Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review - Stephen Sondheim’s Company is BRILLIANT! A MUST SEE!

Note 6/22/11: Additional screenings added June 23-26! If you missed it- here's your chance!

Side By Side By Side

Don’t miss your chance to see the definitive version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company with the NYPhilharmonic at a movie theater near you! Hurry because the limited-release, filmed version of this staged concert is only playing a few more days.

I’ve seen numerous productions of Company over the years, and this edition is by far the best. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton and Stephen Colbert; this version is conceived and immaculately staged by the brilliant director Lonny Price.

What makes this production so special? Aside from the cast, the dynamic orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick (conducted by Broadway-great Paul Gemignani) and solid choreography by Josh Rhodes; this production tells composer/lyrist Sondheim and book writer George Furth’s story better than any I’ve seen.

Cast of Company  Photo by Chris Lee
According to the press release, Company is the story of "five married, once-married, and soon-to-be-married couples and their mutual friend, Robert, a bachelor who has been unable to connect in a long-term relationship. The relationships are presented in a series of vignettes, primarily through Robert's eyes." The show's songs include "Company," "Side by Side by Side," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Another Hundred People" and "Being Alive."

This may not be the best vocal production ever performed, but by far, director Price has assembled a talent cast of actors that bring the best to life on the stage. Emmy Award winner Neil Patrick Harris plays Bobby with empathy and understanding, unequalled, in his struggle for self-discovery and search for commitment. There is a joyous truth and honesty in this production that I have never witnessed before. Price helps make these characters real and not just caricatures as is often done.

One of the standout moments for me personally, was Stephen Colbert’s “Sorry-Grateful” which normally bores me to tears. His sincerity and skilled handling of the song gave me a new appreciation for its depth and humanity. Also, Jim Walton finally made me like the easily forgettable character, Harry. His style and charisma fully brought the character to life.

Chryssie Whitehead as one of Bobby’s girlfriends, Kathy, gave what was to me, the most impressive performance.  Her grounded, understated characterization was countered by her amazing dancing in the often cut dance number, “Tick, Tock”. This was the first time this number made any sense to me and Whitehead was stunning. It was one of the highlights of the show. (I’ve seen some incredibly bad and embarrassing renditions of this song.)

Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone. Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Patti LuPone’s “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” is perfect here. Anyone who tackles the role of Joanne will forever be compared to Elaine Stritch’s immortal performance. LuPone’s unique vocal stylization here, is at its best.

I was a little disappointed in Tony winner Anika Noni Rose’s rendition of “Another Hundred People”. This is one of my all-time favorite songs written for the theatre and her well-sung performance felt void of any true emotion. Equally disappointing was Katie Finneran’s rendition of “Getting Married Today”. If there is any number in the show to be overplayed, this is the one.  I wonder if her understated performance had anything to do with not wanting to be compared to her riotous Tony-winning role in Promises, Promises.

The original Broadway production of Company opened in 1970 and ran 705 performances, garnering 12 Tony nominations and 6 wins including Best Musical. It was revived in 1995 and again in 2006 for which it won the Best Revival of a Musical under director John Doyle’s unique conception.

Stephen Sondheim with director Lonny Price. Photo by Chris Lee
This 2011 version presented through Screenvision and Fanthom Events will be presented one more time, Sunday June 19th nationwide, and in some locations June 21, 2011. The press release says it best. "This is a special, limited engagement that brings the very best of Broadway to movie theatres across the country and is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this great show from New York." Check your local theater listing for details.

All in all, the production is fantastic. It proves once again, that a well-written show with a capable cast does not need high-tech sets, lighting and effects to make an enjoyable and moving theatrical experience. I highly recommend it to everyone. If you are a Sondheim fan, it can’t be missed!

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