Without a doubt musical playwright Stephen Sondheim rightly holds numerous well-earned accolades; genius, national treasure, and reigning king of musical theater. All of these appellations are true and one defines the tip of the iceberg that is Sondheim is undeniably a man that knows how to entertain the fan of the Broadway musical. I have been an avid fan of his since I held I’ve held the position of bas violist in junior high school. It was there that I was introduced to the intimate appreciation of music on a technical, theoretical and practical perceptive. This enhanced understanding of the musical theory and the intricacies of the form it was readily apparent even to my young mind and nascent musical ability that there was something exceptional about the artistic endeavors of this exceptional artist. My enthusiasm for his play extended into adult hood manifested by taking my girlfriend, the woman that would become m of thirty five years enjoying ‘Sweeny Todd’, ‘Into the Woods’ and ‘ Sunday in the Park With George’ . One of the last of Sondheim’s play’ we enjoyed under those circumstances was ‘Company’. The original Broadway cast Blu-way has been out for some time and was one of the first high definition titles I received for review. This version released in 2007 featured Raúl Esparza, currently a regular in the non-musical role of the Assistant District Attorney on ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’; a presentation a very much enjoyed. Now five years down the road we exist in an age of Broadway revivals ‘Company has been targeted for such treatment. In this instance the cast was liberally peppered with faces familiar from movies and television taking on the lead singing roles. When I was informed that I would be afforded the opportunity to revisit my favorite a play from my favorite composer I admittedly had some trepidations my general reservations over reimagining films extended to the theater and the cast were better known for their television careers than trotting the noble boards of Broadway. Still, I also firmly believe that a work of art depicting a story that examines a fundamental aspect of humanity deserves to be interpreted by successive generations. With that in mind I tackled the pop culture driven version of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company: A Musical Comedy’.
The play begins on the thirty fifth birthday of Robert (Neil Patrick Harris). Within his group of close friends he remains the sole bachelor, the only one not to take that trip down the matrimonial aisle. All of his friends are either married or in long term, committed relationships; something that is the antithesis of the life style Robert had come to embrace. Amy (Katie Finneran) an extremely high strung woman inadvertently discloses his cadre of friends is planning a birthday party for him. Always glad to see his friends Robert’s enthusiasm is mitigated by the knowledge that they will focus on his persistent single status. The play is crafted as a series of vignettes held together by the central personality of Robert. It is initiated by a hearty and loving greeting to Robert / Bobby.
Harry (Stephen Colbert) and Sarah (Martha Plimpton), are an exceptionally competitive couple quick to jab at the respective weaknesses of each other. Bobby visited the couple innocently bringing brownies and brandy for a nightcap. This sets the couple at each other; Harry is an alcoholic and Sarah is obsessively concerned about her weight. The next vignette brings Robert to Peter (Craig Bierko) and his wife `Susan (Jill Paice), proud of the view their apartment has of the East River; that is if you lean out the window enough. Susan is the southern belle with a perchance for swooning. Despite his Ivy League driven career the couple are very much in love. Next up is David (Jon Cryer) and Jenny (Jennifer Laura Thompson). After smoking some pot they have a slapstick infused evening enjoying their mutual high thanks in large part to Bobby. Joanne (Patti LuPone) and her most recent husband Larry (Jim Walton) are the next view in to marital bliss. Joanne is quite a fan of the institution of marriage having done it several times. Every Sondheim musical presents a particularly heart felt and poignant song. Long time Broadway regular and Sondheim veteran Ms Lupone and Mr. Walton deliver a memorable rendition of The ‘Little Things You Do Together’. She is also charged with the center piece of the production, ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’. My wife and I had orchestra seats to LuPone’s original Broadway cast offering of ‘Evita’ and have been enthralled with her stage presence ever since. She still has it; this is an amazing performance.
We return to Amy and her fiancé Paul (Aaron Lazar). After a considerable amount of time they are soon to tie the proverbial knot. Her trepidation over the step leads to one of the most humorous numbers here, ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’. You might recognize her from the short lived sit-com, ‘I Hate My Teenage Daughter’ or as the neurotic older sister in the cull classic TV series, ‘Wonderfalls’. Bobby, as a bachelor had the deep end of the dating pool. April (Christina Hendricks) is a not very bright but enthusiastic flight attendant, Marta (Anika Noni Rose), the archetypically fast talking free spirited New Yorker with one of my favorite songs here, ‘ Another Hundred People’ . Then there is Kathy (Chryssie Whitehead) with a delightful portrayal of an innocent, home town girl making her way in the big city.
You might think that looking at the cast that the music might suffer in the hands so many entertainers primarily recognized for television comedy. Not so in the least. For example Colbert may be best known for his political humor comically chiding t pundits of the right wing, there is a song and dance man in there. The mixture of TV personalities and seasoned musical theater performers provide a startlingly robust and distinctive variation of a Sondheim staple. This energetic rendition of the play was directed by Lonny Price, longtime collaborator and director working with Sondheim. In addition to productions of ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert’ and the recent birthday salute to Sondheim he has direct several episodes of ‘Desperate Housewives’ he directed several installments of Live from Lincoln Center and the televised series this production was part of, ‘Great Performances’. This gave him the unique qualifications of the demands of directing musical theater with the intricacies of staging a production for the constrained media of television.in all this is a rousing rendition one of Sondheim’s most lively works.