Tuesday, June 28, 2011

COMPANY on Film: Review

(reflection on the filmed presentation of COMPANY, book by George Furth, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, originally directed by Harold Prince.  Presented at Avery Fischer Hall by the New York Philharmonic, directed by Lonny Price, conducted by Paul Gemignani.)

I'm pleased to announce, after all these years, that my favorite Sondheim show is, hands down, COMPANY.  NIGHT MUSIC has those elegant waltzes, SWEENEY TODD all that glorious heart-pumping music in every scene, FOLLIES those layers of reality, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE its lovely treatment of the themes of art, family, and mortality.

But today, sitting in a movie theatre to see a broadcast on the big screen of the entire show, I'm ready to commit.   

In an interview with Terry Gross about the concert version of COMPANY, Stephen Colbert divulged that he and the other cast members didn't understand until the first rehearsal that this was going to be more than a staged reading of the show.  They rehearsed two weeks.  So I expected some laughs from George Furth's best zingers, and a glorious sound from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and a miss-matched bunch of TV actors hamming and missing cues..  Instead, I saw an ensemble committed to making their characters distinct and real.  The care that went into each moment was moving, all by itself, apart from the script and score. 

Director Lonny Price staged this musical with variety and focus, though he had to do the whole show on a narrow horizontal strip between orchestra and front row.  The play features five married couples and their single friend Robert, so the set consisted of five 1970s - modern sofas for two stripped in chromium and rolling easily into configurations to make separate living rooms, or a restaurant, or a parade.

TV stars well known to others have been dinged by some on-line critics for giving merely serviceable performances, and I'm surprised.  I have more to say about their acting, and George Furth's writing for actors, in my article "Good Actors Make Good COMPANY.")

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