals ever, but I don't think it would make much of a movie. The structure is so non-linear--it's really more of a revue than a traditional musical. I don't know if it would work on screen. I was also underwhelmed with what I saw of this version--the entire cast looked under-rehearsed and tentative (apparently they didn't all rehearse in the same room until just before the concert), and as a result the show as a whole felt off. I would recommend the filmed version of the 2007 Broadway revival: the cast is less starry, but I find it an exceptionally well done version. I know it's on Netflix, and am pretty sure it can be bought as well.

But any good publicity for a Sondheim show is a good thing as far as I'm concerned--thanks for discussing this!

Simon said...

I will point out Martha Plimpton is in a weekly TV series, "Raising Hope" (she's playing a grandmother, but quite obviously a late-30s-my-child-had-a-kid-too-early grandmother)